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WATER CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT 
CEDAR AND MESQUITE  -  BRUSH  CONTROL

Remove Brush to Conserve Water
http://www.cedareater.com/index.htm - 
Cedar Management Services  

 

                                                                                                         

Ashe juniper and mesquite has been documented through research as being a type of brush which utilizes large quantities of water through evapotranspiration. The growth habit of the plants  themselves lends to intercepting large quantities of water that never become available for herbaceous plant growth. Ashe juniper and the mesquite shades other plants where they simply will not grow or become severely stressed.
 
In the mid 1800s, when European settlers started farming and ranching in the Texas Hill Country cedar, a native plant that thrives on our dry climate and alkaline soils, was limited to scattered areas primarily on the steep slopes. Cedar and mesquite have become very successful invasive pests and management is endless.
  

Improved grassland after cedar  and mesquite is removed

Natural forest fires and Native Americans controlled and suppressed the spread of cedar and mesquite for the purpose to draw the buffalo herds to new grasses bolstered by the nutrient rich ashes. Overgrazing due to heavy stocking of cattle, goats, and sheep has produced a change of the range plant population. Urban settlement has also reduced the number of forest fires as the ranchers and home owners can not risk the insurance liability of a controlled burn or forest fire. Consequently cedar and mesquite has invaded our grazing pastures and rangelands. 

Water, more than any other natural resource, will determine Texas' future in the decades to come..it is our most precious natural resource and our basic economic commodity. It is distinct from other natural resources and has no renewable source. There is only 2 % of the total water supply on earth that is fresh water. The balance of 98% is contained in the oceans. Half of the 2 % of fresh water is tied up in the frozen polar regions. To day half of the world population is using up non-renewable water resources.     

While high-quality water in aquifers such as the Ogallala which stretches from Ontario, Canada to the Texas Panhandle and the Edwards in Central Texas have provided generations of Texas farmers, ranchers, and city-dwellers with abundant supplies, the water levels in many of the state's aquifers are gradually declining because of over pumping for the Ag. industry and urban demands. In Kansas, the center of the corn belt, back in the 40's water could be reached at 75 feet, to day wells now have to be drilled in excess of 625 feet. This drop in the water table is due to the heavy irrigation over the past 60 years for the Ag. industry. Our state's  50 percent reliance on surface supplies will rise to almost 70 percent in less than 50 years. The problem is that available water supplies will not increase to keep pace with expected population increases. It has taken centuries to fill these aquifers and less than 50 years to drain them to present day levels, which has become most critical to our future growth and needs.   

Water use

Historically, the Ag. Industry has been the leading consumer of water in Texas, using up to 2/3 of our total water supplies. The future trend in the next 30 - 40 years, agricultural water use will give way to urban use. and it is estimated that the population of Texas will be double of the population of 1990, reaching about 36 million.

Every Texan uses an average of 200 gallons of water for domestic purposes every day. A family of five uses about one acre-foot of water every year.  An acre-foot of water is the amount of water needed to cover one acre of land to a depth of one foot.) One acre is 43560 square feet.       

In Texas, the availability of water varies dramatically from region to region. Some areas of East Texas receive as much as 56 inches of rain fall per year, in the central Hill Country area, the average is about 30 inches, while areas in West Texas receive less than nine.

Thirsty Water Hogs  -  Prairie Parasites

Hundreds of thousands of acres in Texas are covered with heavy water users--brushy vegetation. It is estimated that mesquite, cactus, and juniper, more commonly called cedar, use about 10 million acre-feet of water every year, about 2/3 of what Texans consume.

Along with heavy brush infestation, modern urban development and a combination of years of poor soil conservation practices (primarily overgrazing), the elimination of naturally occurring fires, and devastating droughts in the 1930s, 1950s, and 1980s and the recent ten years of 1990's  has forced once vast grasslands to retreat. Opportunistic species like mesquite, cactus, and juniper has spread into and eventually take over some grasslands. Unfortunately, these invaders, once Natural forest fires and Native Americans controlled and suppressed the spread of cedar and mesquite for the purpose to draw the buffalo herds to new grasses bolstered by the nutrient rich ashes. Overgrazing due to heavy stocking of cattle, goats, and sheep and has produced a change of the range plant population. Urban settlement has also reduced the number of forest fires as the ranchers and home owners can not risk the insurance liability of a controlled burn. Consequently cedar and mesquite has invaded these established grasslands. They do not retreat easily and are difficult and costly to control.

  

Grasses over shoulder high                     Buffalo, The Lords of the prairies 

Mesquite trees, for example, have lateral root systems extending up to 50 feet from the tree, greatly increasing their ability to absorb available moisture. A mesquite trees eight- to 12-feet tall can consume 20 gallons of water per day; ten such mesquites can use as much water in one day as one Texan does. A large juniper can consume 40 gallons of water per day during the midsummer with moderate soil moisture. Six junipers, then, use about as much as one Texan does daily. Junipers have a deep root structure and a dense mat of fibrous roots near the soil surface that allow them to absorb moisture from the driest of soils, to the detriment of grasses, creeks and springs. Mesquite and cedar have no ability to conserve water and will throw off  what ever amounts they absorb. Other trees conserve and limit their water usage during the heat of the day, controlling their water loss or output.

Not only do mesquite and junipers consume vast amounts of water, they also prevent rainfall from reaching the soil. In an area with a 30-inch average annual rainfall, dense stands of  juniper allow less than a quarter of the rainfall to reach the soil--the remaining three quarters remains in the branches or in the litter layer under the juniper until it finally evaporates. It is estimated that there are 130 million mesquite trees and 100 million  junipers and the consume the equivalent of water that the city of Houston would require in one year. 

