Texas’ Dropping Reservoir Levels Raise Concern


The extreme drought has lowered levels in Lake Travis, exposing formations not seen for some time. | Image by LCRA

As the state endures the worst drought since 2011, Central Texas lakes and reservoirs are in decline, as water flow from two major rivers stopped refilling the Highland Lakes system over the last two weeks.

The Highland Lakes were little more than half-full, and the Pedernales River and Llano River stopped contributing to the reservoirs, explained Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) Executive Vice President of Water John Hofmann. Despite the low levels, he said the area is not expected to run out of water this summer.

“We have plenty of drinking water supplies available in the Highland Lakes, but we need to start tapping the brakes on water use because we don’t know when this drought will end,” Hofmann warned in a July 2 statement. “Last week’s scattered showers were welcome but weren’t enough to do much good in terms of water supply.”

Texas has endured hot and dry conditions since late last year, Hofmann said, “which means evaporation is up and customers are using more water. Those factors, combined with the scarce amount of water flowing into the Highland Lakes since last fall, have caused lake levels to drop.’’

Lake Travis’ water level was at 645 feet elevation and was projected to fall by another foot over the next week. This caused Lake Travis facilities operators to close several boat ramps, leaving only four still operating.

The Highland Lakes system is part of a larger water system that provides drinking water for Austin and nearby Central Texas cities and sustains the Matagorda Bay ecosystem. The water is also used to cool the South Texas nuclear power plant near Corpus Christi and to irrigate farmland.

The LCRA had taken steps to prioritize water use, such as barring agricultural use of water held in the Highland Lakes Reservoirs. The LCRA justifies cutting off water to interruptible customers like rice farmers so that the water can be available to cities, businesses, and industries.

Austin officials warned against ingesting water directly from Central Texas lakes after a dog died. The likely cause was poisonous algae, which grows in stagnant water like the Highland Lakes.

Drought conditions have become so dangerous that on July 8, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency in several counties, including Travis. Abbott cited an increased likelihood of wildfires and the threat of damage or loss of life or property. The state of emergency makes it easier for local governments to respond to the crisis and allows them to bypass red tape.

“This is a serious drought,” Hoffman said. “The majority of the Hill Country has only received between five and 10 inches of rain since October, well below average, and the amount of water flowing into the Highland Lakes from January through June is the lowest on record for that six-month period.”

While not as bad, North Texas lakes are also low. Boat ramps at Lake Whitney, Benbrook Lake, and Waco Lake were closed due to low elevations caused by drought conditions.

The Dallas Express previously reported that the most significant strains on available water supply in North Texas come from the delivery infrastructure rather than from low resource supply.

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7 months ago

“significant strains on available water supply in North Texas come from the delivery infrastructure rather than from low resource supply”
Hum..is ERCOT involved?