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Lake Travis

Good news for Texas lakes

All that rain has had a positive effect.

Lavon Lake

Statewide, estimates from the National Weather Service indicate the first four months of this year have been the fifth wettest since 1895 and the wettest since 1997. So far this year, estimates show the state has gotten 11.5 inches of precipitation, or about 160 percent of the normal 7.1 inches. March and April each provided 200 percent of the state’s normal rainfall.

And the news going forward is good.

A weaker-than-anticipated El Nino that brought with it rain, snow and sleet to Texas is expected to persist and intensify through next winter.

This summer’s temperatures may be the lowest since 2007-2008, according to state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammons, which could lead to less evaporation from lakes, weather officials said. Also, the state’s wettest two months – May and June – are still ahead.

[…]

Lakes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are faring well. Across the seven reservoirs serving Dallas County, lake levels are up nearly 30 percent from three months ago, at 94 percent full on Friday. Fort Worth’s seven reservoirs were almost 82 percent full Friday, up from 63 percent three months ago.

Other areas too have gotten good precipitation, including Houston, Corpus Christi and Midland. The Edwards Aquifer, which serves San Antonio and much of the Hill Country, has risen nearly 20 feet since Jan. 1.

The one area where lake levels remain low is around Austin, where Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan were 38 percent full Friday; that’s the second-lowest level for this time of year since the 1960s.

There is still some exceptional drought in Texas, in places like Palo Pinto and Childress counties, northwest of Fort Worth, but overall things are much better. Here’s a DMN story about lake levels in North Texas. Lavon Lake, in Collin County, released flood waters for the first time in three years. Its level was at a record low last July. I wish things would improve for Lake Travis, but on the whole we have a lot to be thankful about.

Lake businesses hoping for a good summer

Sure must be tough being so dependent on factors beyond your control.

Central Texas lake-area businesses dependent on customers being in, on or near water want you to know three things heading into Memorial Day weekend: Last summer wasn’t as bad as you might have thought, the water levels are up, and this summer is going to be better.

At Shore Club Volente Beach, Rick Redmond, the owner and operator, spent an estimated $800,000 spiffing up the park last year, adding upscale dining, a concert-ready stage, rental lake houses and other attractions.

Despite the drought, he said, “I felt like we had a good year last year.”

[…]

Lake Travis is 28 feet lower than its May average and 7 feet below its level this time last year, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Still, periodic rains through the winter and spring have resulted in rising levels.

Lake Austin’s level is near constant, so drought or no drought, Lake Austin Marina manager Mark Flood is braced for big business.

“We’re anticipating huge crowds,” Flood said. “There’s three big holidays over the summer — Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day — and those are just huge out here.”

I sure hope conditions continue to improve. Another dry summer or two, and it won’t just be these guys in a world of hurt.

How dry we are

Rain, rain, please don’t go away. Texas is too dry to play.

Pedernales Falls, for the most part, doesn’t.

Lake Travis is becoming a lake in name only, regressing in some areas almost to the old Colorado River channel and in others leaving hundreds of yards of dry, cracked lake bed strewn with discarded fishing rods, beer cans and golf balls, and boathouses and docks to nowhere.

“We should leave a bottle down here saying, ‘We walked here in ’09,” Austin appliance repairman Bill Cosby said, as he picked his way through what used to be the lake’s Hurst Creek section.

In New Braunfels, visitors preparing to tube down some stretches of the Comal or Guadalupe rivers — especially those of a certain size and girth — are advised to take particular caution.

“If you’re not careful, there are several places where your butt could hit the bottom,” said J.R. Perez of New Braunfels.

Across Austin and Central Texas, the great drought of 2009 and its accompanying record high temperatures are taking their toll on recreational activities. Only one public boat ramp remains open on Lake Travis, and fewer than a dozen trailers were parked Saturday morning near the Mansfield Dam.

The good news, as the story indicates, is that for the most part businesses that depend on the tourist trade have been able to ride this out and are doing well. That wasn’t the case the last time a big weather event affected lakes and rivers in Central Texas. That time, the problem was too much rain, and I’m sure some day that will be the problem again. In the meantime, the bad news is that the drought this year is affecting non-touristy places as well.

Jim Stinson, general manager of The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency which oversees 11 municipal utility districts in the community, has proposed permanently implementing a two-day weekly watering schedule in The Woodlands. He also is promoting the idea as a director of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District, a county-wide group charged with managing the county’s underground water supply.

“We know the scientists have told us that we have tapped out our water supply,” Stinson said. “The environmentalists have told us we can’t build any more reservoirs. We’ve got to learn to live responsibly with the water we’ve got.”

Montgomery County relies solely on three underground aquifers for its water supply and its water providers face a deadline of 2015 to reduce the use of that water by 30 percent. The aquifer can replenish about 64,000 acre feet annually through rainfall and runoff, and the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District has issued permits to pump 78,000 acre feet annually.

A three-year study is currently under way by the U.S. Geological Survey to determine what the impact has been on the aquifers and whether water levels are declining.

Needless to say, that’s not sustainable, and it’s not going to be fixed by some El Nino-affected weather that’s expected later this year. Just something to keep in mind, because problems like that are going to become more common as our population increases.

By the way, all this drought has contributed to this being one of the hottest years on record for Texas. I’m sure that comes as no surprise.