  

An oak tree choked out by invasive cedar

Mesquite and juniper, called Ashe or blueberry juniper, allow only  20.3 percent, respectively, of rainfall to reach the soil's root zone. By contrast short grasses--common rangeland grasses in Texas--allow more than 82 -  90 percent of rainfall to reach the soil.

Uncontrolled and overgrowth of these invaders has had a detrimental effect on the wild life and bird populations. By crowding out more palatable grasses, brush reduces the availability and palatability of wildlife forage and diminishes biodiversity. A mixture of Woodland  trees such as the Texas oak, live oak, elm, walnut, Texas ash, Mexican buckeye, wild cherry, and hackberry, are primarily responsible for attracting the insect populations upon which the birds feed and provide shelter.

Brush removal  --  methods

Many private landowners, especially ranchers, as a matter of good conservation, routinely undertake their own brush-clearing efforts by burning, "goating" (stocking juniper-infested land with Angora or Spanish goats and allowing them to browse), and chemical or mechanical means. Some studies have shown that selective chemical application and burning, when performed in tandem, have a lethal effecting controlling juniper and mesquite.

Just as farmers learned to plow their fields in contoured rows instead of straight lines following the hard lessons of the Dust Bowl era, landowners generally clear brush in a contoured or patchwork style. With many ranches these days depending upon hunting revenues to support livestock operations, land managers have an economic interest in seeing native wildlife thrive. Brush management say that a 30 percent coverage of brush is optimum for wildlife.

When the land is disturbed through mechanical means, reseeding with nutritious grasses as soon as practicable provides an opportunity for the quick reestablishment of grasslands. The most commonly used mechanical methods involve shearing, plowing over juniper and mesquite trees with bulldozers. The cleared brush is often left in place to decompose, providing some shelter for the newly planted grass seeds. Wildlife, especially quail, and small animals, also find both food and shelter in the cleared brush.

Land managers quickly discovered that this type of management created a healthier white tailed deer population, a substantial increased in the bird population and well as other wild animals. Cedar and mesquite reductions showed measured increases of 45,000 to 55,000 gallons of available water per acre per inch of rainfall. Ranchers also noticed small creeks and springs came back to life after years or being dry.  

Water rights - The law  -  Who gets or owns the water?

Texas law states that all surface water in a defined water course (creek, river, or reservoir, for example) in Texas is owned by the state and regulated by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. The law also provides that all underground water is for the surface landowner's use without state interference. Existing surface water law in Texas allows landowners to impound up to 200 acre-feet of water on their own land, but only for domestic and livestock purposes.

But when water is neither underground nor in a defined surface water course--rainfall, for instance--it technically is not yet state-owned water, and therefore available for the landowner's use. The ownership or control of water when it is intercepted just before it actually enters a water course--for example, when water is pumped from a spring or released by brush management techniques--is still an undetermined area of the law.

More than 40 underground water conservation districts have formed over the last 15 years, mostly on a county basis, to locally regulate the use of underground water. Those that set limits on water well production generally set it at 25,000 gallons per day per well, or slightly more than 1,000 gallons per hour. As with most local districts, compliance and supervision is essentially voluntary.

 

 A Personal insight and Recommendations

Our country is one of the riches countries in the world, we have demonstrated our technical achievements from damning up rivers to shooting for the stars. We have built gas and oil pipe lines chris cross this country for the sake of progress. In 1999 Texas crop losses due to drought exceeded 2 billion dollars, and in 2001 it exceeded the 1 billion dollar mark. The national figure for crop and flood loss is near impossible to calculate. Federal and State Governments pay out tremendous amounts of tax dollars each year for nation wide crop failures due to drought and uncountable amounts for disaster relief due to flood damage.

When the oil and gas industry needed a simple cost effective method for distribution and transport, pipe lines scared our landscapes from coast to coast and from border to border. The technology is simple and the initial cost and investment would be substantial. However the overall cost saving would be immeasurable by greatly diminishing wasted drought and flood related disaster relief dollars.        

A complex of pumping stations and pipe lines to transport waters from flood prone areas to drought stricken areas or wherever crops are grown and water is need for crop production. The surplus water that can not be used for immediate irrigation can be pumped into or sub-surface or ground reservoirs for future use. This would be a costly venture but not as costly as future crop failures, continued annual flood damage costs and loss of life. This will not eliminate floods or drought, but will reduce the financial losses of property damage caused by floods, human lives and reduce the extent of crop failures.

The solution is simple, with the technologies and resources of this country, floods disaster and crop failures could become almost totally non existence. The initiative is, that our governments, (state and federal) insurance companies and private corporations invest in our future to alleviate some of the disaster of floods and crop losses. A national water distribution system can pay for itself using the source of free flood waters and in-turn selling to crop raising areas or to fulfill other water needs thought-out the country. This same system may also be intricate part of our national defense to transport safe water to needed areas of this country.   

Water is a valuable resource and is quickly being depleted as we are using water faster that nature can renew it.  I sincerely believe that within twenty five years our fresh water supply will be in serious jeopardy, if we do not take a long hard look at the future and develop water use and conservation practices.  The new word is Blue Gold and it will be a commodity marketed like grains, orange juice or gold bullion itself. Think about it, the day may come when ownership of the rains will be established in this country and not too far in the distance future.        


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