To predict future water supply, UTA to look to past

A University of Texas at Arlington hydrology researcher will collect historical data about the Brazos River Basin to help the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) make far-reaching decisions about securing water supplies for Texas’ growing population.

Yu Zhang
Yu Zhang

Yu Zhang, a UT Arlington associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, will use a $100,000 TWDB grant to gather information from the 1940s to the present about the Brazos River Basin.

“The Brazos River Basin contains several fast-growing regions in the state of Texas. Securing water supply for the growing population has been a major challenge,” Zhang said. “In the upper portion of the basin, there have been indications of declining runoff yields over several decades. This declining yield has raised concerns about future water availability among regional stakeholders.”

The Brazos River Basin runs from near the Texas Panhandle to the Texas coast, encompassing all or part of 70 Texas counties across 42,000 square miles. Included within its boundaries are cities such as Lubbock, Waco, Temple, Belton, Georgetown, Round Rock, Bryan-College Station, Freeport and Galveston and tributary rivers like the Double Mountain, Salt and Clear Forks, Paluxy, Bosque, Nolan, Little, and Navasota.

Much of the state is experiencing exceptional drought, extreme drought or severe drought, the U.S. Drought Monitor’s three most dangerous conditions. In fact, more than 96% of Texas can be categorized in one of the monitor’s five categories (the remaining two being moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions).

Zhang said the study will investigate potential physical drivers of the downward trends in streamflow in the Upper Brazos. These could include changes in the temporal and spatial distribution of precipitation, seasonality of major precipitation events, land surface, lower-atmospheric temperature and land cover.

Ali Abolmaali, chair and professor of the Department of Civil Engineering, said Zhang’s work could influence where water is collected, stored and used to fuel Texas’ future growth.

“It’s imperative that decision-makers receive accurate data and subsequent recommendations for Texas’ future water needs,” Abolmaali said. “Dr. Zhang is collecting that vital and needed data for those who have to make the tough decisions on water.”

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