The Llano County Park boat ramp was blocked off in mid-July to prevent ambitious boaters from getting stuck in the mud below. Lake Buchanan has dropped significantly over the past year, and many access points no longer reach the water. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey
Lake Buchanan is low and getting lower. The lake is at 56 percent capacity as of July 27, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority, the lowest it has been in eight years. Lake access has been dramatically reduced, and ongoing drought conditions will likely drop the level even more.
Buchanan has fallen 16.39 feet since March 2022. Shorelines are pushed in-lake by hundreds of yards in some locations. Many public and private docks and boat ramps are unusable.
“We had to close the boat ramp at the Llano County Park last week due to extremely low lake levels,” Llano County Precinct 2 Commissioner Linda Raschke said during a Commissioners Court meeting July 24. “It’s awful out there right now.”
Raschke represents the unincorporated communities on the west side of Lake Buchanan, including Buchanan Dam, Buchanan Dam Village, and Tow. Edgewater, an RV resort off of CR 261, is likely the only open access point on the lake’s west side, she said.
“Tourism is affected, and that’s a big thing, especially for Buchanan Dam (communities) not being incorporated,” she continued. “The lodges aren’t full, and that’s a problem.”
Burnet County Park on the northeast side of the lake is reportedly the only public access boat ramp in operation at the time of this story’s publication, but it might not be open for long if the water continues to drop, Raschke said.
Lake Buchanan has seen little reprieve over the past 18 months. The lake rose by 0.31 feet between April and June due to above-average rainfall, but the gain were promptly drained by the searing summer heat.
The Highland Lakes region has suffered from triple-digit temperatures since at least July 10, and recent predictions from the National Weather Service hint at continued scorching days through at least early August.
The LCRA is taking the radical lake level drop seriously.
“It’s in our entire region’s interest to slow down water consumption because everything we do now will help prolong and protect our water supply,” LCRA Vice President of Water John Hofmann said in a media release. “Our water supply is stressed but still in OK shape. We are getting close to the next trigger in our drought contingency plan, and customers soon will be implementing additional drought response measures. But no one should wait for restrictions to be put in place to stop wasting water.’’
The LCRA is asking customers to observe Stage 2 drought restrictions, predicting that the combined storage capacity of lakes Buchanan and Travis could drop to 45 percent by mid-August, which would officially trigger Stage 2. The combined storage is currently at 48 percent for the two reservoirs.
Buchanan and Travis supply 1.4 million Central Texas residents with water. Buchanan mainly relies on inflows from the Colorado River to replenish itself along with countless small creeks. According to the LCRA Hydromet, the Colorado River is currently flowing at zero cubic-feet per second. For perspective, 1,500 acre-feet of water was released from Lake Buchanan to supply customers downstream on July 26. That equals 43,559.9 cubic-feet of water.
Lake Buchanan’s level is measured using “feet above mean sea level.” At full capacity, the lake sits at 1,020 feet msl. As of July 27, the lake is at 998.62 feet msl, the result of a rapid drop of 3 feet in the last 30 days.
The lake’s historical July average is 1,012.64 feet msl. The lowest level on record was on Sept. 9, 1952, when the lake sat at 983.7 feet msl. That was during the worst drought on record in the state of Texas, which lasted 11 years through the 1950s.
The light at the end of the tunnel is El Niño. The climate pattern emerged on June 8, heralding a potential end to the drought in Central Texas. An El Niño weather pattern typically means heavy rains and maybe even flooding for the Southern United States in the coming fall, winter, and spring. The last El Niño was in 2018-19, likely causing the October 2018 flood that replenished the Highland Lakes but left mass destruction in its wake.
“I think everything is just cyclical,” Raschke told DailyTrib.com. “We had the flood in 2018 after the drought of ’11, ’12, and ’13. We’re expecting an El Niño that is supposed to come this fall, but the danger is that it’s another serious flood. The problem is that floods don’t always end the drought.”