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The ongoing, long-term drought in South Texas is drying up springs, lakes and rivers. Here are the numbers.

Drought and groundwater problems are not uncommon in South Texas, but the latest bout of years-long drought is pushing us to levels we've never seen before.

In some cases, this is a cause for concern. In others, it is not yet a cause for panic.

As always, water is a complex political, environmental and often contentious issue. But beyond these considerations, we wanted to give you the numbers that could ultimately help us out of this mess, given that we may finally get some relief in the form of tropical rains. Where are we? And what does that mean for you?

MAIN POINTS

  • Both Canyon and Medina reservoirs are at record lows

  • Current for rivers like the Guadalupe and Frio are slow; in summer no flow is possible in some places

  • Edwards Aquifer Levels continue to fall but have not yet reached record lows

  • As a result, spring water volumes suffer, which can have an impact on endangered species

  • Popular water spots like Jacob's Well closed due to low water

  • SAWS says they are prepared for such a situation, with a diversified water portfolio

  • Despite it, Level 2 Water restrictions will likely be the future norm for SAWS customers

RESERVOIRS AREA

MEDINA LAKE: 2.3% FULL, 94 FEET DEPTH

One of the biggest indicators of our drought, and perhaps one of the most striking visual reminders of it, is Medina Lake. Although that is the name, “lake” is probably the wrong term for this body of water. “Reservoir” is a much better description. It was originally designed to irrigate area farmers, with recreational activities an afterthought. However, Medina is often the first place to see the stresses of drought. Due to irrigation practices and dam openings, aquifer seepage, and a small watershed, the reservoir often experiences large peaks and valleys. Experience has taught us that it can fill after just one major rain event. However, Medina Lake has currently reached its lowest water level on record, surpassing the previous low set in 2014. This is impacting farmers who rely on this water.

CANYON LAKE: 56% FULL, 24 FEET DEPTH

Canyon Lake has been much more reliable and resilient to droughts in the past. Remember, it is part of a regulated system operated by the GBRA (Guadalupe Blanco River Authority) and the United States Army Corps. Yet its water level has dropped to record lows. At 56% full and just under 900 feet, this is Canyon Lake's lowest level since it opened in the 1960s. Like Medina, a major flood event can fill the reservoir quickly. Those using Canyon Lake for recreational purposes must now be alert for snags and other hazards.

Rivers and streams

For comparison, river flow is measured in cubic feet per second and falls into these categories for recreational activities such as kayaking and tubing:

CUBIC FEET PER SECOND Speed ​​of the river for recreation
LESS THAN 65 VERY SLOWLY
65-200 SLOW
200-500 IDEAL
500-800 FAST (COMAL CLOSES AT 600)
GREATER THAN 800 DANGEROUS (RIVERS NEAR RECREATIONAL AREAS)
GUADALUPE RIVER (NEAR NEW BRAUNFELS): 79 CUBIC FEET/SECOND

The Guadalupe River has always been one of the most important rivers in the area and is best known for its flooding. This time, it was the dry river banks that made headlines. Although there have been a few brief moments when the flow has been good again, the river is now only flowing at about 25% of its usual flow. Tubing riders should know that the flow is slow past Canyon Lake Dam. This means tubing through the Horseshoe is still possible, it will just take a while. In the parts of the river west of Canyon Lake, water levels have recently risen after some good rains in the Hill Country. However, the flow will likely decrease again this summer.

COMAL RIVER (NEAR NEW BRAUNFELS): 81 CUBIC FEET/SECOND

The Comal is what we would call an “old, reliable” river. It's a popular place to go tubing for exactly that reason: it's always flowing. According to the Edwards Aquifer Authority, Comal Springs has only stopped flowing once. Even so, the Comal's flow is slow and well below average considering the river's history. Like the Guadalupe, it will take some time to complete the loop, but you can still get a good float.

FRIO RIVER (NEAR CONCAN): 0 CUBIC FEET/SECOND

The Frio is in a much more fragile state. While there are still patches of water, in some places there is virtually no water flow. The Frio stopped flowing late last year, but recovered somewhat in early 2024. In places, rafting may be possible, but there will be areas where it is not possible.

EDWARDS AQUIFER: 628.1′

While rivers and lakes are important, the water table is our lifeblood. It's the reason we have many of our rivers and lakes. The Edwards Water Table and San Antonio's dependence on this water source dates back to when this area was first settled. It remains the city's primary source of drinking water. Although the city's water portfolio has diversified, the water table still plays a large role in policy and when we can water our lawns. But there's a lot more to it, and if you have time, we've put together a comprehensive look at the Edwards Water Table. If you don't, know that water levels are reaching historic lows. This will impact spring water levels in the area and potentially endangered species.

Record lows of the Edwards Aquifer measured at the J-17 well (KSAT12 2024)

COMAL SPRINGS: 100 CUBIC FEET/SECOND

Comal Springs is a direct indicator of the health of the Edwards Aquifer. At about 100 cubic feet per second, the current rate is well below average. In a good year, the flow would be about 300 cubic feet per second. For historical context, we had low flows during the last drought in 2014. Comal Springs dropped to about 67 cubic feet per second. Low flows also occurred in 1990 with flows in the 40s and 1984, which was a rough year. In 1984, flows dropped to the 20s (cfs) when the Edwards Aquifer water level dropped to 623 feet at the J-17 well.

SAN ANTONIO SPRINGS: NOT FLOWING

The Blue Hole, headwaters of the San Antonio River, is now a low-flowing area. It is located on the headwaters property at Incarnate Word and was once the source of water for the San Antonio River. Today, the San Antonio River is mostly filled with reclaimed water.

Image of the Blue Hole on the campus of the University of the Incarnate Word. (2022) (ksat12)

JACOB'S WELL: 0.3 CUBIC FEET/SECOND

This beautiful water feature serves as another litmus test for the health of the aquifer. Jacob's Well is the second largest fully submerged cave in Texas. It has long been a popular swimming spot that requires reservations and sometimes fills up months in advance. However, since last year the spot has been closed to swimmers and, according to Hays County Parks, it will remain closed for the foreseeable future. The average flow this time of year is about 7 cubic feet per second.

IRRIGATION RESTRICTIONS FOR SAW CUSTOMERS: LEVEL 3

Anyone just concerned about maintaining their lawn should know that SAWS customers are now in Tier 3. This is a new designation that is no different from Tier 2, except for the penalties for overuse. And that's despite the fact that pumping limits are tighter for those pumping directly from the Edwards Aquifer. SAWS still attributes weekly watering to a diversified water portfolio. If you want to know where the San Antonio Water System's water comes from, you can read more about it here. You should know that SAWS is cracking down on illegal water and issuing tickets if you don't water on your assigned day or time – now even for folks outside city limits.

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