Lifelong Austin resident Bobby McQuiston says it's been shocking to see the drought conditions get so bad in Central Texas.
"It's awful, really, it's very concerning." He know there's not an easy solution and that lowering Lake Austin won't be a popular one. "It's a real hot potato for a lot of people," he says.
Tuesday, the Lower Colorado River Authority board members discussed whether to release water downstream to help keep Matagorda Bay fish and shellfish alive. That would mean lowering four constant-level Highland Lakes including Lake Austin. The LCRA is required by the state to provide that water. "There is no defined plan, no schedule to begin that kind of thing. We wouldn't do that without further input from stakeholders," says Ryan Rowney, the Executive Manager of Water Operations with the LCRA.
The LCRA has already started exploring an option to temporarily lower Lake Austin two to four feet by holding water in Lake Travis and allowing Lake Austin to rise and fall as customers use water and it evaporates. Right now the LCRA operates Lake Austin within a one foot operating range which means there's little room to store water so runoff from the storms generally has to be sent downstream. This plan would help keep water in Lake Travis. But, letting Lake Austin drop for any reason concerns near by residents. A Facebook page titled, 'Save Lake Austin,' had more than 2,000 likes Wednesday.
"I think the very first question is, 'how in the world did we get here?'" says Ellen Witt Ortiz who lives on Lake Austin.
She says that while no one could have predicted the severity of this drought, the LCRA should have been better prepared to not let it get to this point. "We're trying to fix something that's broken, but we're not looking at the key issue which is mismanagement of the water."
Ortiz and other residents would like more oversight with the LCRA. She wants research to be done before the idea of lowering Lake Austin becomes a reality.
"What is the economic cost? What is the environmental cost, the ecological cost to lowering a lake that has been at a constant level for 70 years? That information hasn't been put forward."
Rowney knows the LCRA board has some tough decisions to make in order to help ease the wide reaching drought conditions. "It may require sacrifices from everyone. This drought has already touched many people across the basin."
The LCRA board will continue to discuss the option of lowering Lake Austin at its next meeting.