Central Texas Drought

The Central Texas region, is experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions. Record high temperatures and low rainfall have taken a toll on the Lower Colorado River Basin and Lakes Travis and Buchanan, the source of our water supply.

With lake levels dropping and landscapes withering, many Austin Water customers are asking, “Will there be enough water?”  We share your concern. Read on to learn about Austin Water’s Drought Response and how we’ve prepared for drought conditions.

City of Austin Drought Contingency Plan

Current Drought Status 

Austin is currently in Stage 2 watering restrictions.



Stage 3 restrictions will be triggered when water storage levels reach 600,000 acre-feet. You can check LCRA’s latest projections here. 

What you can do 

We’re all in this together. Now more than ever, we need to take steps to save water at our home or business! Follow these links for how you can save water:

History of droughts and floods in Central Texas 

The Lower Colorado River Basin has a history of droughts that are often broken by flooding events. For many decades, the 1950s drought was considered the worst drought on record.

More recently, the drought that spanned from late 2007 through 2015 has been declared the worst drought for our region and spurred numerous actions to prepare for future droughts.

Three Big Changes Since the Last Drought

Policy makers and Austin Water staff have taken big actions based on the last severe drought. Here’s an overview of updates to our drought response and planning.




2016 revised Drought Contingency Plan, approved by Austin City Council
  • Progressive water conservation standards, such as once per week watering year-round, goes beyond what is required by LCRA
  • Gradual Steps and increasing water restrictions to manage through droughts
2018 Water Forward Plan, Austin’s 100-year integrated water resource plan approved by Austin City Council
  • Includes development of new water supplies, water conservation and demand management strategies
  • Strong emphasis on water conservation and the effect of climate change on our water supplies
  • Plans for Austin’s population and business growth
2020 Significant updates to Water Management Plan for the Highland Lakes, approved by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Austin Water is a major stakeholder.
  • Improves methods of preserving water for cities during droughts
  • Resulted in higher lake levels during this drought (more water stored)
  • Used by the Lower Colorado River Authority to manage the Highland Lakes

Frequently Asked Questions 

Why are other cities in different stages of watering restrictions?

The State of Texas requires that all retail public water utilities with more than 3,300 connections have a drought contingency plan that is updated every five years. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) specifies the various components and drought stages of the plan, but the local utility specifies what the drought stage triggers are, as well as the actions taken in each stage to reduce water use. These considerations are based on unique aspects of each municipality, such as the source of the drinking water, water demand for that service area, and the utility’s system capacity.

Austin Water is following its Council-approved drought contingency plan that was developed with community input. Based on this plan, the City of Austin moved to Stage 2 restrictions when the water storage levels of the Highland Lakes, the source of our drinking water, dropped to 900,000 acre-feet. It is important to note that Austin’s drought stage restrictions are more stringent than restrictions enacted in many other neighboring communities.

Are Austin’s watering restrictions strong enough for our current drought?

For many years, Austin has leaned into water conservation in normal weather, as well as in drought. We adopted permanent, year-round conservation watering restrictions in 2016 that reduced watering with automatic irrigation systems to one day per week. Austin is the one of the only cities in the state to do so. The effectiveness of these conservation measures is demonstrated by our reduction of per capita water usage. In 2011, Austin Water customers used over 160 gallons per capita per day. Comparatively, the per capita usage was around 130 gallons per capita per day in 2022.

With a growing population, will Austin have enough water?

Preparing for future droughts is fundamental to planning efforts at Austin Water. In 2018 Austin Water completed a 100-year integrated water resource plan called Water Forward, which was adopted by Austin City Council. Water Forward considered things that will impact our water supply, including population growth and climate change, and identified various strategies to meet our community’s water needs for the next 100 years. Implementation of the plan is underway, but we are prepared to make adjustments to respond to changing conditions. For now, Water Forward is focused on ways that new development can apply demand management and reuse strategies, as well as water supply projects to help augment Austin’s access to water during severe droughts.

Why isn't the utility doing more to respond to the drought?

Austin Water is following its Council-approved Drought Contingency Plan that was developed with community input. Based on this plan, the City of Austin moved to Stage 2 restrictions when the water storage levels of the Highland Lakes, the source of our drinking water, dropped to 900,000 acre-feet. It is important to note that Austin’s drought stage restrictions are more stringent than restrictions enacted in many other neighboring communities. Stage 3 restrictions will be triggered if water storage levels drop to 600,000 acre-feet. 

Is the City exploring other additional sources for drinking water?

Yes, Austin Water is in the early days of implementing additional water supply strategies from the Austin City Council-approved Water Forward plan, including Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR). Austin’s ASR project is currently in the study phase and is targeted to be completed around 2035. It will store water that the City currently has access to, allowing Austin to maximize local water resources. The project goal is to store 60,000 acre-feet by 2040.

Will El Niño Season Help Get us out of the drought?

Rainfall last May helped offset evaporation and withdrawals from the Highland Lakes, but our water supply lakes are now less than half full. Seasonal forecasts for our region predict higher than usual temperatures, and there is still uncertainty about the amount or timing of rain that could come from an El Niño climate pattern. We must receive much more rain over the Highland Lakes watershed to replenish creeks and streams that flow into the lakes to refill them. In the meantime, higher temperatures are increasing evaporation of our water supply.

What can commercial businesses do to conserve water?
  • Promote awareness of the need for conservation among employees and customers.
  • Detect and fix any leaks. Even small leaks add up to a lot of water waste.
  • Verify the irrigation system is set to current Stage 2 watering restrictions and operating correctly.
  • From cooling towers to sinks, have facility staff audit water using devices to ensure they are operating correctly.
  • Hire a third party water efficiency auditor and take part in Austin Water’s Water Efficiency Audit rebate.
  • Take the free 3C Business Challenge to assess your facility and find out about possible upgrades and incentives.
  • Review Austin Water’s Restaurant and Commercial Kitchen information and rebates.
  • Review Austin Water’s information and rebates related to Businesses.
Do parks have to follow watering restriction rules?

Yes, parks using City of Austin potable drinking water for irrigation must follow watering restriction rules. Auditorium Shores and Butler Metro Park use non-potable water drawn directly from Lady Bird Lake to irrigate the grounds, which is not subject to Stage 2 restrictions. Other City parks and golf courses use reclaimed, non-potable water to irrigate, which is also not subject to Stage 2 restrictions.

Can I water my home’s foundation to prevent cracking?

Yes, you may water your home's foundation on your assigned watering day and times. Set sprinklers to water the ground about 18 inches from the foundation.

How can I report a watering violation?

Report watering violations by calling 3-1-1 or using the 3-1-1 mobile app.

Who uses the most water in Austin?

Residential customers (both single family units and multi-family facilities) account for the most water use at 63%. The commercial sector that includes hospitals, schools, industrial processes and retail uses about 29% of the water available in Austin. Wholesale providers who source their water from Austin Water use 6%, and the City of Austin uses 2%.

pie chart showing water use by sector







Are things getting better or worse? 

The U.S. Drought Monitor tracks changing conditions across the nation on a weekly basis. You can see how things are changing in Texas over the course of the last 4-12 weeks here.