Severe drought and hot weather have led to restrictions on both groundwater and lake water in the Highland Lakes. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman
Another media release about the need for water conservation from the Lower Colorado River Authority was not well received by the Central Texas Water Coalition. In the public statement, John Hofmann, executive vice president of Water for the LCRA, urged water customers not to give up conservation efforts despite cooler temperatures and recent rains.
“We all need to continue to conserve water, and one of the quickest and easiest ways to do that is to dial back water use on landscapes,” he said.
The CTWC issued an emailed response to DailyTrib.com saying it agreed with Hofmann’s comment, but “we believe everyone needs to get serious and do their share, including LCRA, the steward of our water.”
“Conservation is important, but laying blame on municipalities or customers watering the trees and/or landscaping shows only one side of the picture,” said Jo Karr Tedder, CTWC board president.
June, July, and August 2023 came in second to the summer of 2011 as the hottest on record. Rain was also scarce during those three months with Burnet receiving only 0.89 inches.
“We’ve had a little rain over the last few weeks, but not enough to make a significant difference,” Hofmann said in the LCRA statement.
Annual inflow — the amount of water flowing into the Highland Lakes — was the lowest in history in 2022. In July of this year, the lakes received 1.2 percent of the average inflows for that month; August 0.2 percent; and September 6.6 percent, according to LCRA figures.
“When you add in the sky-high evaporation rate and a significant increase in water use over the summer, you should have a good picture of why we’re in a serious situation,” Hofmann said. “This is an extreme slice of an extreme drought.”
He suggested using water wisely by fixing leaks immediately and turning off the water when brushing teeth.
“But to get the biggest bang for the buck, we need to look outdoors,” he said. “During hot weather, up to 70 percent of all water going to homes in a typical community is used outdoors. And by some estimates, as much as half of that runs off, evaporates, or isn’t needed.”
Combined storage in lakes Travis and Buchanan, the two reservoirs in the Highland Lakes chain, is at its lowest level since 2015.
“That’s not where we’d like to see the lakes, of course, but they are doing what they were designed to do — capturing water when it rains and holding it for us to use when the weather dries up,” Hofmann said. “The lakes are large and quite deep in places, and even at these lower levels still contain enough water to supply our region for a good period of time to come.”
The lakes have supplied the region with water for more than 80 years, Hofmann said, through droughts, floods, and unprecedented population growth.
“We don’t, however, have water to waste, and there’s no scenario in the future where we will,” he said. “That’s where all of us come in. When it comes to conserving water and reducing discretionary water use, the quickest and easiest way to cut back is to stop pouring so much of this critical resource on lawns. Make no mistake: Excessive landscape watering is wasting water.”
In response to Stage 2 drought restrictions, the LCRA cut off water from the Highland Lakes to three of the four interruptible agricultural operations for the second growing season of 2022 and for the entirety of 2023. The sole remaining irrigation division had its access to water from the reservoirs significantly limited in 2023.
The decision about availability for the 2024 growing season will be made on March 1 based on conditions at that time. That trigger is part of the Water Management Plan that CTWC and a growing list of area government entities and organizations have asked the LCRA to update sooner than 2025, when it is scheduled to be reopened for study.
“The Central Texas Water Coalition recognizes the seriousness of our current and long-term water needs,” Tedder said in response to the LCRA media release. “We strongly suggest that LCRA address the following steps as their contribution to protecting the water supply.”
A main concern is the LCRA’s contract with the Garwood Rice district on the Gulf Coast. While the other three rice districts were cut off from water supplies because of the drought, Garwood’s contract precludes that exclusion.
“Renegotiate the Garwood Rice district contract to be fair in applying the Water Management Plan,” Tedder said. “In a drought such as this one, special arrangements should cease.”
CTWC also called for:
fair and equitable pricing for water as part of the WMP;
lining the dirt canals down basin to save water from evaporating;
strengthening all drought contingency plans requirements, basin wide;
working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to address the reasons for low inflows;
providing funding to help customers eliminate St. Augustine grass and use xeriscaping;
and incorporating the population explosion and the area’s changing climate into the WMP.
The LCRA provided its own list of conservation efforts in its most recent media release:
Use water-efficient and drought-tolerant plants.
Add mulch to landscapes and compost to turf to help prevent water loss.
Cover swimming pools when not in use.
Reduce water waste inside the house by turning off water when it’s not needed
Hofmann also urged water customers to visit WaterSmart.org for more tips.
“I wish I could tell you when our situation will change, but I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said in conclusion. “This fall looks to be wetter than our summer, but we still may not receive enough rain to break this significant drought.”