Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

As Drought Continues, Texas Reservoirs Could Hit All-Time Lows

An old windmill at Monahans Sand Hills State Park.

Photo by Mose Buchele/StateImpact Texas

An old windmill at Monahans Sand Hills State Park.

Texas is still in a drought, and it’s to the point where reservoir levels in the state may soon reach an all-time collective low.

“If they keep going down at the present rate, it will only take about two more weeks before they will set an all-time record for the difference between how much water they were designed to hold and how much they water they actually have in them,” state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon tells Texas A&M Agrilife this week. “We continue to set records levels for this time of year, but this will be an all-time record low.”

While the state has seen some good rains since the long, dry summer of 2011, they haven’t been enough to fill many reservoirs back up. The state’s reservoirs are currently less than 60 percent full, according to the Texas Water Development Board.

In Central Texas, the Highland Lakes, crucial reservoirs for Austin, are set to drop to their lowest levels since they were built. They are already at their lowest levels in decades. The situation has gotten to the point where the Lower Colorado River Authority is now thinking about lowering the levels of Lake Austin in order to store more water for the area.

It’s been a quiet summer for tropical storms and hurricanes as well, though a depression forming off Mexico could bring precipitation next week if all goes well. But without a good summer storm to fill those reservoirs, it will be up to the winter season. And the forecast at this point isn’t hopeful.

“We’re forecasting neutral conditions in the tropical Pacific – no El Niño or La Niña – and that means nothing is pointing us to either a very dry winter or wet winter,” Gammon tells A&M Agrilife. “So at this point, it could be a winter like we’ve been having for the past couple of years — not enough rain to end the drought, but things not getting worse either.”

There’s still one wild card: a storm system brewing off Mexico that has a chance (and only that at this point) of hitting Texas next week. If it does, it could bring helpful rains.

Update: John Nielsen-Gammon has more on his blog on the state of reservoirs, as well as detailed info on a potential drought-buster for parts of the state forming off the coast of Mexico.


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