What happens in a drought?

Water Management Plan guides region through water supply shortages

Lakes Travis and Buchanan are reservoirs formed by dams on the Colorado River. These two lakes were built to store water during flood and other wet periods so water is available for LCRA customers throughout the basin in dry times. Cities, industries, power plants, lakefront businesses, recreation seekers and sports enthusiasts, farmers, fish and wildlife all depend on Highland Lakes water. During severe droughts, the levels of these lakes can fall significantly.
Why does this happen?


  • The two reservoirs depend on inflows from tributaries and the upstream arm of the Colorado River. When there is not significant rain in the Colorado River watershed, inflows into the lakes can become extremely low.
  • Every spring and summer LCRA increases the amount of water released from the lakes to satisfy downstream needs, such as drinking water in Austin, irrigation for farming, and fresh water for fish and other aquatic life. LCRA can cut back or cut off Highland Lakes water to downstream farmers during significant droughts, as it did in 2012 and 2013.
How does LCRA manage the water?
LCRA releases water from lakes Travis and Buchanan to irrigate crops, supply the City of Austin and other municipal and industrial customers, and to maintain a healthy ecosystem along the lower river and in Matagorda Bay. Farmers sign annual contracts to buy water from the lakes when there's not enough flowing into the lower river from local springs and tributaries. The City of Austin and other municipal and industrial customers have long-term water contracts with LCRA. The ecological releases are required under the Water Management Plan.
The Water Management Plan determines how LCRA allocates water from Lakes Travis and Buchanan in times of plenty and scarcity. The plan contains a number of trigger points for taking action during drought conditions. These trigger points are based on the combined storage levels in Lakes Travis and Buchanan. A new Water Management Plan is currently under review at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Drought Contingency Plan

As a holder of municipal and irrigation water rights, LCRA is required to maintain and implement a Drought Contingency Plan that contains specific actions to be taken during drought, including implementation of target water use reductions. The LCRA Drought Contingency Plan is incorporated as Chapter 4 in the LCRA Water Management Plan.

Water Watch


Click here for near real-time data on the volume in the Highland Lakes' water supply reservoirs.