By Joanna Carver/Public Affairs Specialist
After weeks of what seemed like endless rainfall in San Antonio and other parts of Texas, it’s easy to wonder whether the drought much of the state has been experiencing since 2010 is finally over. UTSA civil engineering associate professor Hatim Sharif says that’s a complicated question, and part of the larger issue of what impact the floods have had on Texas.
“We’re only temporarily out of the drought, because rainwater doesn’t stick around very much,” Sharif said. “We’re contending with summer evaporation, plus municipal, agricultural and industrial water demands are high this time of year.”
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that dry conditions are already creeping back into a handful of Texas counties. Sharif said this will spread if more rainfall doesn’t come before the end of the summer.
This summer’s floods, however, were something of a Catch 22, according to Sharif.
“Flooding is certainly good in many ways for Texas, because it’s so arid,” he said. “It helps replenish the aquifers and fill up the reservoirs. However, we’ve also seen some major adverse impacts such as flood fatalities and property damage.”
Texas leads the U.S. in numbers of flood fatalities, or more specifically Bexar County does. Excluding major events like dam failures and hurricanes, it has the most flooding fatalities since 1959.
“Structural measures such as building bridges and raising road elevations are expensive, and can’t totally eliminate the impacts,” Sharif said.
According to Sharif, using well-timed forecasts and educating the public with programs like “Turn Around Don’t Drown” are effective, but more must be done to affect change.
“If they receive timely and accurate info from meteorologists and hydrologists, emergency personnel can be more effective,” he said. “Involving the research community in flood mitigation efforts would be very helpful.”
Sharif is now working with one of his former students, Chad Furl, who was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant to document the impacts of this year’s floods and examine their effect in areas such as Wimberley, Texas.
“The recent floods in Texas were unprecedented and caused loss of lives and huge damage,” Sharif said. “That is why we’re examining the scale and impact of the damage while we still can.”