2014 inflows into the Highland Lakes second lowest on record as drought continues
Inflows into the Highland Lakes from streams and tributaries in 2014 were the second lowest for any year since 1942, when Mansfield Dam was completed.
In December, the amount of water flowing into the Highland Lakes totaled just more than 10,500 acre-feet - about 16 percent of the historical average for inflows for the month of December. (An acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons.)
Unlike the Austin area, which had above-average rainfall last year, the Highland Lakes watershed in the Texas Hill Country had below-normal rainfall in 2014 and remains in a serious drought. The intermittent timing of storms in the Hill Country allowed the soil to dry out between rain events, which resulted in little runoff into the lakes. For water to flow into the lakes, the rain must fall on saturated ground, or the rain must be hard enough to generate substantial runoff. Very little of either occurred in 2014.
"It's not that the area around the lakes hasn't gotten rain,'' said John Hofmann, LCRA executive vice president of Water. "It's that we haven't had enough rain in the right spot - or in the right way - to make a significant difference in lake levels. Ideally, we need rain to saturate the soil, followed immediately by another series of storms."
Inflows into the Highland Lakes have been well-below average every year since 2008, when the current drought began.
Without significant inflows, levels in LCRA's two reservoirs that store water supply for the region - lakes Travis and Buchanan - remain significantly below average. The combined storage of lakes Travis and Buchanan fell from 691,132 acre-feet on Dec. 1 to 689,396 acre-feet on Jan. 1 - the lowest on record for that date. In early January, the lakes stood at 34 percent of capacity.
If combined storage falls to 30 percent of capacity, or 600,000 acre-feet, the LCRA Board of Directors will issue a Drought Worse Than the Drought of Record declaration. Following a state-approved plan, LCRA then would require cities, industries and other firm customers to reduce their water use by 20 percent from a baseline year and would cut off all Highland Lakes water to interruptible customers.
There is a small chance the combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis could fall to 600,000 acre-feet as soon as March 2015.
Though lake levels are low, the Highland Lakes are doing exactly what they were designed to do - capturing water when it rains to ensure the region has a reliable water supply during times of drought.
Lakes Travis and Buchanan provide drinking water to more than a million people and water to industries, businesses, the environment and, when available, agriculture in the lower Colorado River basin.
LCRA has been working aggressively to conserve water and expand the water supply during the drought.
With permission from the state, LCRA has cut off Highland Lakes water to most interruptible agricultural customers for three years in a row and is seeking emergency drought relief again for 2015.
LCRA is building the first new water supply reservoir in the lower Colorado River basin in decades. The Lane City Reservoir is the first project that will allow LCRA to capture and store significant amounts of water downstream of the Highland Lakes. The reservoir could add up to 90,000 acre-feet per year to LCRA's firm water supply and is expected to be completed in 2017.