MASTER GARDENERS: Water: Our incredibly precious resource

By Emmy Ulmschneider

Master Gardener

Since 2014, when I first attended the Land and Water Summit in Alburquerque New Mexico, I look forward to the first week in March. I get a chance to explore innovative ways cities in arid lands are becoming more water resilient. And now more than ever, that applies to us, here on the southern toe of the Llano Estacado.

Here on the Llano Estacado, water is scarce. Historically, the Llano was dotted with springs but most of them no longer flow. We are an arid land averaging about 15” of rain a year. But as we all know rain can fluctuate a lot and our rain does not fall evenly as you can see from the graph of our annual rainfall from 1931 to the present.

Keep in mind that a desert gets about 10” of rain a year. The driest 10-year period on record was 1951-1960 which averaged 12.4” of rain. 2011 – 2020 averaged 12.98” the second driest 10-year period since 1931. And it has been hotter lately. From 2000-2023, we have experienced six of the ten hottest days on record and some of the longest hottest periods since records were kept starting in 1931. And just recently, the USDA Agricultural Research Service changed our Hardiness Plant Zone from 8a to 8b reflecting a higher extreme minimum temperature. See

Courtesy Photo

At the 2022 Land and Water Summit, landscape architect, Christine Ten Eck spoke about her work transforming the University of Texas El Paso campus with sustainable landscape practices including vegetated arroyo and acequia bioswales that mimic the function of natural desert riparian corridors. Diverse native trees, shrubs, and forbs have replaced asphalt areas and for her work, the American Society of Landscape Architects awarded her a 2023 Award of Honor stating … “The transformed UTEP campus demonstrates a new standard for open space design in El Paso and other arid communities by balancing human comfort with stewardship for the delicate desert ecosystem.” Subsequently, this project became the first project in the world to earn Sustainable SITES v2 certification. See

During her talk, Christine Ten Eck also mentioned another one of her projects, Centennial Plaza, in Midland, Texas! Her innovative ways of blending a sense of place, an urban green space, human needs, and sustainable features are certainly visible in downtown Midland. If you visit look for the ways that the irrigation processes reuse stormwater runoff and air conditioning condensate, see how the gardens were designed to promote healthy tree growth, and enjoy the colorful vegetated swales which gather and filter water. And if you are curious but live farther afield, visit virtually. To take a stroll through Centennial Plaza and learn a bit about its sustainable features, try:

To follow the park from its design, through construction, to completion try:

If you want to know more about water in our area and how to become more water resilient, consider coming to the Permian Basin Master Gardener Spring Symposium. The Symposium is March 23 at the Midland AgriLife Office from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information and to register see There will be three local speakers who will share what makes West Texas gardening unique and how to deal with changing issues. Lunch is provided; all for just $35.00. Follow our Facebook page “Permian Basin Master Gardeners” and watch our articles here for additional details for registration. You’ll be glad you did.

If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700. Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at Click on “Resources.”