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Drought still looms large for Burnet County groundwater

Palmer Hydrological Drought Index, December 2023

The Palmer Hydrological Drought Index shows Central Texas is still in a severe drought as of December 2023. The region, including Burnet County, has been under either an extreme drought, the worst ranking on the scale, or a severe drought since June 2022. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration image

Recent rainfall did little to replenish Burnet County’s groundwater, and the Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District Board of Directors on Jan. 26 chose to maintain Stage 4 critical drought conditions.

Burnet County has been in Stage 4 since June 2022. The board imposed its first-ever mandatory groundwater use restrictions in December 2022, which were in effect for all of 2023 and will continue this year until directors see fit to lift them.

Burnet County has had above-average rainfall in some locations, according to CTGCD General Manager Mitchell Sodek, but not enough to recharge its aquifers.

“It has been good rainfall,” he told the board at its Jan. 26 meeting. “It has not been drought-breaking rainfall. The soil’s moist, but we need more rainfall on top of it.”

This past December, directors voted unanimously to continue 15 percent mandatory reductions for non-exempt groundwater users in the county. This only impacts high-use wells that pump more than 17.36 gallons per minute. Most residential wells are well below that number. 

Groundwater conditions have not improved since the board imposed the restrictions in late 2022.

“I wouldn’t think we need to do anything except pray for rain,” said board President Ryan Rowney during the discussion on whether to adjust the current drought stage. 

The district references the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index when it sets drought stages. The PHDI has placed Burnet County in either a severe or extreme drought since the spring of 2022.

The Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District monitoring well network has shown no significant increases to any aquifer in the county since wetter weather arrived in October 2023, Sodek said.

The current El Niño weather pattern could bring more rain this winter and coming spring, but current forecasts show El Niño will likely depart by the summer.

dakota@thepicayune.com