Climate Change Impacts on Texas Water: A White Paper Assessment of the Past, Present and Future and Recommendations for Action
Cover photo: © Lynn McBride


climate change

How to Cite

“Climate Change Impacts on Texas Water: A White Paper Assessment of the Past, Present and Future and Recommendations for Action”. 2010. Texas Water Journal 1 (1): 1-19.


Texas comprises the eastern portion of the Southwest region, where the convergence of climatological and geopolitical forces has the potential to put extreme stress on water resources. Geologic records indicate that Texas experienced large climate changes on millennial time scales in the past, and over the last thousand years, tree-ring records indicate that there were significant periods of drought in Texas. These droughts were of longer duration than the 1950s “drought of record” that is commonly used in planning, and they occurred independently of human-induced global climate change. Although there has been a negligible net temperature increase in Texas over the past century, temperatures have increased more significantly over the past three decades. Under essentially all climate model projections, Texas is susceptible to significant climate change in the future. Most projections for the 21st century show that with increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, there will be an increase in temperatures across Texas and a shift to a more arid average climate. Studies agree that Texas will likely become significantly warmer and drier, yet the magnitude, timing, and regional distribution of these changes are uncertain. There is a large uncertainty in the projected changes in precipitation for Texas for the 21st century. In contrast, the more robust projected increase in temperature with its effect on evaporation, which is a dominant component in the region’s hydrologic cycle, is consistent with model projections of frequent and extended droughts throughout the state. For these reasons, we recommend that Texas invest resources to investigate and anticipate the impacts of climate change on Texas’ water resources, with the goal of providing data to inform resource planning. This investment should support development of 1) research programs that provide policy-relevant science; 2) education programs to engage future researchers and policy-makers; and 3) connections between policy-makers, scientists, water resource managers, and other stakeholders. It is proposed that these goals may be achieved through the establishment of a Texas Climate Consortium, consisting of representatives from academia, industry, government agencies, water authorities, and other stakeholders. The mission of this consortium would be to develop the capacity to provide decision makers with the information needed to develop adaptation strategies in the face of future climate change and uncertainty.

Citation: Banner JL, Jackson CS, Yang ZL, Hayhoe K, Woodhouse C, Gulden L, Jacobs K, North G, Leung R, Washington W, Jiang X, Casteel R. 2010. Climate Change Impacts on Texas Water: A white paper assessment of the past, present and future and recommendations for action. Texas Water Journal. 1(1):1-19. Available from:



Banner JL, Guda N. 2004 Nov 8. Reforming universities to save the environment. Austin-American Statesman; Sect A:11.

Bates BC, Kundzewicz ZW, Wu S, Palutikof JP, editors. 2008. Climate change and water. Technical Paper of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Geneva (CH): IPCC Secretariat. 210 p.

Bomar GW. 1995. Texas weather. 2nd ed. Austin: University of Texas Press. 275 p.

Burnett WC, Bokuniewicz H, Huettel M, Moore WS, and Taniguchi M. 2003. Groundwater and pore water inputs to the coastal zone. Biogeochemistry 66(1-2):3-33.

CH2M HILL. 2008. Climate change study: report on evaluation methods and climate scenarios. Prepared for Lower Colorado River Authority and San Antonio Water System Water Project. 103 p. WBS

Chen C, Gillig D, McCarl BA. 2001. Effects of climatic change on a water dependent regional economy: a study of the Texas Edwards Aquifer. Climatic Change 49:397-409.

Clark PU, Weaver AJ. 2008. Abrupt climate change: a report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research, Synthesis and Assessment Product 3.4. Reston (VA): U.S. Geological Survey. 459 p.

Cleaveland MK. 2006. Extended chronology of drought in the San Antonio area. Revised report to the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. 29 p.

Cook ER, Bartlein PJ, Diffenbaugh N, Seager R, Shuman BN, Webb RS, Williams JW, Woodhouse C. 2008. Chapter 3: Hydrological variability and change. In: Clark PU, Weaver AJ. [CCSP] Climate Change Science Program 2008: Abrupt climate change. a report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research, Synthesis and Assessment Product 3.4. Reston (VA): U.S. Geological Survey. p. 143-257.

Cook ER, Krusic PJ. 2004. North American summer PDSI reconstructions. IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology Data Contribution Series No. 2004-045. Boulder (CO): NOAA/NGDC Paleoclimatology Program. 24 p.

Cook ER, Seager R, Cane MA, Stahle DW. 2007. North American drought: reconstructions, causes, and consequences. Earth-Science Reviews 81(1-2):93-134.

