Texas Drought Forces Town to Haul in Water by Truck

Bloggers Comment:

When thinking of the various natural disasters that occur around our country and around the world, the public normally gets a mind picture of the kinds of disasters that are publicized because of their visual devastation. The media focuses on these kinds of disasters because they create sensational photos, human interest stories and theater that sells and captures the minds of the public. But along with that attention comes help from individuals giving directly to the people in need or to organizations that offer the needed help.

On the other hand the droughts that have devastated the southwest and other areas of the world have been kind of over looked by the media because of the lack of visual carnage. Imagine the kind of devastation these severe droughts bring to an area. There have been entire towns and civilizations that have vanished because of drought.

Think of the crop devastation and the resulting food crisis drought can promote…

The people confronted with this kind of disaster need help as well as the ones effected by disasters that are publicized more. If you feel moved to help some of these people in need, contact the city and towns of the effected areas and offer relief in what ever way they need and you are able to provide.

They will be thankful you acted on their behalf.


Published: February 3, 2012
Ben Sklar for The New York Times
The bed of the Colorado River is drying up and cracking in some parts of Spicewood Beach after more than a year of drought
Ben Sklar for The New York Times
Connie Heller, on the security patrol for Spicewood Beach, said the community may need a rain dance to solve its water problems.

SPICEWOOD BEACH, Tex. — The water that once nourished this centralTexas community never traveled far: it came from a fenced-in well at the edge of Lake Travis, down a winding street next to the golf course. These days, the water that flows from kitchen and bathroom faucets takes an extraordinary journey that can be measured not in feet but in miles.

This drought-stricken place in the scenic hills outside Austin has been forced to bring in water by truck from more than 10 miles away because its sole well came close to running out of water. Spicewood Beach is one of four subdivisions in Burnet County that became the first communities in Texas to run so low on water that it had to be hauled in by truck. The four subdivisions, made up of about 1,100 people in a part of Texas known as the Hill Country, all relied on the Spicewood Beach well.

Several times a day, a truck carrying 4,000 gallons of treated water from another subdivision has pulled up to a beige storage tank in Spicewood Beach. Workers pump the water from the truck to the tank through a long green hose. A crowd of reporters and residents watched the first delivery on Monday. But by Wednesday morning, the deliveries had become a part of life here, and no one watched as the water that residents use to wash dishes and take their showers flowed out of a truck from an aptly named company, H2O2U.

Droughts are deceptive disasters: they knock down no buildings, spread no debris. But they are disasters nonetheless. The Texas drought that started more than a year ago has cost ranchers and farmers billions of dollars in lost income or additional expenses. It has forced hundreds of towns and cities to restrict water use and has turned lakes into ponds. Last year was the driest in Texas since 1917, with a total statewide rainfall of 15 inches, much lower than the average of 27.64 inches, according to John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist.

The Spicewood Beach well is one of 13 public water systems in the state that are projected to run out of water in 180 days or less and that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is tracking. Officials who oversee many of those systems are taking steps to increase their water supply, including digging new or deeper wells. One water system that serves about 1,500 people in Limestone County near Waco is estimated to run out of water on March 1.

There have been signs, however, that parts of Texas are recovering. For the first time since early July, the latest United States Drought Monitor map, released on Thursday, classified much of the Dallas-Fort Worth area as not experiencing drought. But state weather experts expect drought conditions to persist in most of the state through the summer.

Officials with the Texas Water Development Board and members of the state’s Drought Preparedness Council said they were concerned that what had happened in Spicewood Beach could occur elsewhere. Some wells that supply water to small communities like Spicewood Beach are linked to the state’s lakes and reservoirs, where water levels have dropped significantly in the drought. The wells extract water from the underground layers of rock, sand or gravel that are known as aquifers, which are recharged by lakes. As the lakes dry up, the aquifers are affected, some worse than others.

“If the drought continues as it is, we’re going to continue to see small communities struggle with their water supplies,” said Robert E. Mace, a deputy executive administrator for the water board.

In Spicewood Beach on Wednesday morning, Bianca Barrett, 42, mowed her front lawn as the truck pulled up to the storage tank across the street. Spicewood Beach has taken to thinking about water the way people on a diet think about food: every bite, or in this case, every drop, counts. To conserve water, Ms. Barrett and other residents are prohibited from doing any type of outdoor watering, like watering the lawn, and many have voluntarily cut back on their indoor use of water. Ms. Barrett washes her clothes once a week and drinks bottled water.

“It’s disheartening,” Ms. Barrett said. “You have to kind of do everything at one time, and try to incorporate washing dishes and cooking at the same time, so you’re not using as much water.”

The water system here is made up of four wells, but only one is active. Last week, the water in that well decreased by 1.3 feet overnight, prompting officials with the Lower Colorado River Authority, which owns and operates the water system, to hire H2O2U to begin hauling in water. On Monday morning, hours before the first delivery, the water was within two and a half feet of the bottom of the well.

The water deliveries cost the agency roughly $1,000 a day, an expense that its officials said they would not pass along to their customers. Still, several residents expressed anger with the authority, criticizing it for selling Spicewood Beach water throughout the summer to hauling companies that resold it to others.

Clara Tuma, an authority spokeswoman, said agency rules allowed sales to water haulers under certain conditions. “Of course it had some effect,” Ms. Tuma said of the water sales. “Every drop of water that was used had an effect on the levels. But those sales were stopped in early January. The severe decline in the water levels didn’t occur until weeks after that.”

Lake Travis sets the decidedly recreational tone of Spicewood Beach. Residents, many of them retired, park their boats on the front lawn, and the no-nonsense woman in the neon-green sweatshirt who roams the streets in a cart is not headed to the golf course — she is Connie Heller, 64, making her rounds as part of the Spicewood Beach security patrol.

The lake has all but vanished in the drought. Down past the well, Lake Travis is now a kind of sandy, rocky canyon, where wooden fishing docks sit like shipwrecks on dry land and you can walk more than halfway across the lake bed before your feet get wet in a thin band of water. A dead lake is a surreal thing, as is the drought itself, which for the moment seems impervious to the rain that has fallen here and throughout the state in recent weeks. The lake’s water level has decreased 44 feet below its February average.

“I heard on the news a while back that some town got an Indian to come and do a rain dance,” Mrs. Heller told Joseph Barbera, 69, president of the subdivision’s homeowners association, as she stood near her golf cart. “We may have to do that.”

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