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Central Texas not drought-free yet

Thursday, June 25, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

Staff with the Lower Colorado River Authority may have breathed a sigh of relief after May’s record-breaking rainfalls, but they’re not considering the area drought-free just yet.

At the LCRA meeting Wednesday, experts provided an overview of possible weather expectations for the next few months, repeatedly stressing that most modeling systems show Texas’ odd pattern of greater-than-average rainfall and cooler temperatures stretching into January 2016.

“If you took all the rain that fell across Texas (in May) and divided it up, it would cover all of Texas with 8 inches of depth statewide,” said Bob Rose, LCRA chief meteorologist.

Rose said that May’s 195 percent above-average rainfall and subsequent wet weather conditions can be traced back, mostly, to El Niño.

Since January, Lake Travis water levels have risen more than 47 feet, and Lake Buchanan is up more than 11 feet. Combined, the increase equates to more than 715,000 acre-feet, or around 232.9 trillion gallons added to existing levels. The two lakes are the region’s main water supply reservoirs, and they currently stand at 70 percent capacity.

LCRA Executive Vice President of Water John Hofmann said the reservoirs’ capacity combined with the monthly average amount of water feeding into the Highland Lakes system is what makes staff “cautious” about declaring the area drought-free.

“We’ve had a wonderful month in May and a pretty good month in June, but those two months do not a drought break,” he said.

Hofmann said that the Highland Lakes system – which is made up of Lake Buchanan, Ink’s Lake, Lake LBJ, Lake Marble Falls, Lake Travis and Lake Austin – saw a similar rainfall pattern in 1952.

“Lake Travis went up 56 feet in 18 hours,” Hofmann said. “However, that was not a drought-breaker. After that event happened, we had another five years of drought to live through.”

The incident took place during the worst drought in the region’s history, which stretched from 1947-’57 and was only outdone by the current drought, which started in 2008.

At the beginning of 2008, the combined water reservoir level of Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis was 2 million acre-feet of water. After recent rains, it stands at 1.4 million acre-feet. July’s average amount of water flowing into the Highland Lakes system since 1942 stands slightly above 75,000 acre-feet of water. Last year, it was less than 25,000 – a trend that has remained constant since 2011.

Hofmann said the key to staff considering the Hill Country drought-free is if recent rainfall and water-flow patterns continue well into this summer and fall.

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