Cooke MJ, Stern LA, Banner JL, Mack LE, Stafford T, Toomey RS. 2003. Precise timing and rate of massive late Quaternary soil denudation. Geology 31(10):853-856.

Deng Y, Bowman KP, Jackson CS. 2007. Differences in rain rate intensities between TRMM observations and the community atmosphere model simulations. Geophysical Research Letters 34:L01808.

Diffenbaugh N, Giorgi F, Pal JS. 2008. Climate change hotspots in the United States. Geophysical Research Letters 35(16):L16709.

Emanuel K. 2005. Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones over the past 30 years. Nature 436(7051):686-688.

Emanuel K, Sundararajan R, Williams J. 2008. Hurricanes and global warming: results from downscaling IPCC AR4 simulations. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 89(3):347-367.

Frierson DMW, Lu J, Chen G. 2007. Width of the Hadley cell in simple and comprehensive general circulation models. Geophysical Research Letters 34:L18804.

Frumkin H, Hess J, Luber G, Malilay J, McGeehin M. 2008. Climate change: the public health response. American Journal of Public Health 98(3):435-445.

Griffiths JF, Ainsworth G. 1981. One hundred years of Texas weather: 1880-1979. Office of the State Climatologist. College Station: Texas A&M University. 205 p.

Guttman NB, Quayle RG. 1996. A historical perspective of U.S. climate divisions. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 77(2):293-303.

Hayhoe K, Cayan D, Field CB, Frumhoff PC, Maurer EP, Miller NL, Moser SC, Schneider SH, Cahill KN, Cleland EE, and others. 2004. Emission pathways, climate change, and impacts on California. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101(34):12422-12427.

Hayhoe K, Wake C, Anderson B, Liang X-Z, Maurer E, Zhu J, Bradbury J, DeGaetano A, Stoner AM, Wuebbles D. 2008. Regional climate change projections for the Northeast USA. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 13(5-6):425-436.

Hoerling M, Quan X-W, Eischeid J. 2009. Distinct causes for two principal US droughts of the 20th century. Geophysical Research Letters 36(19):L19708.

Hu Y, Fu Q. 2007. Observed poleward expansion of the Hadley circulation since 1979. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions 7(4):9367-9384.

[IPCC] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2000. Summary for policymakers: emissions scenarios. A special report of Working Group III of the IPCC. 27 p.

[IPCC] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007a. Climate change 2007: The physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt KB, Tignor M, and Miller HL, editors. Cambridge (UK) and New York (NY): Cambridge University Press. 996 p.

[IPCC] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007b. Climate change 2007: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Parry ML, Canziani OF, Palutikof PJ, van der Linden PJ, Hanson CE, editors. Cambridge (UK) and New York (NY): Cambridge University Press. 976 p.

[IPCC] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007c. Climate change 2007: mitigation of climate change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Mertz B, Davidson OR, Bosch PR, Dave R, Meyer LA, editors. Cambridge (UK) and New York (NY): Cambridge University Press. 851 p.

Jiang X, Yang, Z-L. Submitted. Assessing projected changes of temperature and precipitation in Texas from downscaled global climate models. Climatic Change.

King CW, Holman AS, Webber ME. 2008. Thirst for energy. Nature Geoscience 1(5):283-286.

King CW, Webber ME. 2010. Water vs. energy: how solar power can help. Solar Today 2010 Jan-Feb: 24-27.

Knutson TR, Tuleya RE. 2004. Impact of CO2-induced warming on simulated hurricane intensity and precipitation: sensitivity to the choice of climate model and convective parameterization. Journal of Climate 17(18):3477.

Koster RD, Dirmeyer PA, Guo Z, Bonan G, Chan E, Cox P, Gordon CT, Kanae S, Kowalczyk E, Lawrence D, Liu P, and others. 2004. Regions of strong coupling between soil moisture and precipitation. Science 305(2):1138-1140.

Kurtzman D, Scanlon BR. 2007. El Niño–Southern Oscillation and Pacific Decadal Oscillation impacts on precipitation in the southern and central United States: evaluation of spatial distribution and predictions. Water Resources Research 43(10):W10427.

[LCRA] Lower Colorado River Authority (TX). 2010. 2010 Water Resource Plan [Internet]. Austin: Lower Colorado River Authority[cited 2010 June 22]. 45 p. Available from:

Lu J, Vecchi GA, Reichler T. 2007. Expansion of the Hadley cell under global warming. Geophysical Research Letters 34(6):L06805.

