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  • Writer's pictureNorth Shore Democrats of Travis County

Think the drought is over? Not so fast, warns water expert Shannon Hamilton of CWTC

By Mike Killalea, NSD president

Like Mark Twain’s death, the end of the drought in Travis County has been greatly exaggerated.

“There were several articles… saying for the first time that Travis County is out of drought,” said Shannon Hamilton, executive director of the Central Texas Water Coalition (CTWC).

“Wrong!” she quipped deadpan. “We are still in a drought.”

Hamilton explained that there are different types of droughts. In our case, although the soil moisture is better, LCRA still considers us in a drought.

“It is critical that we continue to conserve,”  say Hamilton.

In the past, natural rain cycles sufficed to keep the Highland Lakes full. Today, though, thanks to major changes in our climate, the dividing line between the arid West and the moist East is shifting easterly.

Historically, the 100th meridian constituted this “dry line.” But that honor now falls to the 98th meridian — two full degrees of longitude farther east.

The 98th meridian runs right through our area.

“This is our new normal,” she said. “They say [that] this line is going to keep marching across the United states eventually.

“It took us a while to get here, but this is where we are now.”

Water pipeline?

Hamilton said CTWC is considering launching a pilot project to pipe water from wetter to drier areas.

“It is not easy to do,” she said. “It is a long-term plan, but we know there are areas of Texas that get a lot of rain. Maybe there’s a way we can transport it over here.”

We will need plenty of throughput solutions. By 2080, our population is projected to stand at a whopping 4.5 million. 

Dry trends worsen

Compared to historical averages, Lake Travis inflows continue to worsen. In that respect, 2022 was the worst year in history, and 2023 was the fourth worst. Lakes Buchanan and Travis enjoyed significant inflows in May, thanks to heavy rains, but January through April look every bit as bad as 2022 or ’23.

“We’re looking at a repeat summer from last summer,” Hamilton predicted. “Last August, we got 91 acre-feet in, but we were using, releasing, evaporating, 2,800-3,000 acre-feet a day.

“That’s not good math,” she said.

Alarmingly, nine of the last 10 worst inflow years occurred since 2008.

Currently we are 600,000 acre-feet behind where we were this time during the drought period, she said. While Buchanan is 72% full, Travis is only at 42%.

Need more good news? Let’s talk La Niña, a cooling phenomenon in the tropical Pacific Ocean. La Niña results in drier conditions for Central Texas. Projections call for the dry La Niña phenomenon to kick in between July and August. 


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