Clara Tuma

Despite recent rainfall, Central Texas remains in a drought, with Lakes Travis and Buchanan less than half full.

Photo Credit: Shannon Kintner | Daily Texan Staff

Local authorities, environmental groups and the University continue to pursue water conservation policies even after heavy local rainfall in March.

With lakes Travis and Buchanan still less than half full, Central Texas remains in a drought, said Clara Tuma of the Lower Colorado River Authority, which provides wholesale water to the City of Austin. Austin is still under the enhanced stage two water use restrictions set by LCRA, she said.

“Enhanced stage two allows landscape watering no more than once a week,” Tuma said. “Enhanced stage two occurs when the combined storage of lakes Travis and Buchanan falls to 750,000 acre-feet or less.”

The recent rainfall raised water levels in those lakes, but it did not fall far enough west in the crucial aquifer recharge zone, said Tyson Broad of the Sierra Club.

“It appears that the rain fell in the low parts of the [Colorado River] basin, not in the major recharge area of porous limestone that helps the lakes stay up,” he said.

It is unlikely that Austin will return to the less severe stage one restriction, said Michael Frisch, the University’s senior building energy and water conservation project manager.

“It’s more likely that we will move to stage three,” he said. “There probably won’t be enough rain to warrant a move in the other direction.”

The stage three restriction, as it is currently defined by the LCRA, is not designed to address a long-term water shortage, said Jason Hill, spokesman for Austin Water.

“The stage three restriction code is intended to respond to a catastrophic event,” he said. “If stage two is not enough, the groups involved are looking to make changes to the code.”

Hill said the diminished water supply results from events in nature, not the mismanagement of resources. He said Austinites should be proud of the extent to which they have conserved water since the onset of the present-day drought.

“Stage two restrictions have been very effective in decreasing water consumption, and we applaud our customers,” he said. “If we haven’t done the best job [in implementing water conservation among other Texas cities], we’ve certainly been very competitive.”

Frisch said the University has been doing its part to reduce water use. He said a new irrigation system installed in response to the drought conserves water and reduces the University’s water bill.

“The new system measures how much water is evaporating from plants and knows how much rainfall there has been,” he said. “It also detects leaks and sends a signal to the main control system. We then deploy an irrigation technician to check out the problem.”

The improved watering system saves the University from consuming 50 million gallons of water each year because it prevents leaks and unnecessary irrigation, Frisch said. With the University paying $11 per 1000 gallons, according to Frisch, conserving that much water saves the University a significant amount of money.

Printed on Thursday, March 22, 2012 as: Conservation policies continue despite rainfall

Boats float in Lake Travis last Wednesday before recent rains came through the area. Despite the rain, Lake Travis is still only 39 percent full, and the low levels have contributed to a decline in the business activity of the area.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Although recent rain in Central Texas is steadily filling drought-stricken waterfronts, the lakes and related businesses are still a long way from stabilizing.

Because the Lower Colorado River Authority is still under the Emergency Drought Relief Plan, officials will evaluate water levels of Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis and distribution capacities of lake water again today, said South Texas LCRA spokeswoman Clara Tuma. Tuma said the LCRA typically only evaluates the water levels in January but was given permission by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to re-evaluate the water levels for disbursement to farmers in south Texas. According to the drought relief plan, if there is less than 850,000 acre-feet of water in the lakes, the water supply from Central Texas will be cut off from South Texas farmers. Tuma said the lakes are at 846,000 acre-feet, so water will be cut off to farmers in the Garwood district, northwest of Galveston.

“We have been communicating with the farmers in Garwood for months, so this should not be a surprise,” Tuma said. “The combined water storage has gone up 50,000 acre-feet this winter. An acre-foot is just a little less than 326,000 gallons, so that’s a significant amount of water, but the lakes remain less than half-full, so the drought is by no means over.”

Tuma said Lake Travis is 39 percent full and Lake Buchannan is 45 percent full, and the amount of rain needed to fill the lakes is hard to predict because other conditions must be taken into effect.

“There can be a lot of rain, but if it does not fall somewhere where it can drain into the lake, it will not increase the lake level,” Tuma said. “Soil conditions are another factor that play into the water’s ability to reach the lakes. Don’t get me wrong, we need rain everywhere to help this drought, but not everywhere will help the lakes.”

Farming is not the only industry affected by the low water levels. Riviera Marina president Steven Allen said the low water level of Lake Travis has effected business and become an expense because the marina has had to relocate to follow the receding shoreline.

“The drought has affected every marina on the lake and every business around the lake,” Stevens said. “Not to mention Austin and the surrounding cities. Not many people think about the effects on businesses outside of Lake Travis, but it is huge. People come to Austin for the lakes and the music.”

