Austin and Cedar Park impose water restrictions in respose to drought conditions

Beth Rozacky

     Austin has seen many droughts in its long history. However, this summer Austin saw one of its most severe since the 1950’s, one of the worst droughts in Texas history. ThLakes, rivers, creeks and even aquifers fell into peril as their supply of rain vanished with the summer heat. Water restrictions and new citywide mandates popped up all summer in an attempt to conserve the city’s dwindling resources.

     “Everyday there was some new story in the newspapers on what was being affected by the drought and it was almost like a miracle everytime it rained” Aaron Villalpando, junior said. “Even though I lived in Mexico for thirteen years, I’ve never experienced a summer as hot as this one.”

     Water resources weren’t the only things in jeopardy this summer. Many of the native Texas plants and animals that depend on the waterways lost valuable shelter and food sources. The Barton Springs Park shows the most noticeable effects of the drought. The creeks, sinkholes, and caves that feed Barton Springs have dried up in the Greenbelt, cutting off the springs’ ability to refill. Even the Edwards aquifer (which also feeds Barton Springs and the City’s Water Plants) is struggling in its own battle for survival. The 160-mile long aquifer hasn’t been able to recharge fully since 2007. This has led to a steady lowering of the aquifer and, more noticably, Barton Springs.

     “I actually did notice that the part [of the Springs] next to the actual pool was definitely a lot lower than normal.” Gabriela Aguilar, junior said. “Also, a lot of the grass around the [park area] was dead.

     In addition to the disappearing aquifers, Austin has another aquatic Houdini at work. Lake Travis is experiencing record low levels as the lake performs a stunning vanishing act. The lake is twenty seven feet below its normal capacity and has entered into a category four drought stage, the highest level possible. These are the lowest levels Lake Travis has seen since 1917. To the dismay of many, the lake continues to dwindle closer and closer to a complete closure. As island after island pops up in front of the dam officials are beginning to consider closing the lake for safety purposes.

     “It was really a bummer seeing the lake so low,” Aguilar said. “I couldn’t just drive out and take a swim like normal.”

     Boat ramps and marinas are also closing down because of the water levels. Some of then no longer have enough water to operate in. Others are suffering from a severe drop in business as the lake becomes more dangerous to venture out on. Many personal boat docks have recently bottomed out as well, as the lake recedes beyond them. They sit on the empty lake bed like hollow shells as grass slowly grows in the spaces where water should be.

     More than just providing recreational activities and summer memories, Austin’s suffering lakes and aquifers also supply the city with drinking water and energy. In an attempt to conserve water, the city has started enforcing a long series of water restrictions. Outdoor water use is now restricted to once a week activities. This includes washing cars, watering lawns and irrigation. Most neighborhoods enforce watering schedules by address numbers trying to cut back on wastewater. Because of the extensive evaporation caused by outdoor watering, decorative fountains and automatic pool pumps, they are no longer allowed to operate on a constant basis.  The city is also limiting water usage in restaurants and other establishments; preventing waiters from serving water to customers unless it’s specifically requested.

     Even with the recent rain the water tables are still dangerously low. It could take up to a week of steady rainfall for the aquifers to completely recharge. As the summer comes to a close we can only hope for a swift end to this modern day Dust Bowl. With hurricane season rolling in we may finally see some relief in the forecast.