USDA issues natural disaster declaration for Central Texas


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and Photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

Posted on January 17, 2014 at 6:20 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 17 at 6:26 PM

AUSTIN -- You don't have to be an expert or an Austin native to look at Lake Travis and realize the water level is extremely low.

"Oh, I'm very aware that we're in a drought," said Austin resident Mary Jo Torrance. 

Jon Reynolds agrees. "I know a few guys that live in Austin and they have boats and they haven't been able to take them out, mostly because of the water."

But what some people may not realize is the severity of the drought. Austin had a wet fall and severe flooding in October, but most of the rain fell downstream of the Highland Lakes.

"The Highland Lakes, didn't see nearly as much rain. So our inflows into the Highland Lakes, not only during the fall but during all of calendar year 2013, was the second lowest on record. Which really says something. This goes back to the early 1940s when the dam was built," explained Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) Meteorologist Bob Rose. 

The United States Department of Agriculture has issued a natural disaster declaration for parts of 11 states because of drought conditions. Burnet, Llano, Lampassas and Travis Counties are part of the group. That means farmers are eligible for low-interest loans to help cope with their losses.

According to the LCRA, Central Texas is in its seventh year of a historic drought. Lakes Travis and Buchanan are the source of water for more than one million Central Texans, businesses and farmers, and currently, they are just 38 percent full. And conditions aren't getting better.

"I do really, kind of wonder how we're going to handle with it," said Torrance. "The influx of people coming into Austin is like amazing. The infrastructure going up."

For the last two years, the LCRA has had to cut off water supplies to rice farmers downstream and the board is asking the TCEQ if they can do the same thing this year.

"What they decided was is that we needed to have 1.1 million acre-feet combined storage in our reservoirs in order to have water to be released for agriculture interest this year," said Rose. "So March 1st is the date that we will be looking at the combined storage."

One million acre feet is enough water to supply roughly 3 million homes for one year.

Whether the answer is yes or no, LCRA officials say Central Texans are going to have to conserve more water.

"For the person at home, they need to really understand that conditions aren't changing until we get some significant rain in this area and that this year we're probably going to continue with water restrictions," Rose said. 

Click here to read the latest LCRA drought and lake report