Austin continues to stare down drought conditions

Even though the Austin area has seen some rain over the past month, officials from various water-related organizations say it has not been enough to pull the area out of one of the most severe droughts the state has seen.

"This is not an ordinary drought," said Greg Meszaros, director of Austin Water Utility. "In Central Texas, we get accustomed to it being dry and we become complacent. This is a cumulative effect of years of some of the driest weather, from an inflow perspective, ever experienced around the state. From Austin's perspective, certainly the first six years of this drought, compared to the drought of the '50s which was a 10-year drought, this drought is worse."

Meszaros was one of three speakers at the Oct. 2 Engage Breakfast that spurred discussion on the drought and how it pertains to Central Texas residents. Other panel members included Beck Motal, general manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority, and Heather Harward, founder and executive director of H2O4Texas Coalition.

H2O4Texas Coalition is a group focused on implementing the state's water management plan.

According to the moderator and KXAN anchor Leslie Rhode, about 93 percent of Texas is in a drought and about half the state is classified as being in a severe drought. The Highland Lakes, where Austin gets some of its water, are at around 33 percent capacity. When the combined storage for the Highland Lakes reaches 600,000 acre feet of water, the area will be in the drought of record. As of Sept. 27 the lake levels were at 660,000 acre feet.

The drought of record is the worst water shortage the Texas has had and the gauge used to measure subsequent droughts.

To deal with the drought, the panelists discussed collaboration with regional players, conservation and developing new water resources.

"We have to be investing in these technologies, modernizing our system, growing out water supplies, replacing leaking infrastructure and [investing in] the reclaimed [water] system," Meszaros said.

Meszaros said he expects the city to hit an all-time low for water use, but residents can continue to conserve water and follow water restrictions to help preserve the water supply.

"It's important that you follow the rules and educate yourself," Meszaros said.

Meszaros said the city also has seen the effect of the drought through dead trees in the urban forest.

The city of Austin is currently in Stage II water restrictions, which restricts watering to one day per week for residences. Meszaros said the city is about to move to Stage III restrictions—which would further restrict when and how residents can water—if the lake levels fall to or below 600,000 acre feet.

Harward said another way Austin and Texas residents can address the drought it by voting for funding for the state's water plan, which will be on the ballot in November.

"We have a historic opportunity to take a huge leap forward in terms of implementation of our state water plan," Harward said.

Proposition 6 on November's ballot will establish the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas. The state's water plan includes strategies such as reservoirs, conservation, reuse of water and water desalination.

Motal said even though LCRA is doing everything it can to best manage the water supply during the drought, the situation is dependent on the weather.

"Unfortunately, LCRA has a lot of power, but we're never given the power to make it rain, and that's how we fill up the lakes," Motal said. "I don't mean to be facetious about that, but that's how we fill up the lakes. There's no other way."

The next Engage Breakfast is scheduled for Nov. 6, with the topic still to be determined. For more information, visit https://www.leadershipaustin.org/programs/engage/upcoming.



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