While the recent stormy weather may be wreaking havoc on outdoor weddings, festivals and baseball playoffs, and the tornado warnings have been unsettling, it’s filling up lakes throughout the state of Texas. Yesterday Austin got more than an inch of rain in only three hours.
Sure, it’s not the “Rain Bomb” of Memorial Day in 1981, when we got 11 inches of rain in three hours, but hey, it’s better than nothing. Plus, Camp Mabry has already observed more than five inches of rain in May which is more than we we typically get all month. That’s good news.
So how much rain would it actually take to fill the lake? Experts have said a major storm system or a series of storm systems could definitely do the trick.
Lake Travis is currently around 40 feet below where it needs to be. It’s hovering around 630 feet above sea level and it’s considered full at 670 feet above sea level.
That being said – and we’re over-simplifying here – if we got 17 inches of rain, you could say that would give us 40 feet of water. But obviously we need more than that because our lake levels rise as a cumulative effect of all of the rain across the Hill Country. (We’ll leave the technical hydrological data to the Lower Colorado River Authority!)
So we know we need more, but how much has the recent rain helped? Well, as of yesterday Lake Buchanan is still 38% full and Lake Travis is still 39% full. These two water reservoirs, our main supplies, can currently hold a combined 777,623 acre-feet of water.
While these numbers don’t sound super, they are much better than where we’ve been. In late September 2013, during the drought we’re currently experiencing, Lake Travis reached one of its all-time lowest elevations at 618.64 feet above sea level. A month ago we were hovering at 628.54 feet.
But things are looking up! Boat docks that have been closed for almost a year may be able to reopen soon like Tournament Point Ramp at Pace Bend Park, the first public paved ramp on Lake Travis. This access ramp was built in the summer of 2014 and sadly closed a few weeks later. Due to the drought, it has not been open since.
The water level has to be in the ballpark of 631 feet above sea level for officials to open the Pace Bend Park boat ramp. According to the LCRA, as of Monday, Lake Travis was at 630.17 feet above seal level. As of yesterday, it was at 630.55 (and rising).
As a point of reference, the ramp at Tournament Point requires the lowest lake level among LCRA ramps on Lake Travis. The Mansfield Dam boat ramp requires 632 feet above sea level to open.
Next on the list is Jones Brother Park at 645 feet followed by Sandy Creek at 648 feet above sea level. In order for all 12 LCRA boat ramps to be open, lake levels would have to reach a minimum of 667 feet above sea level. That’s why we say 670 feet is full.
Since most lakefront residents haven’t been able to launch their boats from their homes in years, the only way people can access Lake Travis is from private ramps, a boat slip or off the shore line. The rain is certainly helping, but we’ve got a long way to go to erase the imagery of abandoned docks sitting in overgrown brush.