AUSTIN (KXAN) — Inches of rain from a slow-moving storm system not only saturated the soil in Central Texas but also created runoff. Water flowing down creeks, streams and rivers in the Hill Country has worked its way to the Highland Lakes. Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan water levels could rise another six inches in the next 24 hours.
May and June are typically the wettest months of the year here but as we dry out and heat up in July and August, the lakes take a hit. In addition to higher usage and low inflows, more water leaves the lakes due to evaporation than City of Austin use.
The Lower Colorado River Authority laid out their Highland Lake level forecast Wednesday.
A developing El Nino could mean more rain for Central Texas, but likely not until fall and winter. A near-normal to below-normal hurricane season may not bring relief either. Because of this, long-term forecasts point to a drier and hotter than normal summer.
Tommy Lawton spent Wednesday morning fishing on Lake Austin with his daughter, Audrey. He frequents Lake Austin because there’s no public boat ramp open on Lake Travis. Lake Travis is two feet down from a year ago, even with this week’s rain.
“At this point, the inflows have been so low that even evaporation has been higher than what’s been coming into the lakes,” said Chris Riley, LCRA River Operations Center supervisor.
As of May 28, Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis together held 752,611 acre-feet of water. The LCRA forecasts their combined storage could drop to 600,000 acre-feet by the end of the summer. That’s the third threshold needed to declare this drought worse than the Drought of Record of the 1950s. The LCRA has already recorded 24 months since the lakes have been full and a prolonged inflow deficit.
“If we get down to those levels where we reach our combined storage of 600,000 acre feet,” Riley said, “that would mean we’d have to begin curtailing our firm customers as well as cutting off all our interruptible customers.”
The curtailment would mean a 20 percent water use reduction for firm water customers, like the City of Austin.
The LCRA says Lake Travis’ elevation could drop between 616-620 feet above mean sea level by Aug. 1, just above its historic low elevation of 614.18 feet. Lake Buchanan could reach 979-982 feet. It’s historic low was 983.70 feet.
But, back-to-back storms could buy some time.
“It’s been so dry, the rain’s soaked right in,” said Riley. “The rainfall rates this past weekend have been enough to really get the soil saturated and wet so if we could get another rain on top of it we’d really get some significant runoff.”