Rainfall over Highland Lakes provides temporary relief from drought, raises reservoirs

CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF

LLANO — Watching runoff from rain pour over structures such as the Llano River Dam on Memorial Day provided some relief from the drought; however, unless the wet weather trend continues, the rise could become short-lived, officials say.

“It’s coming over (the Llano River Dam); a tremendous amount of water for us right now,” Llano Mayor Mike Virdell said. “We just hope it will sustain itself.”

From the day before Memorial Day and overnight through May 27, a steady stream of rainfall dumped between 2½ inches to 5 inches in the so-called watershed area, which feeds inflows into the Llano River and the Highland Lakes.

The watershed extends to Abilene in the north, San Angelo and Junction in the west and Fredericksburg further southwest of the area.

The storm system, which also directly dumped several inches on the Highland Lakes area, produced significant inflows, providing a boost to lake levels, according to Lower Colorado River Authority officials.

“This rainfall has produced a significant amount of runoff that has brought the lakes up about a foot each. Lake Buchanan has about a foot more, and so does Lake Travis,” said Chris Riley of the LCRA River Operations Control Center. “This has been a good event. We haven’t had any flood issues. We haven’t had to open any gate. It has brought the lakes up a little bit, but it doesn’t get us out of the drought.”

The combined storage of the reservoirs increased from 35 percent to 36 percent full. Lake Buchanan remains 26 feet low and Lake Travis 45 feet low for this time of year, he said.

The weather pattern during the next several weeks will play a role in determining whether in July the Highland Lakes will reach the drought of record, which could threaten domestic water availability, trigger mandatory and stricter water conservation measures and lead to higher water rates for customers, officials say.

“April and May are traditionally our best chances for inflows into the lake,” Riley said. “We had a very dry April and a dry May to this point, so this rain is very needed. We will hopefully get so more rain later on this week.”

Two possible scenarios could improve lake levels.

“It could happen in a couple of ways. We could have a very large flood. We’ve seen quite a few floods in our history that can bring that kind of volume,” Riley said. “Or, we could just have more of a wetter period where we get these kinds of rain at re-occuring intervals.”

In the meantime, water customers such as the city of Llano continue their searches for alternative water sources, including possible wells, as a supplement to the surface water source.

“(The recent rain) has bought us some valuable time, but, before this rain happened, we were in the top 50 of the concern list for (the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) because the river was running so slow,” Virdell said.

Without an alternative source or consistent inflows by December, the city of Llano projects the community would be left with a 120-day water supply after the winter.

“About 10 or 12 days ago, we also had a pretty good little rise, but about four days later, it was back to, unfortunately, our normal,” he said. “If it recedes this time next week, we’re back to where we were before.”

connie@thepicayune.com