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September 14th, 2011 Posted in Uncategorized

Fearing that this drought could reduce lake levels lower than ever before, the board of the Lower Colorado River Authority, the wholesale supplier of water to Austin and other Central Texas cities, plans to meet next week to discuss reducing or ending its water sales to downriver farmers next year.

“These are unprecedented conditions,” said the agency’s general manager, Becky Motal, in a statement Wednesday. She added, “If the dry weather continues, we will reach levels that we have not reached before in previous droughts.”

Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan, the two major reservoirs, are currently 40 percent full. The LCRA says new projections show that by Jan. 1, the amount of water in the lakes could drop close to the levels they were at during the worst drought in Texas history, in the 1950s.

Currently the lakes contain 812,000 acre-feet of water, but the LCRA fears the amount of water could drop as low as 640,000 acre-feet by Jan. 1. The lowest the lakes have ever been was 621,000 acre-feet, in September 1952.

By way of context, Austin used 164,000 acre-feet in 2009. (Austin recently moved to once-a-week watering restrictions aimed at cutting usage.)

Federal scientists announced last week that La Niña, an intermittent Pacific Ocean phenomenon that has been blamed for the current drought, is back and will strengthen. That means Texas’ drought — already the most intense single-year drought on record in the state — is likely to continue for months. This summer’s intense heat and high evaporation rates have compounded the problem.

Rice farmers a few hundred miles down the Colorado River in Matagorda, Wharton and Colorado counties rely on LCRA water to grow crops. Ronald Gertson, a representative for the farmers, said he had been aware this could happen. Nonetheless, he said, “it will be a shock to quite a number of [farmers], I think, when it finally sinks in that there might potentially not be any water available from the LCRA for rice production.”

Gertson added: “[Farmers will] hopefully be able to get enough revenue from crop insurance claims to survive the year and hope for a better water year the following year. But I do fear a little bit that this will lead to some extra pressure on groundwater.”

The LCRA is currently releasing water from the Highland Lakes for the farmers’ second rice crop and will continue to do so until mid-October. Recently levels in the Highland Lakes have been falling at a rate of about 4,000 acre-feet per day. If that continued, the lakes would be drained in a little over six months. However, that rate of decline is largely due to the rice crops, so the lake levels should cease falling so quickly after mid-October.

The board will meet on Sept. 21, following a related committee meeting the previous day.

The board may also take up a new plan — months or years in the making — for managing the LCRA’s water that would automatically cut farmers off in January if lake levels drop below certain levels.

Personal Watercraft Ban on Lake Austin

September 3rd, 2011 Posted in Uncategorized

Texans across the state have been looking for relief from the heat and many are turning to the water to cool down.

The Austin Parks Department wants to remind lake-goers the annual personal watercraft ban on Lake Austin began Friday and ends at Sunrise on Tuesday.

The ban prohibits the use and operation of personal watercraft, wet bikes, motorized surfboards and similar devices on Lake Austin.

“The annual ban of personal watercraft is necessary to ensure the safety of the large number of people that make use of the lake and parks over the Labor Day holiday weekend,“ said parks spokesperson Victor Ovalle.

Officials said police will be patrolling Lake Austin this weekend and urge people using Lake Austin to follow the Texas Water Safety Act and City of Austin boating laws and ordinances. Police are also asking boaters to practice safe boating and to call 9-1-1 for all reckless operation of boats or emergencies.

Several new boating laws took effect on 9-1-11.  Check the article on the Lake Austin Blog Facebook page for more information on these.


September 2nd, 2011 Posted in Uncategorized

With Labor Day upon us, many Central Texans are looking forward to a holiday of fun on the lake.

Lake Travis is currently about 35 feet below where it should be this time of the year, and that means that public boat ramps are scarce. The ramp at Mansfield Dam Park is the only public boat ramp open on Lake Travis.

However, lake outfitters still expect to see a pretty good crowd for the last weekend of summer.

“We expect an increase from the last several weekends. We’re still five feet above where we were this time in 2009,” Pete Clarke with Just for Fun Rentals said. “Even our customers that were still doing business with us in 2009, when it was worse than this, know that it’s still plenty of water in the lake and they can still come out and have a good time.”

Also, remember the Austin Police Department will be enforcing the “No-Refusal initiative during Labor Day weekend.

“No-Refusal” means that officers are able to easily obtain a court order to take blood sample from a suspected drunk driver who refuses a breathalyzer test.

A personal watercraft ban will be in effect on Lake Austin on Labor Day.