Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (the District) officially declared Stage IV Exceptional Drought on December 14, 2023 for the first time in their 36-year history. Stage IV declaration restrictions will take effect on January 1, 2024. This transition is a result of the Lovelady monitor well, one of two drought trigger determinants, reaching a 10-day average of 456.9 feet-mean sea level (ft-msl). This is below the District’s 457.1 ft-msl threshold for Stage IV, and there is little rain relief in theforecast. For reference, the average water level elevation for Lovelady monitor well since measurements began in 1949 is 492.8 ft-msl. (For additional information on the Lovelady monitor well, view this article.)
This decline is representative of the alarmingly low water levels of the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer, which serves as a drinking water source for over 60,000 people from south Austin to northern Kyle and is overseen and managed by the District.
Prior to entering Stage IV, the District had been in Stage III Critical Drought since October 2022 when the Lovelady monitor well initially crossed the drought threshold. Lovelady groundwater levels and Barton Springs flow serve as the determinants for the District’s current drought stage. Only one of these sites needs to cross a new drought threshold for a District declaration to be made. However, to exit a stage, both Barton Springs and Lovelady must both rise above their respective drought threshold values.
Stage IV drought requires 30-100 percent reduction in pumpage by the District’s 149 permittees, which vary in size from individual well owners to larger water service providers like the cities of Buda, Kyle, Hays, and Sunset Valley. Permittees will experience various degrees of restrictions based on their classification, and those who don’t meet these restrictions are subject to monthly drought penalties. While the District doesn’t enforce restrictions on end users served by water utilities on groundwater wells, such as Creedmoor Maha Water Corp, Goforth Special Utility District, and Monarch Utilities, it is up to the permittee to ensure reductions are met. Water utility customers can contact their service provider for additional information.
The only way for groundwater resources to recover and end these drought conditions is a long period of widespread and significant rainfall over local aquifer recharge zones. Until this occurs, community members in and outside of the District can do their part by actively conserving water resources to minimize surface and groundwater depletion to help our aquifer levels recover. Groundwater use should be limited to essential indoor demands with little to no water allocated for outdoor purposes.
Below is a copy of the letter Ruby Ranch Water Supply Corporation received, along with other permittees:
On December 14, 2023 the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District’s Board of Directors declared a Stage IV Exceptional Drought. Current conditions at the District’s two official drought monitors – flow at Barton Springs and the water level in the Lovelady Well – have been verified and indicate that the water level at the Lovelady Well has dropped below the Stage IV Exceptional threshold and thus, triggered the new declaration. Flow at Barton Springs remains above the Stage IV threshold even with its continued downward trend, but it only takes one the two monitors to cross a threshold and trigger a drought-stage declaration.
The declaration of drought requires your immediate attention. As a permittee, you must implement your approved User Drought Contingency Plan (UDCP) for a Stage IV Exceptional Drought declaration or worse. (A copy of your approved UDCP will be provided upon request). Under Stage IV Exceptional Drought, permittees are required to implement the mandatory measures in their UDCPs to reduce their monthly pumpage by:
• 40% for Edwards Historical
• 50% for Conditional Class A permittees,
• 100% for Edwards Conditional Class B permittees,
• 100% for Edwards Conditional Class C and Class D permittees, and
• 30% for Trinity and Alluvial/Austin Chalk Historical permittees
While in Stage IV Exceptional Drought, your monthly pumpage reports will be evaluated against your approved monthly pumpage limits. January will be the first full month of declared Stage IV Exceptional drought and the District will be assessing compliance with the Stage IV monthly pumpage limits for January in early February when the monthly pumpage reports are due. It is imperative that all permittees submit timely monthly meter readings (between the 1st and 5th of each month) in order to ensure an accurate report of monthly pumpage. District staff will be required to collect meters readings and assess a penalty fee of $60 – $120 for extra-collection efforts if not received by the reporting deadline.
Drought Management Fees
In addition, the District will assess a drought management fee (DMF) per District Rule 3-7.9. Key things to know about this fee are provided below as a reminder:
• Fees are assessed to every permittee with permitted pumpage greater than 2,000,000 gallons/year for
every month that pumpage exceeds the monthly pumping limits by more than 5 percent.
• Fees are assessed beginning after the first two full months of a District declared drought. For this current drought, the fees started to be assessed in October 2022 for any overpumpage that occurs in the months
following as long as the District remains in drought.
• Fees accrue throughout the fiscal year (September – August) This regulatory DMF will be invoiced monthly and should be paid within the billing cycle. (DMFs will be billed on the 16th of the month and are due before the 16th of the following month or a 10% late fee will be assessed.)
• Fees are based on average well production casing size and rates determined by the District fee schedule and rules.