The Brazos River basin has enjoyed an ample amount of rainfall this spring, but as we head into the heat of Texas’ summer, drought can begin at any time. Once the rain stops, there’s no way to refill the reservoirs tasked with supplying water to countless Texans without more rain.
That’s why it’s vital that the Brazos River Authority water supply system work to keep its lakes as full as possible, so when drought comes, water is there to access.
As those across the Brazos River basin brace for the scorching triple-digit temperatures that await this summer, they can rest assured that the BRA’s water supply system was 99% full on June 10, heading into that time.
“We’re really, really well positioned as we head into the summer months when water use from the system peaks,” said Aaron Abel, BRA water services manager.
It’s not just the lack of much rain during summer months that prompts the need to keep the water supply system at its fullest.
As the summer heats up and rainfall slows, people use higher amounts of water. At the same time, evaporation rates skyrocket. Evaporation often consumes twice as much water as the total used by cities, industry, agriculture and mining concerns from the BRA system of water supply reservoirs. The loss of more than 470,000 acre-feet of water in 2018 was due to evaporation, compared to the roughly 284,000 acre-feet of water used by cities, industrial, irrigation, and mining combined. Similarly, in 2017 the total water use from the BRA system of reservoirs was 252,987 acre-feet, while total evaporation from the system was measured at 494,061 acre-feet. An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre, 43,560 square feet, with one foot of water, or 325,851 gallons of water.
Rainfall in 2019 was a good example of why managing water supply is so important. A dry period stretched across Texas in July and didn’t let up until October, Abel said.
“We’re in great shape as we head into the peak demand months,” Abel said.
BRA’s water supply system provides water to millions of Texans whether through their taps, through the electricity they use in their homes, to the industries that produce the products they use every day, to the farmers and ranchers who produce their food, and a host of other direct and indirect means.
Many are familiar with the three BRA-owned and operated reservoirs - Possum Kingdom Lake, Lake Granbury, and Lake Limestone – though often for different reasons, be it fishing opportunities, the parks, boating, or camping. And while recreational opportunities exist, the main purpose of these reservoirs is to store water for municipalities, water districts, water supply corporations, agricultural users, irrigators, steam electric generating facilities, manufacturing entities, and mining operations.
Of course, the three reservoirs aren’t the only ones in the basin. The BRA contracts for conservation storage space in eight U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs in the basin: lakes Whitney, Aquilla, Proctor, Belton, Stillhouse Hollow, Georgetown, Granger, and Somerville.
“From a water supply operation standpoint, it’s not just, flip a switch on, and everything falls into place,” Abel said. “Pre-planning and coordination are major components of water supply management.”
“The BRA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Watermaster have a lot of coordination meetings,” Abel added. Even when water availability is not an issue, like during flood times, we’re always planning for the next drought. You have to be prepared to supply the water when it’s needed. That comes down to communication and coordination. Not even just with those agencies, but the customers. We have to make sure everybody is on the same page when it comes to reporting water use, letting us know when water is needed, the importance of water conservation, and having that communication in place prior to the actual time when water is needed.”
Part of that communication includes making sure water in reservoirs gets to the parts of the basin that need it most. Whether that’s releasing water from a reservoir to go downstream to those in need or using water pipelines to move the water. The concept behind a water supply reservoir is to capture and store water during wet times for use during periods of droughts when rainfall and river flows are down.
The BRA operates and manages the Williamson County Regional Raw Water Line, which delivers raw water from Lake Stillhouse Hollow to Lake Georgetown for use by three Williamson County providers: the cities of Georgetown and Round Rock, and Brushy Creek Municipal Utility District. Without the line, the supply stored in Lake Georgetown would be insufficient to meet local needs.
“Lake Georgetown has a small watershed,” Abel said. “That’s really the only place currently in the system that’s not at or near full – and that’s a typical scenario for Lake Georgetown. The lake has such a small watershed and doesn’t have the drainage area other parts of the basin have the luxury of.”
Everyone can contribute to ensuring water exists for generations to come. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Most homes use a large amount of water in each of four areas: bathrooms, the kitchen, the laundry room and outdoors.
Making a few small changes can have a big impact on the amount of water available during a drought and the amount of money left in your pocket after the arrival of your water bill.
Click here for a full list of ways you can conserve water at home.