LCRA: Rains 'bought us weeks' to delay restrictions
By Joe Olivieri
If Central Texas hopes to escape its ongoing drought, the area will need more significant rainfall than what recent storms have produced, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority.
Austin remains in extreme drought conditions, said John Hofmann, LCRA executive vice president for water.
"Yes, the grass is green and yes, the countryside looks better because of the rain, but we did not get the runoff needed to relieve and replenish the [Highland] Lakes," he said.
Austin has a long-term water supply contract with LCRA that supplements Austin's water rights, according to LCRA.
In 2007, Austin and LCRA entered into an agreement to work together on additional supplies for Austin in the future.
To help with conservation efforts, the city has kept Stage 2 water restrictions, which limit lawn watering to once a week, in place since 2012.
In November LCRA asked for the state's permission to cut off water for downstream agriculture for a fourth consecutive year.
"This was not an easy decision, but we must protect the region's water supply," LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson said in a news release. "More than a million people depend on water from the Highland Lakes, and right now there is just not enough water for everyone to have all they want."
The lakes were 34 percent full in December, according to LCRA data.
LCRA monitors the levels of the Highland Lakes in acre-feet, or the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land with 1 foot of water.
When full, the lakes can hold 2.01 million acre-feet. As of press time, LCRA stated the lakes held 691,236 acre-feet.
Hofmann said the recent rains added 17,000 acre-feet to the lakes and "bought us weeks" to delay further water restrictions but did not produce the runoff needed to escape the drought.
"Like everybody else, we are watching the El Nino forecasts with a sense of hope,"
If lake levels dropped below 600,000 acre-feet, LCRA's board of directors would declare this drought worse than the decade-long drought of record in the 1950s.
Below 600,000 acre-feet, the city would enact Stage 3 restrictions, which limit watering hours, among its parameters.
LCRA's November report stated there is a small chance lake levels could reach 600,000 acre-feet as early as February without more rainfall in the watershed area.
Hofmann said municipal watering restrictions and responsible water usage have significantly helped conserve water.
"To look at it another way, we are almost seven years into this drought, and we still have a third of our water supply," he said.
Southwest Austin reactions
Tyler Sutliff, president of Dripping Springs-based well company Whisenant and Lyle Water Services Inc., said private wells and rainwater collection remain popular with residents in Southwest Austin.
"Certainly we've seen a spike in demand for products," he said. " People are concerned about running out of water and the impact on their lifestyles. They are worried about the upcoming Legislative session, new water districts and restrictions for drilling wells."
Jason Ballard, owner of eco-friendly home supply store Treehouse, said he has seen an increase in interest in rainwater collection.
"When we opened three years ago, there was sort of a sense in which rainwater collection was seen as a quaint thing for gardeners or environmentalists to do," he said. "I think people are beginning to have the dawning sense that this drought is real, that this is really beginning to affect people and that when we turn on our taps or flush our toilets the water isn't guaranteed to just appear magically."