A dry start to summer edged Brazoria County toward drought territory, but officials are hopeful recent rains and a projected busy hurricane season will keep it away from that brink.
Brazoria County was listed as “abnormally dry” in this week’s drought forecast from the Texas Water Development Board, with all but the northeastern portion of the county falling into that category.
The forecast showed drought conditions in 40 percent of the state, compared to 41 percent last week and 55 percent three months ago.
Thanks to some weekend showers, Brazoria County is not among the 101 counties statewide whose residents are under a burn ban, County Judge Matt Sebesta said.
“Recent rains have helped,” Sebesta said.
Officials have enacted a burn ban in neighboring Matagorda County, but the other counties on the list are mainly concentrated in the northern and eastern parts of the state.
The Keetch-Byram Drought Index for Brazoria County was 510 as of Monday, according to the Texas Weather Connection website.
A reading of up to 200 on the index is considered good conditions. From 400 to 600, the ground is dryer with increased chances for burns getting out of control.
Between 600 and 800, the ground is very dry, greatly increasing the risk for out-of-control flames, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, which puts together the index.
Drought conditions are beginning to impact reservoirs statewide, with water supply storage currently at 83 percent of capacity — nearly 2 percentage points below normal for this time of year, according to the water development board. In February 2015, after years of drought, statewide storage was 18 percentage points lower than normal.
The reservoirs in the Brazos River Basin, which serve Brazoria County, were at 90.4 percent capacity, according to the Water Data for Texas website operated by the Texas Water Development Board. It stood at 91.2 percent a week ago and 97.1 percent a year ago.
“We have been pretty dry lately,” said Jessica Chase, Brazoria County Agriculture and Natural Resources agent with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in Angleton. “Hopefully we will get some rain to combat that.
“If not, it could pose a threat for some of the crops out there.”
While heat exposure is good for pastures to a certain extent, Chase said, the grass will need water to continue growing after its second cutting.
“Farmers need more water to help that grass grow so they can get a second or third cutting out of them,” she said.
A drought also could prove detrimental to the county’s hay resources, already depleted from Hurricane Harvey-related flooding last August, Chase said.
“We’re already short on hay because of the last two disasters,” she said. “If we do go into a drought, farmers might either have to buy more feed, which would increase costs, or go out of the county and get it trucked in, which would increase costs also.”
Chase encouraged farmers to plant drought-resistant crops, such as certain types of Bermuda grass and sorghum hybrids, just in case of such conditions.
However, she still is hoping for a soggy late summer that will avert any potential drought.
“I do know it is proposed to be a good hurricane season, which usually means we’re going to get some rain,” Chase said. “I’m going to hope we do not go into a drought.”