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Extreme drought remains despite recent rain.

February 23, 2012


Texas Drought

Extreme drought remains despite recent rain

 

The recent heavy rain brought some much-needed relief to the area and the Highland Lakes, but there is still no clear end in sight to the severe drought gripping Central Texas.

Widespread, soaking rains of 1 to 3 inches fell over the entire basin on Feb. 17 and 18. In the Upper Basin, the heaviest rainfall was along the eastern edge of the watershed from Jonestown to Burnet above Lake Travis, and from Mullin to Brownwood above Lake Buchanan. The rains increased the combined storage of lakes Travis and Buchanan by about 60,000 acre-feet.

Although the drought remains, weather conditions have improved some since last summer. The recent pattern of frequent rains shows no signs of breaking down. There is a potential for heavier rains in May and June and this summer is not expected to be as hot or as dry as last year.

The record-setting hot and dry conditions throughout 2011 drastically reduced the flow of water in the tributaries that feed the Highland Lakes, the region's water supply reservoirs. In 2011, the amount of water flowing into the lakes, called inflows, was about 10 percent of average. Inflows in December were 15,830 acre-feet, which is about 23 percent of December’s historic average of 69,883 acre-feet. Even with December’s rainfall, 2011 inflows were the lowest of any year in recorded history at 127,699 acre-feet.

 

RankDateInflows
(acre-feet)
1 1952 - Aug. 210
2 1964 - July 347
3 2011 - Aug. 403
4 2011 - July 734
5 2011 - Sept. 922
6 2011 - June 1,341
7 1954 - Aug. 1,592
8 1954 - Sept. 2,194
9 2006 - Aug. 2,389
10 2000 - Aug. 2,584
Given this forecast, LCRA’s Board of Directors decided Sept. 21 to ask the state for permission to significantly curtail or cut off water to downstream farmers next year if the levels of lakes Buchanan and Travis remain low. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) approved the request Dec. 7. You can read more about the issue here.

 

These record-low inflows, coupled with evaporation and water use from the lakes by customers, means that the combined storage of lakes Travis and Buchanan could drop to 650,000 to 680,000 acre-feet by March 1, according to a new forecast. This forecast shows that by spring the lakes could be very close to the 600,000 acre-foot level that would trigger a declaration that conditions are worse than during the worst drought in the state's history, the 10-year drought of the 1940s and 50s.

 

Water flowing into the Highland Lakes
Click to view the graph: Water flowing into the Highland Lakes
If this were to occur, the Board would require LCRA’s municipal and industrial customers to cut their water use by 20 percent. This requirement, called pro rata curtailment, occurs only after Highland Lakes water has been cut off to downstream farmers. LCRA has been working with its customers to prepare for pro rata curtailment, should it become necessary. For more information, go to LCRA’s pro rata curtailment page.

 

The table below shows current and projected conditions at lakes Travis and Buchanan compared to the conditions experienced during historical lows. This forecast incorporates the temporary emergency drought relief approved by the TCEQ on Dec. 7.

  20122012 (projections)Historical Low**
Feb. 1March 1*Aug. 1*
Lake Travis
(feet above mean sea level (ft msl))
626.79
(43.8 feet below monthly average)
624-626 614-620 614.18
(8/14/1951)
Lake Buchanan (ft msl) 989.88
(22.1 feet below monthly average)
987-989 974-980 983.70
(9/9/1952)
Combined Storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis
(million acre-feet) / % of capacity
0.760 /38% 0.73-0.74
37%-36%
0.50-0.62
25%-31%
0.62
31%
(9/9/1952)

*Based on persistent dry conditions and La Nina in winter and following TCEQ approved temporary emergency changes to Water Management Plan.
**Based on daily 8 a.m. lake levels.

Boat Ramps

As the levels in lakes Travis and Buchanan have dropped, public boat ramps have closed. As of Dec. 13, Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis have no public boat ramps open. Public boat ramps remain open on Inks Lake, Lake LBJ and Lake Marble Falls.

Water Management

LCRA manages lakes Travis and Buchanan, the region's water supply reservoirs, through its state-approved Water Management Plan. LCRA is currently updating the plan. The plan is designed to ensure that cities and industries have the water they need during a drought equal to the worst drought our region has experienced, the 10-year drought of the 1940-50s. However, with conditions on their way to potentially being worse than during the drought of the 1940s and 1950s, the state has given LCRA permission to deviate from the Water Management Plan to take extra drought relief measures if dry conditions persist next year.

LCRA is working with all its customers to manage the water efficiently. Individual customers can go here for information about watering restrictions recommended or required by the region's retail utilities.

In November, all LCRA utilities went to enhanced stage two restrictions, which allows landscape watering no more than once a week. Enhanced stage two occurs when the combined storage of lakes Travis and Buchanan falls to 750,000 acre-feet or less. On Jan. 24, Spicewood Beach Water System went into Stage 4 restrictions because of a drop in the levels of the wells serving the system. Outdoor watering is not

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