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Eye on the Drought: Questions Answered - 04/08/14

Chief Meteorologist Chikage Windler, Meteorologist Jordan Steele, and I dove into issues about our drought, lake levels, fire danger, water restrictions, and more in our half hour special: Eye on the Drought.

We received many questions about the drought and were here to help answer them.

John Molina: How feasible is it to build desalination plants if the drought is permanent? How soon will we run out of water?
>John, Clara Tuma with the LCRA tells us they have considered the possibility of desalination plants, but to date, the cost remains prohibitively high.  However, having said that, recently  Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announced that his office would partner with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority to spend roughly $2 million to study the feasibility of a desalination plant by the Texas Gulf coast.  You can more about this on the statesman: http://www.statesman.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/state-river-authority-to-partner-on-desalination-p/nXMx8/

John Holmes: Status of boat ramps?
John, Heres a link to LCRAs current boat ramp status: http://lcra.org/parks/boat_ramp_info.html

Mike Chapman: Why isn't Round Rock on the same water restrictions as Georgetown, Round rock gets most of their water from Lake Georgetown?
Mike, I spoke with Will Hampton with the City of Round Rock, who tells me that Round Rock is under a two-times-a-week voluntary water restriction, which may become mandatory in May.  He believes Georgetown is currently under a three-times-a-week mandatory water restriction right now.
Will says that Georgetown and Round Rock are on the same page when it comes to calling a stage 2, stage 3, etc. water restriction.  He says, however
>Georgetown water restrictions: https://water.georgetown.org/
>Round Rock water restrictions: http://www.roundrocktexas.gov/home/index.asp?page=149

Dan Poggemiller and Barbara Kelly:  El Nino
>Dan, El Nino is often a feature we look at for the season ahead.  When were under El Nino conditions, Texas often sees more precipitation than normal.  However, right now we are under ENSO-neutral conditions, which mean the waters near the pacific equator are neither above nor below normal.
This leaves us will more questions as to what are summer may bring.  At this point, forecasters are predicting a chance for above or below normal precipitation.

Clayton Stapleton: How does the low water levels affect the wildlife in and surrounding the lakes (ie. fish, deer, plants)?
>Clayton, We spoke with Ken Milam, a long time Striper guide on Lake Buchanan, who tells us that there's plenty of fish.  He says this makes for better fishing, since there's the same amount of fish, but less water.
>Also, Clara Tuma with the LCRA, tells us their water quality coordinators regularly monitor aquatic vegetation and aquatic life in the lower Colorado River basin. Based on their observations, fish communities have not been terribly impacted during the drought. They tend to congregate in deeper areas as the river/lakes get lower, but we havent seen any big fish die-offs in the aquatic community because the fish still have places to go and dissolved oxygen levels are sufficient to maintain the populations.
>Clara also tells us, they have seen an expansion of aquatic vegetation like water hyacinth and Eurasian watermilfoil on lakes LBJ and Marble Falls. Those lakes have had good growing conditions " lots of sun and warm weather, and not much water moving through the reservoirs. We received more calls about algae last summer than weve seen in a long time, and we are already starting to receive some this year. There have been larger algae blooms on the Highland Lakes last year than in other years. The issues associated with the blue-green algae, specifically, are its unpleasant taste and odor, which could create some level of recreation and drinking water impact.
>As far as wildlife, we got in touch with Cindy Loeffler from Texas Parks and Wildlife, who tells us that wildlife is not dying off.  In fact, many critters are reproducing right now because its Spring.  She did say that the state-wide bird population is decreasing because of the warm temperatures and drought.
You can get more information on their website: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/

Steve Gallio:  When I lived in Dallas, about 15 years ago, the drought was so bad that trees were dying and there were big cracks in ground. Is it that bad here yet?
>Steve, Some places are worse than others.  I remember doing a story last year on the lack of trees in parks because of the drought.  We've also done stories about the cracked roads here.  State-wide, this drought is showing many impacts and we are seeing much of that in Central Texas.

Kathryn Menele:  I'm in a D3. Should I forget about my garden AGAIN? I feel I wasted water last year trying to keep it alive. I finally gave up & pulled everything.
>First off, a D3 is categorized as an extreme drought area.  There are many things you can do to conserve water and still have a nice lawn.  Many of our native plants do not soak up as much water and are more drought-tolerant.  It takes a bit of research, but will be worth it in the end.
Here's a link from the City of Austin including native plants to help you grow green: http://www.austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/Watershed/growgreen/plantguide.pdf
There's also lots of helpful information on cutting your water bill here: http://texasthestateofwater.org/resources/wildlife.php

Tom Barrett: Cut the cedar to save the water?
>Tom, This is an option.  In fact, the city council in the city Horseshoe Bay budgeted in 2011 to cut many Cedar trees down to conserve water.  As a private homeowner, this is a great option.  Every little bit helps!  City councilman, Jeff Robinson, pointed to research that shows Cedar trees soak up about 33 gallons of water a day, whereas Oak trees only take in about 19 gallons.

James Greenha:  Maybe you need to look at the forecast again! Rain is in the forecast.
Also on a side note, Austin Mabry ended up with 35 inches of rainfall last year, which was 3 inches more than normal, this year we are only half an inch behind.

>James, That's a great point.  However, as our drought has worsened over the year, receiving the 30-year average rainfall will not cut it anymore.  We now need much more that what is considered normal to come out of this drought.

Linda Padgett Lowenthal:  We live in western Travis County and are entirely dependent for water from our well into the Trinity Aquifer. We are water conservation fanatics, especially during this drought. Why is water under the ground not regulated as closely as surface water? Why can homes and businesses in Austin tap into the Trinity, avoiding the Austin restrictions on their city (surface water) to maintain their lush lawns, fountains, ponds, under "right of capture"? When will this archaic concept be done away with? Water under the ground is just as precious and vulnerable as water above the ground.
>Linda, These are great questions.  There are many helpful answers on the Edwards Aquifer website: http://www.edwardsaquifer.net/faqs.html

Joe Dougherty: Will we ever get our lake back?
>Joe, That's a debatable question.  Ryan Rowney with LCRA believes that we will see another flood again, but it could take several years.  He thinks that we need another rain bomb like we saw in 2007, where nearly 20 of rain fell over Lake Travis.  That's why well be keeping a close eye on the upcoming hurricane season.

Jerry Watkins: Is this drought, which has lasted for several years now, just part of a natural cycle, or is it something that's a result of human's influence on their environment?
>Jerry, This is a debatable issue.  Some forecasters will say its due to climate change while others say it has something to do with global warming.  Here's a link to an article I found on the plains drought of 2012 and a federal study showing the cause was due to natural events: http://fox2now.com/2013/04/12/study-natural-causes-not-human-activity-behind-plains-drought/

-Meteorologist Allison Miller

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