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08/30/2013 05:10 PM Posted By: Dan Robertson
TWC News: Water managers thinking creatively when it comes to conservation
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As many area lakes approach their lowest levels in many decades, Central Texas water managers are brainstorming ideas to conserve water.

"The drought is just so intense, it's so persistent. There's no clear end to the drought," Ryan Rowney with the Lower Colorado River Authority said. "It's requiring innovative ideas, innovative thinking."

Water managers at the Lower Colorado River Authority say they are open to new ideas to improve the situation. One suggestion is to use Lake Austin differently.

"Allow those daily demands just to lower the lake. Say two to four feet for instance," Rowney said.

That would release less water from Lake Travis, creating space in Lake Austin to catch new rain.

"The Lake Austin is just one of many ideas that staff has been discussing internally for several months," Rowney said.

Another idea is dredging Lake Travis to make it deeper.

"The dredging option is just so unbelievably expensive. You get into the tens of thousands of dollars per acre foot," Rowney said.

Of all the big users that draw water from the Highland Lakes, only one can't be controlled—evaporation.

"It's a natural phenomenon that we really don't have a way of managing," Rowney said.

But it's no small amount. Evaporation is second behind the city of Austin as the lakes biggest drain.

"There's a lot of research studies that have been done about evaporation. I'll give you one that's thinking outside the box, for instance and that's to fill your reservoirs with some type of cooking oil," Rowney said. "Have a layer of some sort. Ping pong balls have been another thing thrown out there. It'd take a lot of them."

But a flood of ping pong balls is far less likely than a conventional flood.

LCRA stresses that lowering Lake Austin is just an idea, not a plan.

Without significant rain, Lake Travis is expected to drop to its historic low sometime in October.


08/28/2013 07:42 PM Posted By: Dan Robertson
TWC News: Water managers plan for worst during historic drought
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It’s no secret. The weather is dry in Texas and it doesn’t look like things are getting better any time soon.

In fact, climatologists predict that, without a big rain event, Texas will be in its worst recorded drought by October.

"We're living history right now,” Stacey Steinbach with the Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts said. “That drought from the ‘50s was really bad and this one is either as bad or may eventually exceed it."

That's why there's a sense of urgency at the Texas Groundwater Summit, a gathering of scientists, water managers and planners.

"We do not have enough water to sustain the growth the state is living with,” Dirk Aaron, manager of the the Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District, said. “The sense of urgency is for people in the community to understand that."

Based in Bell County, Aaron’s conservation district is the guardian of the water supply that feeds Salado Springs.

"We have to have a sustained change in our habits with water to live through a drought like this," Aaron said.

Managers of the Barton Springs portion of the Edwards Aquifer face similar challenges.

"We're knocking on the door of a stage four exceptional drought, which would be unprecedented for our district,” John Dupnik with the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District said. “We've never experienced one."

But some scientists think a solution may be coming to the surface: brackish water.

"A lot of people have stayed away from brackish groundwater because it is not potable, it's not freshwater, you can't use it for drinking purposes, but that is really being identified more and more as a source," water attorney Ty Embrey said.

Brackish water is loaded with dissolved salts and minerals and is costly to clean up.

"There's plenty of water there. It's just a matter of making it more usable," Dupnik said.

Experts estimate that the development of a cheap and effective way to clean up brackish water would double the state's underground water supply.

Water managers are still waiting on technology to catch up. Right now, there are 38 brackish water treatment plants in Texas, but their output is still very limited.

That leaves water managers—and the rest of Texas—hoping for rain.




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