Highest June inflows since 2010 were still far below average
Severe drought continues as summer heat returns
Rain sent more water into the Highland Lakes last month than in the previous three Junes combined, but was still far short of what's needed to break the severe drought across the lower Colorado River basin.
June inflows (the amount of water flowing into the Highland Lakes from rivers and streams) were almost 24,000 acre-feet. That is only about 15 percent of the historical June average.
A June 12 rain increased the combined storage of lakes Travis and Buchanan by about 14,000 acre-feet. That storm came on the heels of widespread Memorial Day weekend rain that raised levels in Lake Travis by about 4.5 feet and in Lake Buchanan by about 3.3 feet, and added about 80,000 acre-feet to the combined storage of the two lakes.
Inflows in June were the highest for any June since 2010, which had 33,517 acre-feet, and were the second-highest June totals since 719,000 acre-feet of inflows in 2007, when the Marble Falls "rain bomb" dumped 19 inches of rain in one night. The runoff from that storm continued into July and totaled about 1 million acre-feet.
The heavy rains and resulting inflows since May were welcome; however, lakes Travis and Buchanan on July 2 were still only at 39 percent of capacity as the region heads into what is forecast to be a hot and dry rest of the summer. Recent inflows, though modest, have delayed the projected earliest possible declaration of a Drought Worse Than the Drought of Record (DWDR) until early fall.
A DWDR declaration by the LCRA Board of Directors would occur when combined storage in lakes Travis and Buchanan drops below 600,000 acre-feet, or 30 percent of capacity. 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.
Rain in the basin has been well below normal this year, particularly in the Highland Lakes watershed, but there is some hope on the horizon for wetter weather. The National Weather Service says there is a greater than 70 percent chance an El Niño will develop later this year. An El Niño could generate wetter weather in Texas this fall and winter.
Combined storage is below 40 percent, but the Highland Lakes are doing exactly what they are supposed to do – capture 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 rain falls in their watersheds – the areas of land where rain runs off into the rivers and creeks that flow into the lakes. Water entering the lakes is called "inflow." Inflows have been at or near historic lows for an extended period of time during this drought:
- The lowest 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.
- 2014 inflows from January through April were the lowest on record for that four-month period.
- Inflows for January through June 2014 were about 134,200 acre-feet, 19 percent of the historical average for those months. They are the fifth lowest on record for that six-month period.
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 received permission from the state to limit the amount of water it is required to send downstream for the spawning season of the blue sucker fish, and required its firm customers to limit lawn and landscape watering to once a week in the communities they serve.
LCRA is pursuing a new water reservoir in Wharton County, drilling groundwater wells on its property in Bastrop County and investigating other potential projects to add new water supplies.