Instead, it's likely that the Texas drought will become the most significant and wide-reaching disaster of 2011. This once-in-a-century event has already caused $9 billion in damage (and that number is sure to rise).
The truth of the matter is that droughts make for stale, repetitive headlines. What's more exciting, watching an oncoming flood or watching the lawn turn brown?
The National Drought Mitigation Center has labeled the apathy toward future drought the Hydro-Illogical Cycle. The cycle goes like this: unlike other natural disasters, a drought has a slow onset. As drought conditions mount, people remain unaware and continue with their normal routines. At a certain stage the situation reaches a tipping point and communities start to conserve water, but when rains do return, they resume their normal activity. There is only a brief period when people are truly concerned. As long as the general public is stuck in this cycle, the proactive measures needed to mitigate future drought are avoided. It's similar to the reason why it's hard to get people worked up about climate change: it's an abstract problem.
When the most recent plan was published in 2007, officials estimated it would cost $31 billion to provide water to the population in 2060, said Dan Hardin, director of water resource planning at the water development board. That doesn't include more than $140 billion needed for other water-related infrastructure, including flood control. But in January, the board told the Legislature the cost had jumped to $53 billion.Of course, media saturation is not the answer. With too much coverage, people become desensitized. With too little, problems go overlooked. What's important is that the momentum to conserve remains even when the drought lessens in severity. Although Texas, like many states, is dealing with budget deficits, the future of its water supply should be a definite priority.
Yet lawmakers, struggling with a $27 billion budget deficit, allocated only $100 million to water projects -- enough, say, to build one small reservoir.
"Billions of dollars of ideas but no funding," sums up Laura Huffman, state director of the Nature Conservancy of Texas.