Mace RE, Wade SC. 2008. In hot water? How climate change may (or may not) affect the groundwater resources of Texas. Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies Transactions 58:655-668.

Mahler BJ, Massei N. 2007. Anthropogenic contaminants as tracers in an urbanizing karst aquifer. Journal of Contaminant Hydrology 91(1-2):81-106.

Maurer EP, Brekke L, Pruitt T, Duffy PB. 2007. Fine-resolution climate projections enhance regional climate change impact studies. Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union. 88(47):504.

Meehl GA, Stocker TF, Collins WD, Friedlingstein P, Gaye AT, Gregory JM, Kitoh A, Knutti R, Murphy JM, Noda A, and others. 2007a: Global climate projections. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt KB, Tignor M, Miller HL, editors. Climate change 2007: the physical basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]. Cambridge (UK) and New York (NY): Cambridge University Press. p. 747-845.

Meehl GA, Tebaldi C, Teng H, Peterson TC. 2007b. Current and future U.S. weather extremes and El Niño. Geophysical Research Letters 34:L20704.

Milly PCD, Dunne KA, Vecchia AV. 2005. Global patterns of trends in streamflow and water availability in a changing climate. Nature 438(7066):347-350.

Musgrove M, Banner JL, Mack LE, Combs DM, James EW, Cheng H, Edwards RL. 2001. Geochronology of Late Pleistocene to Holocene speleothems from central Texas: implications for regional paleoclimate. Geological Society of America Bulletin 113(12):1532-1543.

Muttiah RS, Wurbs RA. 2002. Modeling the impacts of climate change on water supply reliabilities. Water International 27(3):407-419.

[NA] National Academies (US), Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century: An Agenda for American Science and Technology. 2007. Rising above the gathering storm: energizing and employing America for a brighter economic future. Washington DC: The National Academies Press. 592 p.

[NRC] National Research Council (US), Committee on the Scientific Bases of Colorado River Water Management. 2007. Colorado River Basin water management: evaluating and adjusting to hydroclimatic variability. Washington DC: The National Academies Press. 222 p.

Newman M, Compo GP, Alexander MA. 2003. ENSO forced variability of the Pacific decadal oscillation. Journal of Climate 16(23):3853-3857.

Nielsen-Gammon JW. 2010. The changing climate of Texas. In: The impact of global warming on Texas. North GR, Schmandt J, Clarkson J, editors. Austin: University of Texas Press [In press].

Nielsen-Gammon JW, Zhang F, Odins AM, Myoung B. 2005. Extreme rainfall in Texas: Patterns and predictability. Physical Geography 26(5):340-364.

Norwine J, John K, editors. 2007. The changing climate of South Texas 1900-2100: problems and prospects, impacts and implications [Internet]. Kingsville (TX): Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Center for Research Excellence in Science & Technology- Research on Environmental Sustainability of Semi-Arid Coastal Areas; [cited 2010 June 23]. Available from:

Norwood CA, Dumler TJ. 2002. Transition to dryland agriculture: limited irrigation vs. dryland corn. Agronomy Journal 94(2):310-320.

[OSD] Office of the State Demographer [Internet]. 2006. San Antonio: Texas State Data Center and Office of the State Demographer, Institute for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research, The University of Texas at San Antonio. New Texas State Data Center Population Projections from the University of Texas at San Antonio; [cited 2010 June 23]. Available from:

Palmer WC. 1965. Meteorological drought. Washington DC: Department of Commerce Weather Bureau. Research Paper No. 45.

Piekle Jr R, Landsea C, Mayfield M, Laver I, Pasch R. 2005. Hurricanes and global warming. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 86(11):1571-1575.

Ross T, Lott N. 2003. A climatology of 1980–2003 extreme weather and climate events. Asheville (NC): NOAA/NESDIS. National Climatic Data Center. National Climatic Data Center Technical Report No. 2003-01.

Sachs J. 2008. Common Wealth: Economics for a crowded planet. New York: The Penguin Press.

Scanlon BR, Reedy RC, Stonestrom DA, Prudic DE, Dennehy KF. 2005. Impact of land use and land cover change on groundwater recharge and quality in the southwestern US. Global Change Biology 11(10):1577-1593.

Seager R, Ting M, Held I, Kushnir Y, Lu J, Vecchi G, Huang H-P, Harnik N, Leetmaa A, Lau N-C, and others. 2007. Model projections of an imminent transition to a more arid climate in southwestern North America. Science 316(5828):1181-1184.

