The drought that began in 2008 in Central Texas has continued to give Blanco County residents more of the same as we begin 2009. LCRA meteorologist Bob Rose recently told local Regional Water Planning Group members that both the jet stream pattern and the mid-Pacific “La Nina” ocean temperature trends appear fairly stable and will not likely weaken for several months. He said it could be mid-late summer before we might see the patterns change and offer a chance for more frequent rainfall. Blanco County residents need to take this warning seriously if we want to avoid groundwater shortages.
Since 2002, the Blanco Pedernales Groundwater Conservation District (District) has expended considerable time, effort, and funding to plan for and implement sound aquifer management practices so that we can successfully navigate times of low rainfall or drought. This is accomplished through the development and adoption of a set of District Rules (which underwent extensive revision last year), a Groundwater Management Plan (that was approved by the Texas Water Development Board in January 2000), and working cooperatively with a number of other groundwater districts, Regional Planning Groups, and various State agencies. The District continues to collect data, expand its water level monitoring and water quality testing programs, and increase its data base and knowledge of our groundwater resources.
Excessive pumping from water wells can hasten the onset or extend the impacts of a drought situation. Keep in mind that as more and more people move into Blanco County, the demand on groundwater will increase. When pumping exceeds the ability of the aquifer to recharge, we can literally pump ourselves into an aquifer drought situation, particularly during periods of lower that normal rainfall. This means that how the water is managed and regulated is very important. That is one of the responsibilities of the District and is part of the reason the District adopted multistage Drought Contingency Rules. By using increasingly stringent drought stages to manage and regulate water usage during drought conditions, beneficial use can continue with as little impact as possible over the expected drought period.
Several months ago, the District declared Stage One Drought conditions for Blanco County Precincts 3 and 4 and Stage Two Drought conditions for Precincts 1 and 4. These Drought Stages are still in effect.
Stage One conditions ask for a voluntary 5-10 % reduction in groundwater use. The only prohibited use of during this stage is providing groundwater to ponds, lakes, tanks, reservoirs, swimming pools, or other surface impoundments for holding water that have a total capacity of more than 50,000 gallons is prohibited except for those wells permitted for non-domestic irrigation. Domestic and livestock ponds which can hold no more than 50,000 gallons are exempted during this stage. To help imagine this volume, you can think of a medium sized swimming pool, which will hold about 50,000 gallons.
Stage Two conditions require a 20% reduction in use. There are many voluntary methods that well owners can employ to achieve this goal, including:
• Continue, or increase, voluntary reduction in various uses
• Check for and correct all plumbing leaks
• Water outside lawns, trees, shrubs once every 5 to 7 days
• Water at night between hours of 8pm and 8am
• Keep swimming pools, landscape or decorative ponds, and fountains covered, use water recirculation, and refill only once every 5 to 7 days
• Wash vehicles at car wash only as needed
• Water livestock in leak-proof troughs as much as practical
Stage Two has two mandatory prohibitions:
• No washing of buildings, driveways, streets, patios, or other outdoor surfaces except as required for human or animal health and safety needs, or for fire prevention
• Providing groundwater to ponds, lakes, tanks, reservoirs, swimming pools, or other surface impoundments for holding water that have a total capacity of more than 50,000 gallons is prohibited except for those wells permitted for non-domestic irrigation. Domestic and livestock ponds which can hold no more than 50,000 gallons are still exempted during this stage.
Stage 3 and Stage 4 conditions are even more restrictive. Stage 3 requires a 20-50% reduction in use and Stage 4 will require a minimum and mandatory 50% reduction in use. These more severe drought conditions also include additional prohibitions. District Rules are available on-line at: www.blancocountygroundwater.org or at the District Office, 601 West Main, Johnson City.
Water levels in monitor wells and long-range weather forecasts seem to indicate that the District may have to designate a more severe drought stage sometime within the next few months. Such a decision by the Board of Directors will not be made lightly. Water levels are being monitored weekly and will play a major role in the decision-making process. During the past couple of months, water levels have been essentially stable, but are close to the low levels measured during the drought of 2006. Water level charts with data through the end of January 2009 clearly show this trend.
Since we have had no major rainfall in months, this flattening of the downward trend during 2008 (and during 2006) is due primarily to the reduction in outside watering during the winter months. District Directors and Staff are concerned about the upcoming spring and summer season due to the high water use commonly experienced during those months as people try to plant or maintain trees, shrubs, grass, and other landscape watering needs.
If the drought continues to worsen and water levels begin to drop, such landscape activities may have to be reduced, delayed, or halted altogether. The District asks each resident to carefully assess their outside watering needs and use a little water as possible. For instance, this appears to be a bad year to try to plant new shrubs and trees. It may be more important to just keep your existing trees and shrubs alive with minimal watering.
One thing for sure, we do not have to worry about when the “next drought” may begin. Folks, we are in it right now. As a result, we encourage well owners to practice water conservation methods to the best of your ability. Your efforts will have a great impact on you, your family, and your neighbors. Since we will all be in this together, let me say, “Thanks in advance!”
If you have any questions about Blanco County groundwater, you are encouraged to contact the District Office at (830) 868-9196 or visit the District Website at www.blancocountygroundwater.org.