Drought Update – December 2023

2023 has come and gone, yet we continue to feel the lasting impact of its extreme heat and low rainfall. It was the hottest year on record with Camp Mabry recording an average temperature of 72.2 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a tenth of a degree hotter than 2017- the previous record holder. The Austin area’s average annual rainfall is 36.5 inches. With only 26.8 inches of rain in 2023, it was the region’s 34th driest year on record.

At the end of the already historic year, the District declared Stage IV drought on December 14 in a first for the organization. This was a result of the Lovelady monitor well falling below the drought threshold. The cooler temperatures of fall and winter have helped slow down the impacts of the drought, but below average rainfall in November and December pushed Lovelady’s groundwater levels into Stage IV.

Last month provided a total of 1.36 inches of rain, which is below the region’s historical December average of 2.4 inches. Compared to the area’s annual average rainfall, 2023 resulted in a 9.7 inch deficit.

Figure 1. Monthly deviation from average and monthly total rainfall in District’s territory.

Barton Springs Flow

USGS Barton Springs gauge currently shows a 10-day average of 23 cubic feet per second (cfs). The District’s most recent manual measurement of 19 cfs was obtained on December 14, 2023. Rainfall in December and early January has maintained a constant spring flow in the 20 cfs range (Figure 2). District staff will conduct a manual field measurement in late-January to verify the accuracy of the USGS gauge reporting.

For the latest manual flow measurement data and drought information, please visit www.bseacd.org/regulatory/droughtinformation.

Figure 2. Barton Springs flow for the last five years.

Lovelady Monitor Well
On January 4, 2024, the Lovelady well recorded a 10-day average water level of 456.8 feet above mean sea level (ft-msl), which is below the District’s Stage IV Exceptional Drought threshold (Figure 3). Because of the persistent below-average rainfall and consequent decline in water levels at Lovelady, the District’s Board of Directors declared Stage IV Exceptional Drought on December 14, 2023, marking the first declaration of its kind in the agency’s 36-year history.

Figure 3. Lovelady groundwater level over the last five years.

Upper and Middle Trinity
Following the below-average rains in November and December there has been little to no rise in the Upper Trinity (green), while the Middle Trinity (purple) has displayed a positive response (Figure 4). The flow gauge at Jacob’s Well spring has recorded zero flow since a brief pulse following the October rainfall. Meanwhile, the Blanco River at Wimberley has seen increased flows linked to the recent rains.

Figure 4. Water levels in an Upper Trinity well (green) and Middle Trinity well (purple) over the last five years.