Seidel DJ, Fu Q, Randel WJ, Reichler TJ. 2008. Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climate. Nature Geoscience 1(1):21-24.

Shea KM, Committee on Environmental Health. 2007. Global Climate Change and Children's Health. Pediatrics 120(5):1359-1367.

Stahle DW, Cook ER, Cleaveland MK, Therrell MD, Meko DM, Grissino-Mayer HD, Watson E, Luckman BH. 2000. Tree-ring data document 16th century megadrought over North America. Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union 81(12):121-125.

Stahle DW, Cook ER, Diaz JV, Fye FK, Burnette DJ, Griffin RD, Soto RA, Seager R, Heim RR. 2009. Early 21st-century drought in Mexico. Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union 90(11):9089-9090.

Stern N. 2006. The economics of climate change: the Stern review. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press. 692 p.

Tebaldi C, Hayhoe K, Arblaster JM, Meehl GA. 2006. Going to the extremes: an intercomparison of model-simulated historical and future changes in extreme events. Climatic Change 79(3-4):185-211.

Tebaldi C, Knutti R. 2007. The use of the multimodel ensemble in probabilistic climate projections. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 365(1857):2053-2075.

Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. 2009. Liquid assets: the state of Texas’ water resources [Internet]. Austin: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Publication #96-1360, 2009 Jan; [cited 2010 June 23]. 73 p. Available from:

[TWDB] Texas Water Development Board. 2007. Water for Texas: 2007 State Water Plan [Internet]. Austin: Texas Water Development Board; Chapter 5: Climate of Texas, p. 129-136 Chapter 9: Water supply needs, p. 245-253; Chapter 12: Challenges and uncertainties in water supply planning. p. 291-308 [cited 2010 June 23]. Available from:

Toomey RS, Blum MD, Valastro Jr. S. 1993. Late Quaternary climates and environments of the Edwards Plateau, Texas. Global and Planetary Change 7(4):299-320.

[USDA NRCS] U.S. Department of Agriculture National Resources Conservation Service [Internet]. Portland (OR): Water and Climate Center of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2006 June 12 PRISM; [cited 2010 June 22]. Available from:

[US EPA] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2008. National water program strategy: response to climate change [Internet]. 2008 Sept. Washington DC: U.S. EPA Office of Water (4101M); [cited 2010 June 24]. EPA 800-R-08-001. 114 p. Available from:

[US EPA] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2009. Assessment of the impacts of global change on regional U.S. air quality: a synthesis of climate change impacts on ground-level ozone (An Interim Report of the U.S. EPA Global Change Research Program). Washington DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA/600/R-07/094F.

[USGCRP] U.S. Global Change Research Program. 2009. Global climate change impacts in the United States. Karl TR, Melillo JM, Peterson TC, editors. New York: Cambridge University Press. 196 p.

Vorosmarty CJ, Green P, Salisbury J, Lammers RB. 2000. Global water resources: vulnerability from climate change and population growth. Science 289(5477):284-288.

Ward G. 2010. Water resources and water supply. In: North GR, Schmandt J, Clarkson J, editors. The impact of global warming on Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press [in press].

Webster PJ, Holland GJ, Curry JA, Chang H-R. 2005. Changes in tropical cyclone number, duration, and intensity in a warming environment. Science 309(5742):1844-1846.

Wells N, Goddard S, Hayes MJ. 2004. A self-calibrating Palmer Drought Severity Index. Journal of Climate 17(12):2335-2351.

Woodhouse CA, Lukas JJ. 2006. Drought, tree rings, and water resource management. Canadian Water Resources Journal 31(4):297-310.

Wurbs RA, Muttiah RS, Felden F. 2005. Incorporation of climate change in water availability modeling. Journal of Hydrologic Engineering 10(5):375-385.

Yang Z-L. 2004. Modeling land surface processes in short-term weather and climate studies. In: Zhu X, editor. Observations, theory, and modeling of atmospheric variability. World Scientific Series on Meteorology of East Asia 3. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Corporation. p. 288-313.

Yu J, Norwine J, Bingham R, Tebaldi C. 2006. Potential climatic deterioration in semiarid subtropical South Texas. Geography Online [Internet]. 6(2). Available from:

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2010 Jay L. Banner, Charles S. Jackson, Zong-Liang Yang, Katharine Hayhoe, Connie Woodhouse, Lindsey Gulden, Kathy Jacobs, Gerald North, Ruby Leung, Warren Washington, Xiaoyan Jiang, Richard Castell