On Behalf of Texas Ag, Sen. Cruz Secures Extension of Drought Warning Sensors

February 12, 2024

TX Farm Bureau Cheers NOAA Decision Delaying Devices’ Retirement After Cruz Inquiry

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Texas farmers and ranchers will still have access to early warning signs of potential droughts due to the efforts of U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

The federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had planned to retire soil moisture sensors in Texas relied upon by the state’s agricultural community to spot potential droughts. However, NOAA has delayed any action on the sensors after an inquiry from Sen. Cruz, who sent an oversight letter to NOAA about its initial decision and upcoming plans.

In November 2023, NOAA notified soil data users that it would begin in 2023 to retire 113 sensors across the country. NOAA claimed the program was being phased out due to a funding shortfall despite the network’s menial cost of about $904,000 per year to maintain, a small fraction of NOAA’s overall budget. Last year, Sen. Cruz raised concerns about some of NOAA’s non-core budget priorities, such as $9.1 million for “woke” grants focused on “environmental justice and equity [and] to support a more robust and diverse domestic seafood sector.” 

As Sen. Cruz writes to NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad,

“I write to express my concern regarding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) recent steps to decommission 113 soil moisture sensors. Soil moisture measurements are essential for agricultural monitoring and accurate forecasts of drought and other hazards like flooding and wildfire. It is my understanding that after my office contacted NOAA expressing concern about this decommissioning, NOAA delayed taking action through this fiscal year. However, since the decommissioning is still under consideration, I strongly encourage to commit to keeping these soil moisture sensors in service.

“More than 248,000 farms and ranches in Texas rely on these forecasts to manage crops and livestock. Decommissioning these sensors would hurt farmers not just in Texas, but across the entire United States, especially in states that rely exclusively on NOAA’s network, such as Louisiana, Florida, Virginia, Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

“The 2018 reauthorization of the National Integrated Drought Information System required NOAA to develop a strategy for monitoring the nation’s soil moisture. The resulting Strategy for the National Coordinated Soil Moisture Monitoring Network specifically calls for ‘a strategic and coordinated increase of in situ moisture monitoring stations across the United States.’ NOAA’s short-sighted proposal to decommission these sensors does the exact opposite.”

Sen. Cruz’s letter asks:

  • how the decommissioning proposal was informed by the Strategy for the National Coordinated Soil Moisture Monitoring Network
  • what the status of the strategy implementation is
  • how stakeholder input was incorporated
  • what the impacts of this implementation might be on weather and drought forecasting, and
  • what funding is required to use and maintain these sensors annually.

As the letter states, NOAA’s decommissioning proposal would have a deeply detrimental effect on Texas farmers and ranchers. In support of Sen. Cruz’s letter, Russell Boening, President of the Texas Farm Bureau said:

“NOAA’s soil moisture sensors provide data that helps Texas farmers and ranchers prepare for and respond to drought. Agricultural producers need NOAA to provide better drought predictions by maintaining and improving the networks that collect this essential data. We thank Sen. Cruz for listening to Texas Farm Bureau’s concerns and for his leadership on this vital issue.”

Read the full text of this letter HERE.