As the region heads into what is forecast to be a hot, dry summer, the Lower Colorado River Authority is reminding residents that Central Texas is still in the grasp of a severe drought and that everyone needs to do their part to conserve and use water wisely.
Because of the extended period of dry weather, the amount of water flowing into lakes Travis and Buchanan, called inflows, has been reduced to record-low levels for several years.
The lakes serve as reservoirs for more than a million Central Texans and businesses and industries throughout the lower Colorado River basin. The combined storage of both stands at 38 percent full, and weather forecasts hold little hope of significant relief in the near future.
“We’re not going to run out of water, but everyone needs to understand that this is a serious situation,” LCRA General Manager Becky Motal said. “It’s going to take a significant amount of rain over an extended period of time to refill our lakes. We don’t know when that will happen, so it’s critical that everyone follow the watering restrictions put in place by their local water providers and conserve water wherever and whenever they can.”
Lakes Travis and Buchanan currently hold slightly less than 770,000 acre-feet of water and need more than 1 million acre-feet to fill up. That’s about the amount of water added to the lakes in summer 2007, when 19 inches of rain fell on Marble Falls in one night.
In order for rain to fill the Highland Lakes, it must fall upstream of Austin and in the lakes’ watersheds. These are the areas that drain into the lakes, usually through a network of rivers and streams. During a severe drought like the current one, there must be enough rain to saturate the ground and fill the low spots in creek and river beds before water can begin flowing into the Highland Lakes.
For example, the rainstorms in late May, which flooded some Austin streets for a short period of time, added only about 10,000 acre-feet to lakes Travis and Buchanan because much of the rain fell outside the lakes’ watersheds.
Because of the drought, inflows from the rivers and streams that feed the lake:
· Hit an all-time low in 2011;
· Were the fifth lowest ever in 2012; and
· Are about the same in 2013 as they were this time of the year in 2011.
Lakes Buchanan and Travis are low, but the combined storage was lower in the summer of 2011. It was also lower in 1964 and during the drought of the 1950s, the worst drought in the state’s recorded history.
“The lakes are doing exactly what they’re meant to do,” Motal said. “They are intended to go up and down. LCRA built the lakes to capture and manage water during floods and wet times and hold that water so it is available during drought.”
Because of the drought, LCRA cut off Highland Lakes water to most downstream farmers in 2012 and 2013, and has been working for several years with its municipal and industrial customers to conserve water wherever possible. The 2012 cut-off was the first since the Highland Lakes were created.
LCRA also is looking aggressively for new supplies of water. It recently received permits to pump up to 10,000 acre-feet of water a year during a drought from wells in Bastrop County and is building a new off-channel reservoir in Wharton County that should be completed by 2017. The reservoir could add up to 90,000 acre-feet to the region’s water supply.
“We’re working hard to make sure that we not only have enough water to make it through this drought, but also serve a growing region through future droughts,” Motal said. “Water is precious resource. We can’t create it, so it’s vital to plan ahead.”
For more information on the drought, see LCRA.org. For tips on saving water see watersmart.org.