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Drought: The End Is Not Near

Lake levels drop as temperatures rise

By Ramon Martinez, Fri., July 29, 2011

LCRA General Manager Becky Motal delivered dire drought news last week.
LCRA General Manager Becky Motal delivered dire drought news last week.
Photo by Jana Birchum

June inflow into the Colorado River-fed Highland Lakes dropped to less than 1% of the monthly average, the Lower Colorado River Authority announced July 21. For anyone who has driven west on Highway 71 far enough to pass what remains of the Pedernales River, this information doesn't come as any surprise. Between January and June, the waters flowing into the Highland Lakes "were the lowest for any such period dating back to 1942 when LCRA finished construction of Lake Travis," according to the LCRA. "This isn't the longest drought ever," contends Clara Tuma, an LCRA spokeswoman. "It's just the most intense since 2009."

There are a couple of different ways to break down the debate over whether this year's drought is the worst of the decade, or worst ever, for that matter. The combined lake levels at Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan may be unusually low this year, but they have yet to fall below the five lowest of all time, though records set in each of those years were reached in late summer or early fall. As of Tuesday, Lake Travis was about 28 feet below its historic July average, the LCRA reported, while Lake Buchanan stood approximately 14 feet below average.

As for rainfall, the LCRA said the nine months between October 2010 and June 2011 have been the driest in Texas for that three-quarter period since 1895, when the state began keeping rainfall records. And though 1954 still holds the record for the least amount of rain in Central Texas in an entire year, 2011 has a chance of beating that record, especially if the fall turns out to be as dry and hot as forecasters are predicting.

Coinciding with the LCRA's statements last week was a press release from water conservation advocate Paul Robbins, listing the top 10 residential users in the city during fiscal year 2010 (the list includes the name of Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson) and criticizing the Austin Water for "ignoring programs and strategies" to reduce consumption. Noting that 2010 was one of the rainier years in the last decade, Robbins suggested that Austin's top consumers are likely using even more water this year. Water issues are also on tap today (July 28) as City Council considers temporarily halting construction of the controversial Water Treatment Plant No. 4 (see "City Hall Hustle" ).

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