A wet winter has brought an end to the drought in southern Travis County, including the Burleson Heights and Burleson-Parker neighborhoods.
According to an update to the U.S. Drought Monitor this week, our area is now classified as abnormally dry, four drought stages better than the exceptional drought seen here in 2011.
But that doesn’t mean we’re in the clear. Last year’s La Niña weather pattern is lingering in 2012, meaning that we could have another hot, dry summer. In the past, warm winters and early springs like we saw this year have indicated that a scorcher is on the way. And even though the ground is squishy, we still have a rainfall deficit of about 13 inches since the drought began in late summer 2010.
Most of the recent rains have fallen east of Interstate 35, meaning that the Highland Lakes that supply Austin’s water are still depleted. As of this morning, Lake Travis had risen more than 5 feet since Sunday, but today’s level of 638.77 feet is more than 33 feet below the historic March average. That would still rank in the four lowest levels in the lake’s history.
What you can do
In recognition of our limited water supply, Austin is still in Stage 2 water restrictions. About 70 percent of the country’s municipal water supplies are used to water landscapes, so you can make a big impact on water usage by minimizing outdoor watering.
With lawns, less is more: Turf consumes a lot of water. Reduce the amount of lawn in your landscape by installing borders and larger beds of attractive but hardy native plants. If you are putting in grass, avoid thirsty St. Augustine, and instead use native grasses such as Habiturf or improved turfgrass varieties such as zoysia. While the ground is moist and the weather is cool is a great time to plant grasses and perennials. Remember to keep the soil healthy by applying compost, and cover planting beds with at least a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch to keep soil cool and prevent evaporation.
Collect rainwater: A rainwater harvesting system will allow you to collect water when it rains and use it on your landscape when it doesn’t. The City of Austin offers generous rebates that cover up to 50 percent of the cost of a system, from small rain barrels to large cisterns. It’s a small outlay of cash up front, and after that, you have free water for outdoor use.
Keep water on your property: Another way to make use of rainwater is to install a rain garden, a landscaped depression that captures runoff and allows water to percolate into the ground slowly. Not only do the trees and other plants on your own property benefit, but you also prevent excess runoff that can cause flooding, erosion and polluted waterways.
A little upgrade can save a lot: Inside the house, use water-conserving shower heads, faucet aerators, WaterSense toilets and front-loading washing machines to minimize how much water you consume. Find and fix leaks that can cause high water bills or can even damage your home’s foundation.
Tell us more
Want to share some conservation tips or let your neighbors know about successful water savers in our area? Submit a comment or use the Contact form to tell us about homes with water-saving landscapes and rainwater harvesting systems. With enough submissions, a future article and photos could showcase some water-wise residents and strategies.