As weather warms, drought remains

Despite 2012 rains, lakes remain less than 50 percent full

Rain showers in the early part of 2012 helped make Central Texas green again, but the drought that depleted the Highland Lakes last year is far from over. With the weather heating up again, LCRA encourages Central Texans to continue to use water as wisely as possible.

"Last summer’s blistering heat may be a memory, but, unfortunately, the drought is still with us," said LCRA General Manager Becky Motal. "As Central Texans turn their attention to their lawns and landscaping, we urge everyone to follow approved watering schedules and conserve water wherever they can."

Most communities have their own watering schedule, and some require that residents water no more than once a week. Residents should check with their local water provider to understand their local watering requirements.

Lakes Buchanan and Travis are just under 50 percent full. This is an improvement from late last year, when the combined storage of the lakes fell to 37 percent, but the lakes are still significantly lower than the April average:

  • Lake Buchanan is currently about 997 feet above mean seal level (msl), which is about 16 feet lower than average for this time of year. One year ago, the level was almost 1010 feet msl. The level is forecast to fall to 989 to 993 feet msl by July 1.
  • Lake Travis is currently about 639 feet msl, which is about 32 feet lower than average for this time of year. One year ago, the level was almost 659 feel msl. The level is forecast to fall to 635 to 639 feet msl by July 1.

Lakes Buchanan and Travis are the region’s reservoirs and supply water to more than a million Central Texans. Businesses, industries, power plants and farmers also rely on the lakes. However, because of the ongoing drought, LCRA will not provide Highland Lakes water to most downstream farmers this year.

Last year was the worst single-year drought and the hottest summer in the state’s history. That combination reduced the water flowing into the lakes, called inflows, to an all-time low. Inflows were only 10 percent of their historical average in 2011 and provided less water to the Highland Lakes than the lakes lost in evaporation.

Thanks to rain earlier this year, inflows for the first three months of 2012 approached historical averages. Inflows even surpassed the historical average for the month of March. This was the first time monthly inflows have been above average since April 2010. But this April has seen a return to dry weather, with less than a quarter of an inch of rain so far.

There is no clear weather pattern in sight for the summer, LCRA Meteorologist Bob Rose said. However, with unusually warm water temperatures across the Gulf of Mexico, there is the potential for storms to bring wet weather this summer. Most long-range forecasts call for weak El Nino conditions developing by fall, causing a pattern of above-normal rainfall.

But going into the warmer months, the lakes are significantly lower than they were this time last year. On April 25, 2011, the lakes held a combined 1.42 million acre-feet of water (about 71 percent full). Today, they hold about 972,500 acre-feet (about 48 percent full).

"We should never become complacent when it comes to water conservation," Motal said. "All of us depend on the water of the Highland Lakes and the Colorado River, and we all have a role to play to conserve that precious resource."

Combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis on key dates.

Date Combined storage
April 25, 2012 (today) 48 percent
April 25, 2011 (one year ago) 71 percent
Dec. 1, 2011 (lowest point of current drought) 37 percent