The amount of water flowing into Central Texas' Highland Lakes Travis and Buchanan remained
near all-time lows in March as the severe drought has reduced many of
the lakes' tributaries to trickles.
Only 8,102 acre-feet of water
flowed into the lakes in March, about 9 percent of average for the
month. Inflows for January through March 2014 were lower than the same
three months in 2011, a year that had the lowest annual inflows on
record. Inflows are the amount of water that flows into the lakes from
streams and tributaries. Rain totals across the Hill Country also were
historically low the first three months of the year, generally averaging
less than an inch.
Lakes Travis and Buchanan are the region's
major water reservoirs. They provide water for more than a million
people and for businesses, industries, agriculture and the environment
throughout the lower Colorado River basin.
The lower Colorado
River basin is now in the seventh year of a severe drought. Lakes Travis
and Buchanan are at 37 percent of capacity and could hit all-time lows
this summer if the intense drought conditions continue.
response to the drought, LCRA, with permission from the state, has cut
off Highland Lakes water to most interruptible agricultural customers
for three years in a row. LCRA also has limited lawn and landscape
watering to once a week in the communities it serves. If combined
storage in lakes Travis and Buchanan falls to 600,000 acre-feet (about
30 percent of capacity), LCRA would cut off remaining irrigation and
require firm customers, mostly cities and industries, to cut their water
use by 20 percent compared to use from September 2010 to August 2011.
there is hope for some relief later this year. The National Weather
Service says there is a greater than 50 percent chance an El Niño will
develop later this year. If that occurs, it could generate wetter
weather in Texas this fall and winter.
There has not been enough
rain in the right places during this prolonged drought to generate
significant inflows. As a result, inflows have been at or near historic
lows for an extended period of time:
- 2011 inflows were the lowest in history, only about 10 percent of the annual average;
- 2013 inflows were the second lowest in history at about 18 percent of the annual average;
- 2008 inflows were the third lowest in history at about 23 percent of the annual average;
- 2012 inflows were the sixth lowest in history at about 32 percent of the annual average; and
- 2009 inflows were the ninth lowest in history at about 41 percent of average.
was significant rain in the lower Colorado River basin in 2013,
including storms powerful enough to cause damaging floods in Austin and
other communities late in the year. However, much of the heavy rain in
2013 fell in Austin or downstream of Austin. Rain that falls downstream
of lakes Travis and Buchanan, including in Austin, cannot be captured in
the Highland Lakes system. It flows down the Colorado River toward
LCRA is pursuing a reservoir in Wharton County
near the Gulf Coast to take advantage of rain events like these. The
reservoir would allow LCRA to capture flows that enter the Colorado
River downstream of Lake Travis and hold them for later use.
The new reservoir
would be the first built in the lower Colorado River basin in decades.
It is expected to be completed by 2017. The reservoir would serve
industrial and agricultural customers in the lower basin and would
benefit customers throughout the basin by reducing the need to release
water from the Highland Lakes.
The Highland Lakes were created to
manage floods on the Colorado River and to provide a sustainable source
of water for the basin as a whole. To the extent that the new
downstream reservoir will be able to provide water to help meet the
needs of the lower basin, less water from the Highland Lakes will be
needed for these purposes.
LCRA also is drilling five groundwater
wells on its property in Lost Pines Power Park in Bastrop County. Two
wells began operating in late December. The other three are scheduled to
be finished by summer. The water is being used at the power plants to
produce electricity, reducing the need to send water from the Highland
Lakes downstream for that purpose.