Record-low inflows continue as drought becomes most severe in history of Highland Lakes
Preliminary 2014 data shows this drought is now the most severe the region has experienced since construction of the Highland Lakes began in the 1930s.
The severity of the drought has reduced the amount of water LCRA can reliably supply through a repeat of the driest conditions on record by 100,000 acre-feet, to 500,000 acre-feet. The revised inventory estimate reduces the amount of water LCRA will have available for sale in the future, but does not impact existing contracts.
The Central Texas region is in the eighth year of a severe drought.
“We have not run out of water and LCRA can meet its firm water commitments,” said John Hofmann, LCRA executive vice president of Water. “Lakes Travis and Buchanan are still more than a third full. We have enough water, but not enough to waste. So, we are working with our customers and with the public to create awareness about the severity of this drought and enlist their help in conserving water for a growing Texas.”
February 2015 inflows – or the amount of water flowing into the Highland Lakes from streams and tributaries – were extremely low. February inflows were 11,771 acre-feet – about 14 percent of the February average. Inflows for the month were the seventh lowest for February inflows.
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. Some key facts include:
- 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.
Despite below-normal rain and low inflows in February, the combined storage in LCRA’s water supply reservoirs for the region – lakes Buchanan and Travis – rose from 709,997 acre-feet on Feb. 1 to 717,053 acre-feet on March 1 due to late January rain. In late March, the lakes stood at 37 percent of capacity.
Without additional rain in the Highland Lakes watershed, there is a small chance – less than 1 percent – the combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis could fall to 30 percent of capacity, or 600,000 acre-feet, in the June-July 2015 time frame.
If combined storage falls to 600,000 acre-feet, specific drought response actions would be triggered under the 2010 Water Management Plan. The LCRA Board of Directors will issue a “Drought Worse Than Drought of Record” declaration. After a DWDR declaration, LCRA 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 all interruptible customers.
Though lake levels are low, the Highland Lakes are doing exactly what they were designed to do. The lakes 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 enough water is available, agriculture in the lower Colorado River basin.
In order to conserve water and manage the water supply during the drought, LCRA cut off Highland Lakes interruptible water to most interruptible agricultural customers for three years in a row with permission from the state. On March 4, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved
emergency drought relief again for the first part of 2015. The orders will be effective for 120 days from Feb. 18.
LCRA also 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 water inventory and is expected to be completed in 2017. The new reservoir will help reduce the amount of water that would otherwise be required to be released from the Highland Lakes.