Drought deepens without significant fall rain
October inflows were far below average
Spotty, light rain in October created little runoff to replenish Central Texas water reservoirs as the area's severe drought continues. October inflows – the amount of water flowing into the Highland Lakes – were the third lowest October inflows in the region's history, totaling 9,242 acre-feet, or just 7.7 percent of the average for the month.
Inflows have been at or near historic lows for an extended period during this drought:
- January through October 2014 inflows totaled about 174,000 acre-feet – the second lowest on record for that 10-month period. 2011 had the lowest January through October inflows.
- Six of the 10 lowest annual inflows in history have occurred since 2006.
- The lowest annual inflows in history occurred in 2011, with only 127,802 acre-feet, about 10 percent of the annual average.
- The second lowest inflows in history were 215,138 acre-feet in 2013.
- The third lowest inflows in history were 284,462 acre-feet in 2008.
- The fourth lowest inflows in history were 285,229 acre-feet in 2006.
- The sixth lowest inflows in history were 393,163 acre-feet in 2012.
- The ninth lowest inflows in history were 499,732 acre-feet in 2009.
With low inflows in October, the combined storage in lakes Buchanan and Travis – the two water supply reservoirs in the Highland Lakes – dropped from 702,116 acre-feet on Oct. 1 to 680,743 acre-feet on Nov. 10, or about 34 percent of capacity. An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons.
A large weather system brought gentle rain to the entire lower Colorado River basin in early November, but the rainfall provided very little runoff to the Highland Lakes. Most of the rainfall soaked into extremely dry soil. In all, the rain added about 3,800 acre-feet to storage in lakes Buchanan and Travis. Lake Buchanan rose about 2 inches, and Lake Travis rose about 2 ½ inches.
Should combined storage drop below 600,000 acre-feet, or 30 percent of capacity, 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.
Without additional rain in the Highland Lakes watershed, there is a small chance the combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis could fall to 600,000 acre-feet as soon as February 2015.
Though lake levels are low, the Highland Lakes are doing exactly what they were designed to do – capturing water when it rains to ensure the region has a reliable water supply 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 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 water to most interruptible agricultural customers for three years in a row. At its Nov. 19 meeting, the LCRA Board of Directors will consider applying to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for emergency drought relief for the fourth year in a row.