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Big rains turn into lake gains

Llano River after the storms

TOP PHOTOS: The Llano River is still rushing (right) over the Llano Dam on Oct. 31, but the deluge is nothing compared to the torrent (left) that raged on Oct. 26 following heavy rainfall across the Highland Lakes. BOTTOM PHOTOS: The Llano River was passable (right) at County Road 307 at the Kingsland Slab on Oct. 31, but it was flooded out (left) on Oct. 26. Staff photos by Dakota Morrissiey

For the first time in two years, levels for lakes Buchanan and Travis are on the rise thanks to heavy rainfall on Oct. 25 and 26. The reservoirs are far from full, but the recent storms ended a long dry streak plaguing the Highland Lakes since the summer of 2021.

The combined storage of the two lakes has risen to 43 percent from 40 percent since Oct. 25, when huge amounts of rain swelled waterways in Llano and Burnet counties. October precipitation averages were smashed after the deluge, with some locations seeing over 8 inches in just a few days, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Hydromet.

Lake Buchanan rose 1.79 feet to 993.83 feet above mean sea level (msl) after the Oct. 25 storms — the largest increase for the lake since May 2021. Buchanan’s level has consistently dropped since August 2021, with only marginal gains of 0.1 feet msl until recently. The lake’s lowest recorded level was 983.7 feet msl on Sept. 9, 1952. Buchanan is considered full at about 1,018 feet msl.

Lake Travis rose 5.19 feet to 632.11 feet msl due to the recent rains. Travis’ larger gains are likely due to the flooding of the Llano River, which does not contribute any water to Lake Buchanan. The Llano River merges with the Colorado River and feeds into Lake LBJ, which is downriver from Lake Buchanan. Travis’ lowest recorded level was 614.18 feet msl on Aug. 14, 1951. It is considered full at 681 feet msl.

LCRA Hydromet
A snapshot of the LCRA Hydromet shows where and how much rain fell across Llano and Burnet counties in late October. This doesn’t include the equally impressive rainfall that came down across the Llano and Colorado river watersheds, which pumped billions of gallons into the Highland Lakes themselves. Image courtesy of the Lower Colorado River Authority

LCRA rain gauges across Llano and Burnet counties recorded staggering numbers in the days after Oct. 25. The average October rainfall is 2.97 inches in the Llano area and 3.81 inches in the Burnet area. Gauge levels during the late October storms include:

  • 9.86 inches near Cherokee on the Llano County-San Saba County line
  • 8.02 inches near Johnson Creek in Llano County
  • 7.96 inches near Castell in Llano County
  • 7.77 inches near Valley Spring in Llano County
  • 5.89 inches near Tow in Llano County
  • 4.75 inches near Marble Falls in Burnet County
  • 3.75 inches near Burnet in Burnet County

Llano County and the Llano River watershed received the lion’s share of the rain, which likely contributed to the river’s powerful flow after Oct. 25. The river peaked at a rate of over 32,000 cubic-feet of water per second (cfs) on Oct. 26, but it has since been tamed to a manageable 674 cfs.

The Colorado River also saw impressive swelling, reaching 6,600 cfs on Oct. 26, but has since subsided to 295 cfs. 

Both rivers were bone dry in August.