Lake levels rise slightly during wet January, but drought continues
Welcome rain in January did little to ease the severe drought in the Texas Hill Country. Though the Highland Lakes watershed received above-normal rainfall, inflows remained far below average.
The rain boosted storage in lakes Buchanan and Travis - LCRA's two reservoirs that store water supply for the region - by about 21,000 acre-feet.
January inflows totaled 16,676 acre-feet - just 26 percent of the January average since the lakes were formed. Inflows into the Highland Lakes are the estimated amount of water flowing in from streams and tributaries based on streamflow gauges.
"We continue to be concerned about the historically low inflows," said John Hofmann, LCRA executive vice president of Water. "We're concerned about our water supplies like everyone in the lower Colorado River basin, and we're working with our stakeholders to manage through this. It's important to note that in spite of the multiple years of significant drought, our reservoirs stand at 35 percent of capacity, which is still a significant amount of water."
The Central Texas region is now in the eighth year of a severe drought. Six of the 10 lowest annual inflows on record have occurred since 2008, when this drought began. Average annual inflows for the 1942-2014 period are 1,216,295 acre-feet.
- The lowest annual inflows occurred in 2011 with only 127,802 acre-feet, about 11 percent of the annual average.
- The second lowest inflows were 209,023 acre-feet - about 17 percent of the annual average - in 2014.
- The third lowest inflows were 215,138 acre-feet - about 18 percent of the annual average - in 2013.
- The fourth lowest inflows were 284,462 acre-feet - or about 23 percent of the annual average - in 2008.
- The seventh lowest inflows were 393,163 acre-feet - or about 32 percent of the annual average - in 2012.
- The 10th lowest inflows were 499,732 acre-feet - or about 41 percent of the annual average - in 2009.
For water to flow into the lakes, rain must fall on saturated ground or must be hard enough to generate substantial runoff.
Without significant inflows, levels in lakes Travis and Buchanan remain significantly below average. The combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis rose from 689,396 acre-feet on Jan. 1 to 709,997 acre-feet on Feb. 1.
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 - about 1 percent - the combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis could fall to 600,000 acre-feet as soon as the May-June 2015 time frame.
Though lake levels are low, the Highland Lakes are doing exactly what they were designed to do - capture 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 interruptible 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. The new reservoir will help reduce the amount of water that would otherwise be required from the Highland Lakes.