Highland Lakes combined storage falls in July, drought continues
Spotty rain, dry ground produce sparse inflows
Despite two unusual cold fronts, rainfall in July wasn't enough to bring significant change to the Highland Lakes, as the record-breaking drought that has parched the area for more than six years continued its grip on the region.
Combined storage in the reservoir lakes, Buchanan and Travis, dropped from 795,394 acre-feet on July 1 to 766,700 acre-feet on Aug. 1.
The lakes rise when more water flows into the lakes than is used or evaporated from the lakes. For this to happen, plentiful rain must fall in their watershed – the area where rain runs off into the rivers and creeks that flow into the lakes. Water entering the lakes is called "inflow."
Though isolated parts of the Hill Country received rain of between three and six inches in July, other parts received very little, and much of the rain was soaked up by the dry ground, resulting in low inflows to the lakes. July inflows into the Highland Lakes were just below 14,000 acre-feet, which were still higher than the 734 acre-feet received in July 2011, the lowest year of inflows to the Highland Lakes on record.
Prospects for immediate relief from the drought are bleak – August is historically the hottest, driest month of the summer and typically produces the lowest inflows.
Should combined storage drop below 600,000 acre-feet, 30 percent of capacity, the LCRA Board will issue a Drought Worse than the Drought of Record declaration. Following a state-approved plan, LCRA would then require cities, industries and other firm customers to reduce their water use by 20 percent, and would cut off all Highland Lakes water to interruptible customers.
LCRA now projects that the earliest that combined storage could drop below 600,000 acre-feet is January 2015.
Combined storage is below 40 percent, but the Highland Lakes are doing exactly what they are supposed to do – capturing water when it rains to ensure the region has water during droughts such as this one.
Lakes Travis and Buchanan provide drinking water to more than a million people, and water to industries, businesses and the environment throughout the lower Colorado River basin. The lakes fill when plentiful rain falls in their watersheds. Inflows have been at or near historic lows for an extended period of time during this drought:
- January through July 2014 inflows were about 148,000 acre-feet, the fourth lowest on record for that seven-month period.
- Inflows from January through April 2014 were the lowest on record for that four-month period.
- The lowest annual inflows in history occurred in 2011, with only about 10 percent of the annual average.
- The second lowest inflows in history were in 2013.
- The third lowest inflows in history were in 2008.
- The sixth lowest inflows in history were in 2012.
- The ninth lowest inflows in history were in 2009.
LCRA has been working aggressively to conserve water and expand the water supply during the drought. With permission from the state, LCRA cut off Highland Lakes water to most interruptible agricultural customers for three years in a row. LCRA also is requiring its firm customers to limit lawn and landscape watering to once a week in the communities they serve.
LCRA is pursuing a new reservoir in Wharton County, drilling groundwater wells on its property in Bastrop County and investigating other potential projects to add new water supplies.