Although Austin has seen some decent rain as of late, drought conditions remain a serious concern. It will take many more days and inches of rain before the amount of water in the Highland Lakes rises to acceptable and sustainable levels. For this reason Stage Two water restrictions are still in effect for the city of Austin. The Austin Water Utility has established four levels of water restrictions which are put into place in successive order once water levels have fallen below the Water Conservation Stage. Following are descriptions of the Water Conservation Stage and the subsequent four drought response stages.
The Highland Lakes
The Highland Lakes provide central Texas with its water supply. The lakes are considered full when the water levels are above 1.4 million acre feet. Customers are allowed to water any time using a hand held hose but irrigation systems can only be used from midnight to 10 am and from 7 pm to midnight. Watering is also restricted to twice a week and you can determine your days by whether your address is odd or even. There are different schedules for residential customers versus businesses and schools.
The Beauty of the Highland Lakes
Not only do the lakes supply our water they are also economically critical for recreation.
When the water levels are at or below 1.4 million acre feet, Stage 1 water restrictions are put into effect. The requirements at this stage are almost identical to the previous Water Conservation stage.The only difference is that automatic irrigation systems can only be used from midnight to 5 am rather than until 10 am. Hose-end sprinklers can be used until the later time. Residential and businesses/schools are still on a twice a week schedule depending on your address.
Dams provide control of the water in the lakes
A series of dams, such as the Mansfield Dam, control the flow of water through the lakes in the system. This becomes even more important as lake levels fall.
When lake levels are at 900,000 acre feet or below Stage 2 water restrictions are put into place. Water usage for outdoor watering is reduced to one day per week. Automatic irrigation maintains the same hours as the previous stage but can take place only on designated week days, the day depending on your address. Hose-end sprinklers can only be used on weekends and, again, the day is based on your address. Businesses are restricted to one day a week dependent on address and schools can only water on Mondays.
Low water levels on Lake Travis
As water levels in the lakes begin to drop, the visible effects of the drought become increasingly obvious.
When lake levels are at 600,000 acre feet or less, Stage 3 water restrictions are enacted. Outdoor watering is still limited to one day per week. Automatic irrigation systems can only be used from midnight to 6 am on a single weekday. Again the day depends on your address. Hose-end sprinklers can be used from 7 am to 10 am and again from 7 pm to 10 pm. As with automatic systems, this can only occur one day per week based on your address. Businesses and schools remain on the same schedule as the previous stage.
Visible effects of the drought
When you observe scenes such as the one in this photo it is obvious that we are in a critical situation.
When a catastrophic event occurs, including a seriously prolonged drought, a Stage 4 emergency response is enacted and all outdoor irrigation is prohibited. Please note that these restrictions technically don’t apply to watering with hand held hoses but folks should use common sense during a drought. Ask yourself if it is really necessary to water during a time such as this. You can also take advantage of collecting rain water if and when it does rain and saving it for a sunny day.