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

While many cities throughout the Austin area have enacted stricter drought restrictions, Round Rock has remained under its lowest tier of restrictions since June 2022.

Round Rock Utilities Director Michael Thane said the city prepared for the extreme drought conditions by expanding its water treatment capacity and adding water resources.

“We’ve done a very good job in Round Rock over the last 20 years of master planning out our needs,” Thane said.

Two-minute impact

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 increased evaporation of local water reservoirs, dried-out soil and increased wildfire risk.

Lakes Travis and Buchanan collectively dipped to 44% capacity in August, the lowest they’ve been since 2013, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority. Other regional water sources, including the Edwards Aquifer, Lake Georgetown and Stillhouse Hollow Lake, are similarly low.

“Given how long our [rainfall] deficits go back and how significant they are, we’ll continue to see drought impacts through the end of this year, almost guaranteed,” National Weather Service meteorologist Keith White said. “The good news about the El Niño, though, is that it will tilt our odds toward wetter conditions by the time we get into the winter time. So we can hopefully start to make up some of those deficits in December, January and February of next winter.”

Exceptional drought—or Level D4 drought—is the most intense drought category on the U.S. drought monitor and occurs when the region experiences 98% dryness.

Percentage of county in exceptional drought conditions, as of Aug. 25:
  • Williamson County: 99.5%
  • Travis County: 100%
  • Hays County: 100%
Diving in deeper

Thane credits Round Rock’s drought resiliency to its diversified water sources.

The city gets water from both the Brazos River Basin, which consists of Lake Georgetown and Stillhouse Hollow Lake, and the Colorado River Basin, which consists of Lakes Travis and Buchanan. A small portion of the city’s water—about 5 million gallons per day—comes from Edwards Aquifer well water.

“Many utilities have one source, maybe two sources [of water], but we have multiple options,” Thane said.

Thane said Round Rock’s financial model and avid planning prepared the city for drought.

Round Rock has high impact fees—costs new developments must pay to connect to the district’s water supply—but low rates for existing customers, which help new growth pay for infrastructure to expand the city’s water plant and add capacity, Thane said.

“The impact fees for all those houses connecting [have put us] at a pretty good spot so that we could pay for infrastructure that adds capacity to our system and not have the people that have been living here for 40 years have to pay for it in the rates,” he said.
The action taken

Round Rock has a robust water conservation program, Thane said, which offers free irrigation audits and rainwater rebates. The city also uses purple pipe water—treated wastewater that would normally discharge into Brushy Creek but instead can be reused for irrigation and cooling.

Many golf courses, parks and other entities—including the Kalahari Resorts & Conventions water park—now use purple pipe water.

Thane said Round Rock didn’t get “real serious” about water conservation until 2009, when the district implemented a tiered rate system and began educational outreach.

Drought stages

Drought restrictions in Round Rock are based on the water supply, demand and capacity of water treatment plants; wholesale suppliers; and public health, safety and wellness triggers.
  • Stage 1: Outdoor watering is allowed on two designated days before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m.
  • Stage 2: Outdoor watering is allowed on one designated day before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m.
  • Stage 3: Only handheld watering is allowed.
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.

Regional water solutions

To secure future water supplies, Williamson County leaders are seeking to reserve water from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer about 50 miles east of the Austin area. The plan would require millions of dollars, a permit from the groundwater conservation district and easements.

"[The Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer] is the future water for Williamson County if I was betting,” Thane said.

Individual solutions

Lawn care services company Emerald Lawns Marketing Director Kristen Parkhurst offered several tips on how residents can preserve their lawns and conserve water:
  • Plant drought-tolerant grasses, such as Bermuda and Zoysia.
  • Utilize top dressing, which adds nutrients back into soil after it's been depleted by the sun.
  • Aerate soil to loosen compact soil, which restricts root growth.
  • Consider xeriscaping, a landscaping process that requires little irrigation by utilizing succulents, mulch and other drought-tolerant plants.