AUSTIN (KXAN) — The amount of water flowing into the Highland Lakes in 2014 was the second lowest since 1942, when Mansfield Dam was completed. While the Austin-area had an above-average rainfall total last year, the Lower Colorado River Authority said the Highland Lakes watershed received less rainfall than normal and remains in a serious drought. The sporadic timing of storms this past year allowed the ground time to dry out between rains, meaning there was little runoff into the lakes.
“It’s not that the area around the lakes hasn’t gotten rain,” said John Hofmann, LCRA executive vice president of water. “It’s that we haven’t had enough rain in the right spot – or in the right way – to make a significant difference in lake levels. Ideally, we need rain to saturate the soil, followed immediately by another series of storms.”
The LCRA added inflows into the lakes have been well below average every year since 2008, when the current drought began. The combined storage of lakes Travis and Buchanan stood at 689,396 acre-feet on Jan. 1 and are currently just 34 percent full. An acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons.
If the capacity falls to 30 percent, water customers would be required to reduce their water usage by 20 percent. Officials say there is a small chance this could happen as soon as March.
In November, as a way to conserve water, the LCRA asked the state for permission to suspend water releases from the Highland Lakes for downstream irrigation for the fourth straight year.
The water authority also broke ground in December on a new reservoir near Lane City, southwest of Houston. The lake will be located more than 220 river miles downstream from the Highland Lakes and will allow the LCRA to capture water downstream of Austin, which could reduce the need to release water from Central Texas lakes.