Andy Uhler of KUT News contributed reporting to this article.
The community of Spicewood Beach isn’t the kind of place that goes looking for attention. There’s no “World’s Largest Pecan,” no grand entrance, no annual heritage festival. It’s just a place where people of modest means choose to settle in for retirement. But now it’s making headlines for a lamentable first: Spicewood Beach is the first Texas town to run dry during the current drought.
The problem is simple: there’s no more water. The wells serving the community of some 1,100 people have reached a level where they’re not reliable. So late Monday afternoon, a tanker truck pulled up to a water storage tank in Spicewood Beach and started pumping out 4,000 gallons of water that came from a fire hydrant some ten miles away.
The truck belongs to a water delivery service called H202U that the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) has contracted for the time being. It is the first of many, as some three to four trucks are expected to pump out water for the town each day, which sits about 40 miles northwest of Austin.
Locals watched from their golf carts across the street as half a dozen cameras recorded the first opening of the first valve of the first tank. It was the opposite of a ribbon-cutting, more an official shrugging of the shoulders. “Just get water! Just get water!” resident Connie Heller exclaimed before the pumping began. “We don’t care where. Just. Get. Water.”
Next door, a family noted the occasion in their own way. They opened up a big bag of charcoal, doused it in lighter fluid, and started grilling.
The drought has claimed many victims since it began in the fall of 2010. There have been millions of acres lost to wildfires and massive crop failures and herd die-offs estimated in the billions of dollars. Extreme temperatures that have tested Texans resolve, not to mention their power grid.
But up until now, a town had never run dry during this drought. It’s an unfortunate, yet also expected, milestone.
If you talk to the people that live here, you’ll hear several theories on just how things got to where they are. Some think the wells suffered because water was stolen; others blame the Lower Colorado River Authority for mismanagement; some say the LCRA just sold too much of the water to outside contractors. Some think it’s all three. But everyone seems to agree on one thing: they never thought this would happen to them.
“All of the sudden everything hit the fan,” says Joe Barbera, president of the Spicewood Beach Homeowner’s Association. “Everybody right now is scared. They’ve never gone through this, and I haven’t either.”
Several locals at the scene expressed concern that with the high number of elderly residents, they worry that word of extreme water shortages might not get passed around. The LCRA has sent out notices via email, but many of the people living in Spicewood Beach don’t have Internet access. “It’s just devastating right now,” says Kathy Hull, “My concern is the elderly in our community, what they’re gonna do.”
The LCRA’s plan from here? Keep trucking in water for as long as it takes them to find a long-term solution, which they estimate could be six to eight more months. Those three to four loads a day cost about $200 each, and the LCRA says for now they will absorb the cost. But in a few months, they say, residents may have to start paying extra for water. They’re also looking at getting their own truck to bring in the water.
LJ Honeycutt moved here in the eighties, and says the community has never had to worry about running out of water before. “My plan? I keep right on going,” he says. “Drink less water and more beer!”