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Drought Dries Up Central Texas Lakes

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Matthew Rutledge/Flickr
    This is how Sometimes Island on Lake Travis near Austin looked in June 2008, but after the 2011 drought, the images are far more dramatic.

    The prolonged drought in Central Texas is leading to historically low water levels in a string of six lakes that were dammed in the 1930s and 1940s to prevent flooding in the Austin area and secure the region's water supply.

    While the record absence of rainfall that started in 2008 partly explains why the lakes are drying up, the Austin American-Statesman reported that many residents and Austin city officials blame the Lower Colorado River Authority.

    The water agency says it's continued to release water in order to honor contracts with rice farmers along the Gulf Coast, and even though there are a number of factors at play, the drought is ultimately to blame for low lake levels. 

    "Weather catches up to you," LCRA manager Becky Motal told the newspaper. "We're having record-low inflows, and when you have that, it shapes everything else."

    Nearly 70 years ago, farmers agreed to drop their objections to the damming projects if they were guaranteed rights to some of the water stored. Rice farmers flood their fields with about three inches of water to kill competing grass and weeds. 

    As Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis -- both reservoirs for Central Texas -- approach the 30 percent filled mark, Austin plans to further restrict lawn watering and impose other restrictions. The only time the drought was worse was between 1947 and 1957. 

    The 30 percent filled mark is the third of three milestones that must be reached in order to call this the worst drought ever. The other two have already been surpassed: Both Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis are well past two years between being full and less water is flowing into them than during the drought of record.  

    Greg Meszaros, director of the Austin Water Utility, says the LCRA acted as if the drought was not going to last several years.  

    "Now the decisions made in '08, '09, '10, '11, they're coming home to roost," he said.