Even more reasons to hope for rain.
A growing body of research into the effects of the state’s ongoing drought, which began in late 2010 and peaked in 2011, reveal a coast deeply affected by the prolonged dry spell.
“Coastal areas don’t get much attention during a drought,” said Anna Armitage, a marine biologist at Texas A&M University at Galveston. “But we have found a significant effect on the coastal ecosystem.”
Since 2009, Armitage has been studying an estuary – an area where the current from rivers and streams mixes with seawater – in the Sabine Neches area along the upper Texas coast.
As the drought peaked and freshwater flows slowed to a trickle, the salinity of the estuary spiked from 3 to 5 parts per thousand to around 30 parts per thousand, making it nearly as salty as water in the Gulf of Mexico.
This wiped out much of the plant and marine life living in these brackish waters, Armitage said.
“The reason I’m so interested in all of these tiny plants, tiny fish and shrimp is that they provide food for other more important fishery species,” she said. “This is the base of the Galveston Bay food web, and I’m worried about the stability of the food web.”
It’s not clear when the drought will improve to the point of restoring the Texas coast to more normal conditions.
John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist, noted that Texas’ reservoirs are only about 65 percent full, the lowest they have been in a long time.
“The reservoirs are a good indicator of streamflow into Texas bays and estuaries,” he said, noting that the flows from the Brazos to the Guadalupe “are already at record or near-record low levels for this time of year.”
Absent substantial rain, this summer will bring the most severe drought conditions to Texas bays and estuaries since at least the 1960s and probably the 1950s, he said.
The drought has had the effect of helping to beat back one invasive species that couldn’t handle the increased salinity. On balance, though, it would be better to have more rain. More rain, please.