South Central Texas was hit with a double threat this summer: record-breaking high heat and little rainfall. The region has seen temperatures over 100 degrees nearly every day since July 8, causing the evaporation of local water reservoirs and increased wildfire risk.

On Aug. 11, Comal County Judge Sherman Krause issued a disaster declaration for Comal County in response to the excessive heat and critical fire weather conditions.

Comal County Fire Marshal Kory Klabunde said the Keetch-Byram Drought Index has risen about 5 points a day. It is used to determine wildfire potential. On a scale of 0-800, Comal County’s KBDI was 740 as of Aug. 29.

“With the continued heat wave and worsening drought conditions, wildfires are a real danger in Comal County,” Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Kelley said in a news release. “We have a burn ban in place and the extreme conditions have to be taken seriously. There is no relief in sight.”

Two-minute impact

South Central Texans are surviving one of the hottest summers recorded with blazing grass fires and extreme drought conditions.

Although water levels at reservoirs have reached staggering lows, Ryan Kelso, interim CEO of New Braunfels Utilities, said New Braunfels is not in danger of running out of water.

“We’ve diversified our water supply portfolio; we now have seven different supply sources that total nearly 50,000 acre-feet of total supply,” Kelso said. “For context, last year, we used just under 20,000 acre feet of water. And so there’s plenty of water to last us out into the 2060 decade if we continue to implement these conservation measures and meet our [water usage] goals.”

By Aug. 29, Canyon Lake dropped to 68.4% capacity, or 892.59 feet above mean sea level, according to the Texas Water Development Board. Canyon Lake is considered full at 909 feet, and the lowest the lake has been until now was in September 2009, when the lake dropped to 892.7 feet, according to the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority.

Diving in deeper

On Aug. 15, the city of New Braunfels, NBU and the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority launched One Water New Braunfels, a collaborative water management initiative. The One Water New Braunfels Roadmap defines goals for long-term water conservation. These include continuing to be a destination for river tourism, conserving environmentally sensitive areas and resource conservation in public infrastructure.

“Water management typically takes place in silos even though our water resources are interconnected,” GBRA General Manager and CEO Darrell Nichols said. “One Water New Braunfels breaks through these barriers, creating a partnership with the resources and expertise necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of the water supply for this region.”

Matthew Hoyt, director of District 9 of the EAA and owner of river outfitting company Corner Tubes, said he thinks the One Water initiative will help ensure spring flow persists in the future.

“Where One Water comes in is providing that some level of sustainability and predictability for folks when they come here every year,” Hoyt said.

The framework

On May 29, New Braunfels moved from Stage 3 to Stage 2 drought restrictions. In Stage 2 restrictions, watering one day a week with a sprinkler or irrigation system is permitted on a designated watering day, according to NBU.

With the excessive heat warnings residents have been experiencing, the trigger to move back to Stage 3 drought restrictions was reached June 28, but city officials made the decision to remain in Stage 2 due to NBU having a diverse water portfolio, according to NBU.

“We have a forecasting model that shows even under current conditions, we can still meet that reduction requirement without going into a more strict stage,” Kelso said. “And so the idea is to stay in Stage 2 because we’ve diversified our water supply so much, we’re able to bring these other supply sources in, which reduces our dependence on the Edwards [Aquifer].”

On Aug. 13, the Edwards Aquifer Authority declared Stage 4 of its Critical Management Plan, which was developed by the EAA as part of its Habitat Conservation Plan. The HCP works to ensure the springs do not dry out again as was seen during the historic drought of 2014.

Drought stages

Drought restrictions in New Braunfels are based on total water supply, demand and capacity of water treatment plants.

New Braunfels Utilities: Stage 2

• Watering with a sprinkler or irrigation system is allowed one day per week biweekly based on the last digit of one's address.

• It must occur before 10:00 a.m. and after 8:00 p.m.

Edwards Aquifer Authority: Stage 4

• On Aug. 13, the EAA declared Stage 4 of the Critical Management Plan, which enforces a 40% reduction on permit holders pumping water out of the aquifer.

What's next?

Central Texas will need to see weeks of heavy rainfall, specifically near Fredericksburg to refill water basins, to end drought conditions, said Aaron Abel, water services manager for the Brazos River Authority.

“That’s what we’re hoping for, but in the meantime, we’ve got to do what we can to extend the last of the water supply in these reservoirs, and that’s by enacting our drought contingency plans and trying to reduce water use,” Abel said.

Some of the water conservation measures recommended by NBU include planting drought-resistant plants when landscaping, harvesting rain using a rain barrel, and ensuring sprinklers are watering the lawn and not sidewalks or roadways.

“[Water conservation efforts are] necessary to sustain the aquatic life, the endangered species that live in those spring systems,” Kelso said. “But it is significant. And it is very serious.”