Lakes are half full, but need much more rain to recover from prolonged drought
May’s rain has pushed lakes Travis and Buchanan to more than 50 percent full for the first time since Aug. 1, but the drought is a long way from over.
LCRA will not supply water to most downstream farmers this year. This historic decision has helped keep more water in the lakes, but going into the summer months, LCRA is asking all customers to continue to conserve water and use it as wisely as possible.
The recent La Niña pattern has officially ended and there is more moisture in the soil this year, so this summer should be more temperate than last, LCRA Chief Meteorologist Bob Rose said at May’s Board of Directors meeting. Last summer was the state’s hottest and driest on record, so it will take a significant amount of rain for the lakes to fully recover. And Rose said there is no clear trend to the weather across Texas over the next couple of months, making it impossible to forecast whether the summer will be wetter or drier than normal.
LCRA will supply Highland Lakes water only to farmers in the Garwood Irrigation Division this year, and only a maximum of 19,579 acre-feet. (Last year, downstream farmers used 367,985 acre-feet of Highland Lakes water.) Farmers in the Lakeside, Gulf Coast and Pierce Ranch irrigation operations will not receive Highland Lakes water because of the emergency drought relief approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in December.
Because of the recent rain, Garwood farmers have been able to pull the water they need from the river and have not used any Highland Lakes water yet this year. The rain has helped LCRA fill up two gravel pits in the Garwood Irrigation Division that are being tested as small downstream reservoirs. This pilot project (view video) is part of LCRA’s efforts to find 100,000 acre-feet of new water by 2017.
At its May meeting, LCRA’s Board directed staff to work with the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to determine if LCRA can pump about 10,000 acre-feet of groundwater in Bastrop County. The water would be used at LCRA’s Lost Pines Power Park and reduce the power plant’s need for water from lakes Buchanan and Travis.
With the downstream river swelled by the recent rains, LCRA’s Board also decided to make river water available to farmers for agricultural activity other than rice farming. Only water that enters the river below Mansfield Dam will be available under these contracts, and only when there is sufficient flow in the river.
No water will be sent from the Highland Lakes for these contracts, and rice farmers are excluded because the water being made available is heavily dependent on rain and not reliable enough to grow a rice crop. Rice requires a substantial, consistent supply of water for several months. These contracts will allow LCRA to make beneficial use of water in the river by offering it to customers who do not require a consistent supply of water.
For more information on the ongoing drought or the conditions of the Highland Lakes, please go to LCRA’s drought page.