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As lake levels drop, Austin tightens water restrictions for first time in years

An almost dried up Lake Travis.
Courtesy of the Lower Colorado River Authority
Water in Lake Travis reached record lows in 2011. Officials on Friday said they expect levels to drop below 1.4 million acre-feet in the next several days.

Residents have to reduce their use of automatic irrigation systems, such as sprinklers set to turn on at scheduled times, as the City of Austin enters the first phase of its drought plan.

These types of restrictions, which go into effect June 6, are triggered when the city’s water supply falls below a certain level. It's been at least three years since the city has had to enact these rules.

Austin gets its water from Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan. Officials said Friday they expect water levels in these lakes to drop below 1.4 million acre-feet in the next several days. When that happens, the city enters what it calls “Stage 1” of its Drought Contingency Plan.

The city already has limits on hose and irrigation watering. With these new restrictions, residents are now only permitted to use automatic irrigation in the early mornings and at night. People who violate these water restrictions could face a fine of up to $500.

“While the changes in restrictions for Stage 1 are limited, Austin Water also views the declaration of Stage 1 as an opportunity, and obligation, to inform citizens about the current situation with drought and lake volumes,” Kevin Critendon, an assistant director with Austin Water, said.

Climatologists worry this summer will be akin to the one Texans lived through in 2011, which was marked by intense drought and heat.

"With the early start to the hot weather this year, we have also been experiencing significant drought conditions in the upper parts of the Colorado River watershed that feed into the Highland Lakes," Critendon said in an email. "Inflows into the Highland Lakes for the first four months of the year have been well below historical averages and May seems to be following suit."

Here are some of the rules residents will have to follow:

  • Automatic irrigation is only allowed one day a week between midnight to 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. to midnight
  • You can only use hose-end sprinklers two days a week
  • Restaurant workers cannot serve water unless a customer requests it
Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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