Highland Lakes

Reshma Kirpalani/KUT News

After an historic amount of rain this spring, as well as a hot and dry summer in Austin and across Central Texas, the Highland Lakes are looking good.

With August behind us and Labor Day here, the lakes combined are 75 percent full.

Courtesy of the Lower Colorado River Authority

From StateImpact Texas:

Central Texas is having a pretty decent year, rain-wise. We’re sitting just below normal. And it’s been a good week, too: early Thursday, one part of Austin got over seven inches of rain.

So much rain fell over downtown Austin that the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan along Lady Bird Lake looked like he was walking on water. It brought back memories of the Halloween floods last fall — back then Stevie was standing in water waist-deep. But these big rain events all have something in common: They really haven’t fallen where we need them most.

Mose Buchele/KUT

From StateImpact Texas:

The funny thing about Walter E. Long Lake is that most people don't know it exists.

The lake, tucked into a rural-feeling part of Northeast Austin is big, by Austin standards. It can hold more water than Austin's two central city lakes -- Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake -- combined. It was created to host a power plant, which it's done for for nearly 50 years. That's how it got its other name: Decker Lake.

But last week, Austin's city council approved a plan to wean Austin off Decker Power Plant electricity, opting to shutter the plant to lower citywide carbon emissions. If that happens, the lake could serve as Austin’s new city reservoir.

Dylan Baddour/StateImpact Texas

From StateImpact Texas:

The combined storage of the Highland Lakes is expected to approach its record low – 30 percent full – by the end of this summer. After that, forecasters say, the El Niño weather pattern could bring some relief. But how much rain would it take to get them full again?

The total volume of water in the Highland Lakes, the main reservoir for a million people in and around Austin, fell to its lowest level since 1952 (during Texas’ multi-year drought of record) in September 2013. Water flowing into the Highland Lakes hit record lows – just ten percent the annual average — in 2011, Texas’ driest year on record.

Historically, low levels like the ones we’re seeing now have been corrected by massive rain events.

Lower Colorado River Authority

Parts of Central Texas saw as much as 12 inches of rain over the weekend. Water levels in the Highland Lakes  rose slightly, but the storm was far from a drought-buster.

Lakes Travis and Buchanan remain only about one-third full. 

Reshma Kirpalani/KUT News

Two days of storms that delivered about 3 inches of rain to Austin did little for the levels of the lakes that serve as Austin’s water supply. Lake Travis rose by less than a foot; Lake Buchanan was up slightly more than 2 inches.

Dan Yates with the Lower Colorado River Authority says it provided a very small bump. 

“We need a good season of rainstorms like this that we saw yesterday and the day before... that would get us out of the trouble,” Yates said.


Recent rainfall is helping to fill the Highland Lakes—at least a little bit.

Parts of Central Texas received more than two inches of rain on Sunday. Combined with rainfall from earlier last week, rainfall totals for some areas topped nine inches.

The Lower Colorado River Authority says the water level of Lake Travis is up a little over a foot. Lake Buchanan only saw a gain of a few hundredths of an inch.

"The location of the rain makes all the difference and, in this case, the vast majority of the rain fell over the Highland Lakes basin," LCRA river operations center supervisor Dan Yates says.

Photo by KUT News.

Central Texans are all wrapped up for this cold and breezy day. We got some much-needed rain over the weekend and through early Monday morning. Most areas got between one and two inches - some places as many as three.

“This rain did percolate into the topsoil which prior to this event had very, very little moisture in it," Bob Rose, Meteorologist for the Lower Colorado River Authority, said. "This is good for our landscape, our trees, wildflowers next Spring. It did put some water into area ranchers’ stock ponds and things like that.” 

But a good drenching does not “an end to a drought make.” Rose says the rain didn’t do much to fill area aquifers or the Highland Lakes.