Stevens said business was good last summer but not great, and he is hopeful that wet weather predicted for the spring will help business for the upcoming summer.

“2012 could be a devastating year for businesses on or around Lake Travis if we don’t gain 20 feet of water at a minimum,” Stevens said. “This summer will depend on the rain. We will see.”

Nutrition sophomore Meredith Furst said she grew up on Lake Travis and her family still owns a boat there, so the drought has created a hassle for the storage of their boat and has allowed for less time on the lake.

“It’s really sad, because we used to go out on our boat every weekend almost religiously,” Furst said. “We’ve had to change marinas because the water got so low our boat was just sitting on the rocks. The recent rain has brought relief to me, but the lake is so low it’s pretty much going to take a monsoon to get it back to normal.”

Printed on Thursday, March 1, 2012 as: Lakes continue to suffer drought despite rain

Freshmen Kiera Dieter, left, and Victoria Lee, right, relax in the Gregory Gym pool Tuesday afternoon as temperatures outside reach above 100 degrees. If the trend continues Wednesday, Austin will tie the record number of above 100 degree days.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

Today will be the 70th day this year with a temperature in the triple digits in Austin, breaking the record of 69 set in 1925, according to the National Weather Service website.

These sustained high temperatures have come along with a severe drought in the Austin area and much of Texas.

Geological sciences professor Jay Banner said La Niña, the phenomenon which cools the tropical Pacific Ocean, causes the warm and dry conditions in Central Texas, which have been more extreme during the drought.

From 1950 to 1957, Texas experienced continuous drought.

“Historically, for the past hundred years, that’s been the biggest drought by far,” Banner said.

He said the current drought has been going on for about a year and that weather models cannot easily predict how long it will last.

Banner said if this warm and dry trend continues for decades, it could be one line of evidence that global warming was the driving mechanism. He said regardless of global warming’s influence on the region’s current condition, weather models predict that increased levels of carbon dioxide will continue to cause the greenhouse effect.

“They all show that if we continue our business as usual with energy, there will be an increase in atmospheric temperatures,” Banner said.

Banner added that the drought is negatively affecting the agricultural industry in Texas.

“A lot of farmers’ crops are a total loss, and a lot of ranchers are having to sell their livestock,” Banner said.

The Lower Colorado River Authority which manages water supplies in Central and Southeast Texas, has water storage reservoirs that include Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan. Both of these combined are only 45 percent full, said LCRA spokeswoman Clara Tuma.

Tuma said the LCRA has a water management plan to regulate how much water is available. She said the plan takes long droughts, like the one in the 1950s, into account.

“The plan says if we have a repeat of that drought, it ensures that water would be available if conditions became as serious,” Tuma said.

The cities that receive water from the LCRA, including Austin, institute water conservation plans for citizens to follow.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re asking people to aggressively conserve because we don’t know when the rains will come,” Tuma said.

Austin will start stage 2 water restrictions Sep. 6. The schedule can be found at

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Beat the heat.

The rainstorm that covered Austin early Wednesday morning just after midnight may have been a welcome relief after months without rain, but don’t expect it to have any significant impact on the statewide drought.

The drought started in October and currently covers 96 percent of the state, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor and the Lower Colorado River Authority, which manages water supplies in Central and Southeast Texas. Tuesday’s storm brought less than two inches of rain to Austin, according to the Authority’s network of remote gauges used to measure rainfall.

“In terms of the drought, [the rainfall] won’t make much of a difference,” said spokeswoman Clara Tuma. “It was a drop in the bucket.”

While the rain will be helpful on a small scale, such as for watering people’s lawns and lowering temperatures, virtually none of it made it to the lakes and rivers, Tuma said.

“The ground just soaked it up. It was so dry,” she said. “There wasn’t much runoff.”

Senior geography lecturer and local KEYE weatherman Troy Kimmel said the shower doesn’t mean more storms in coming days.

“Obviously, anything helps, but one rainfall does not get you out [of a drought],” Kimmel said. “It’s going to take a lot of soaking rain to get the earth around here to be what it should be.”

More rain within the next week is very unlikely, though there may be thunderstorms Thursday, he said.

“Rain chances are basically absent through next Wednesday,” Kimmel said, adding that the Gulf of Mexico may cause unexpected weather to arise.

Broadcast news journalism senior James Leslie, who grew up in Chicago, said he welcomed the temporary temperature change the rain brought.

“It’s way too hot around here,” he said. “Standing out in the rain [Tuesday] night was great.”