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Candidates respond to drought issues

By David Patterson

From 1950 until 1957,  there was a long multi-year drought in Texas and Hays County. During this drought, the annual rainfall averaged seven inches a year. Our normal annual rainfall is 32 inches. Here is the punchline: In 1957, the last year of the drought, the Hays County population was 16,870. Let that sink in, Buda alone now has more people than that!  As of the 2020 census the Hays County population was 241,000. During this drought farmers had to abandon their fields and butcher their livestock.

I have been working to raise awareness about our limited water resources in Hays County since the 1980s. Hays County doesn’t have the Highland Lakes chain like Austin, and Canyon Lake does not have another drop of water to sell to anyone in Hays County. This is why I wrote an email to Ruben Becerra, Dr. Michelle Gutierrez Cohen, Susan Cook, Mark Jones, and Walt Smith, who are running for Hays County Commissioner, or County Judge. I asked them to comment on these questions and they have graciously agreed. This column will be here every week with a new question highlighted every week. 

1.With our explosive growth, is Hays County ready for another seven year drought like we had in the 1950s? If elected, what do you plan to do to prepare for a multi-year drought like the one in the 1950s? 

Susan Cook:

No, and we aren’t ready for the one we are in now, either.

 Unless our dual, and competing, challenges of rampant growth and dwindling water resources are addressed with a comprehensive plan that takes into account just how many people can live on the land, we will destroy both the land and drain away the water beneath it. 

We need to embed real development limits into our subdivision regulations, based on water availability and how particular pieces of land react differently to human habitation.  Some land can handle more people than others, and this understanding must be the foundation of all development planning. 

Dr. Michelle Gutierrez Cohen:

 No. We are in the middle of a drought.

Walt Smith:

 I don’t believe so, but there are steps we can take to help get there. Securing additional water resources from east of the county, taking steps to incentivize the capping of wells, protecting our watersheds and conserving open spaces all can help us prepare.  

Here is next week’s question for our county commissioner, and county judge candidates, so please stay tuned:

 2. There are so many subdivisions and individual well owners in Hays County that will have to redrill their wells during an extended drought because of this unprecedented growth. Does Hays County have a plan to assist/compensate all of the existing well owners for the expense of drilling new wells? Have you priced a new well recently?  Is this a cost that the developers should have to fund?

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