Aquifer District Declares a Stage 4 Drought for the First Time Ever

Buda, Kyle must reduce water usage

Barton Creek was bone-dry Dec. 19 (photo by John Anderson)

Last week, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District declared a Stage 4 Exceptional Drought for the first time in its 36-year history. The District declared a Stage 3 drought in October 2022 and has remained in a holding pattern since then – but Austin's catastrophically hot and dry summer seems to have taken its toll.

The drought is measured by two metrics: the Lovelady monitor well and the Barton Springs discharge; the former dropped into the district's threshold for Stage 4 last week. BSEACD predicted this unprecedented decline in July and characterizes these levels as "alarmingly low," as the Barton Springs segment of the aquifer "serves as a drinking water source for over 60,000 people."

“Flow from Barton Springs could eventually decrease to the point where ecological, recreational, and aesthetic uses of Barton Springs would be damaged.”  – Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District

So how does this affect those people? Stage 4 requires a 30% to 100% reduction in pumping by the district's 149 permittees (which include private water suppliers and cities), depending on their classification. Austin remains in Stage 2 drought restrictions as a city, because we rely on the Highland Lakes for water. However, permittees like Buda and Kyle that rely on the aquifer will have to tighten up: Buda will bump up its drought restrictions in response to the district's announcement, and Kyle, which already used up its allotted supply from BSEACD for the year in September, will continue to rely on its recent deal with San Marcos to augment supply, while also further restricting its water usage. However, in a statement to KXAN last week, a Kyle spokesperson noted that it "has been preparing and planning for the City's water suppliers, especially BSEACD, to reduce their allocation" and that it has been able to already reduce its consumption by 30% due to the San Marcos deal and irrigation restrictions.

According to BSEACD, "The only way for groundwater resources to recover and end these drought conditions is a long period of widespread and significant rainfall over local aquifer recharge zones." Meteorologists are predicting a cooler and wetter winter for Texas due to El Niño conditions, but in the meantime, the district urges active conservation, saying, "Reducing water use and conserving resources is now critical. The District has already received reports of dry wells. With continued lack of rainfall and high rates of pumping, water levels could drop to the extent that additional wells go dry. Flow from Barton Springs could eventually decrease to the point where ecological, recreational, and aesthetic uses of Barton Springs would be damaged."

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