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LakeLevelMo. Avg
Buchanan988.471012.07
Inks887.33887.51
LBJ824.64824.18
Marble Falls736.43736.81
Travis626.56669.99
Austin491.93492.2
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How full are the lakes?
37%
Lakes Travis and Buchanan are our region’s water supply reservoirs and currently hold about 740,667 acre-feet of water.
 
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First quarter of 2014 among driest in history

 

Lakes Travis and Buchanan could fall to lowest levels ever if drought continues

 

The amount of water flowing into lakes Travis and Buchanan remained near all-time lows in March as the severe drought has reduced many of the lakes' tributaries to trickles.

Only 8,102 acre-feet of water flowed into the lakes in March, about 9 percent of average for the month. Inflows for January through March 2014 were lower than the same three months in 2011, a year that had the lowest annual inflows on record. Inflows are the amount of water that flows into the lakes from streams and tributaries. Rain totals across the Hill Country also were historically low the first three months of the year, generally averaging less than an inch.

Lakes Travis and Buchanan are the region's major water reservoirs. They provide water for more than a million people and for businesses, industries, agriculture and the environment throughout the lower Colorado River basin.

The lower Colorado River basin is now in the seventh year of a severe drought. Lakes Travis and Buchanan are at 37 percent of capacity and could hit all-time lows this summer if the intense drought conditions continue.

In response to the drought, LCRA, with permission from the state, has cut off Highland Lakes water to most interruptible agricultural customers for three years in a row. LCRA also has limited lawn and landscape watering to once a week in the communities it serves. If combined storage in lakes Travis and Buchanan falls to 600,000 acre-feet (about 30 percent of capacity), LCRA would cut off remaining irrigation and require firm customers, mostly cities and industries, to cut their water use by 20 percent compared to use from September 2010 to August 2011.

However, there is hope for some relief later this year. The National Weather Service says there is a greater than 50 percent chance an El Niño will develop later this year. If that occurs, it could generate wetter weather in Texas this fall and winter.

There has not been enough rain in the right places during this prolonged drought to generate significant inflows. As a result, inflows have been at or near historic lows for an extended period of time:

  • 2011 inflows were the lowest in history, only about 10 percent of the annual average;
  • 2013 inflows were the second lowest in history at about 18 percent of the annual average;
  • 2008 inflows were the third lowest in history at about 23 percent of the annual average;
  • 2012 inflows were the sixth lowest in history at about 32 percent of the annual average; and
  • 2009 inflows were the ninth lowest in history at about 41 percent of average.

 

There was significant rain in the lower Colorado River basin in 2013, including storms powerful enough to cause damaging floods in Austin and other communities late in the year. However, much of the heavy rain in 2013 fell in Austin or downstream of Austin. Rain that falls downstream of lakes Travis and Buchanan, including in Austin, cannot be captured in the Highland Lakes system. It flows down the Colorado River toward Matagorda Bay.

LCRA is pursuing a reservoir in Wharton County near the Gulf Coast to take advantage of rain events like these. The reservoir would allow LCRA to capture flows that enter the Colorado River downstream of Lake Travis and hold them for later use.

The new reservoir would be the first built in the lower Colorado River basin in decades. It is expected to be completed in early 2017. The reservoir would serve industrial and agricultural customers in the lower basin and would benefit customers throughout the basin by reducing the need to release water from the Highland Lakes.

The Highland Lakes were created to manage floods on the Colorado River and to provide a sustainable source of water for the basin as a whole. To the extent that the new downstream reservoir will be able to provide water to help meet the needs of the lower basin, less water from the Highland Lakes will be needed for these purposes.

LCRA also is drilling five groundwater wells on its property in Lost Pines Power Park in Bastrop County. Two wells began operating in late December. The other three are scheduled to be finished this year. The water is being used at the power plants to produce electricity, reducing the need to send water from the Highland Lakes downstream for that purpose.

Potential New Water Rates: Get Involved
Watch LCRA videos on the drought

 How Severe is the Drought?

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Lake Conditions

This table shows recent water levels at lakes Travis and Buchanan, and projected conditions through Oct. 1 if persistently dry conditions continue. It also shows a comparison with water levels experienced during historical lows.

20142014 (Projections)Historical Low*
April 1*July 1**Oct. 1**
Lake Travis (feet above mean sea level (feet msl))627.32
(42.67 feet below monthly average)
622-618617-611614.18
(8/14/1951)
Lake Buchanan (feet msl)988.91
(23.16 feet below monthly average)
984-982978-975983.70
(9/9/1952)
Combined Storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis (million acre-feet) / % of capacity0.75
37%
0.64-0.58
32%-29%
0.56-0.47
28%-23%
0.62
31%
(9/9/1952)

*Based on daily 8 a.m. lake levels.
**Based on persistent dry conditions and emergency drought relief measures affirmed by TCEQ on February 26, 2014.