SPICEWOOD, Texas – Under dark clouds and rain, two tanker trucks for the first time delivered thousands of gallons of water Monday to a Texas town that came precariously close to becoming the state's first community to run out of water during a historic drought.
The 8,000-gallon water delivery arrived in Spicewood after it became clear the village's wells could no longer produce enough water to meet the needs of the Lake Travis community's 1,100 residents and elementary school, said Clara Tuma, spokeswoman of the Lower Colorado River Authority.
Several towns and villages in Texas have come close to running out of water during the driest year in Lone Star State history, but until now none has had to truck in water. Most found solutions to hold them over, often paying tens of thousands of dollars to avoid hauling water, a scenario that conjures up images from the early 1900s, when indoor plumbing was a novelty.
In reality, water still ran Monday through pipes and faucets of the Central Texas town, though the source will soon be different. Instead of being pumped from wells into the community's 129,000-gallon storage tank — a two day's supply of water — the already treated liquid will be hauled in from 17 miles away, treated a second time and put into the town's water system.
"The hauling of water is just a Band-Aid approach. It's just a short-term approach," said Joe Don Dockery, a Burnet County commissioner that oversees the Spicewood area.
LCRA realized last week how dire the situation was, and informed Dockery on Monday. By the next day, the situation was worse — the well had dropped another 1.3 feet overnight. The severest forms of water restrictions were put in place, and LCRA said there would be no new hookups to the town's water supply.
Ryan Rowney, manager of water operations for the LCRA, said the agency plans to truck water into Spicewood for several more weeks while exploring alternatives, including drilling a new well or piping water from nearby Lake Travis. But the agency doesn't want to rush into any project, and prefers for now to pay $200 per truckload of water while ensuring the tens of thousands of dollars it will cost to find a permanent solution are well-spent.
"If we need to haul every day, we will. This will probably go on for several more months," Rowney said.
Trucks, including at least one 6,000 gallon tanker, will make about four or five deliveries a day, he said, but the town will still have to remain under the severest water restrictions.
"All you can do is take a bath, a shower, and that's really all you're allowed to do. You can flush the commode, but even that we're asking people to do judiciously," Rowney said.
Spicewood is a community about 35 miles from Austin, home to many retirees who spend their weekdays in the city and drive to their lakeside homes on the weekends. Residents are now being careful, taking shorter showers, and some are even bringing their clothes to Laundromats.
Until last week, when it became clear they could run out water, the most exciting event in Spicewood was the upcoming wild game chili cookoff advertised on a roadside sign at the entrance to the small community.
"When we had water it was pretty nice here," deadpanned Riley Walker a 73-year-old state transportation employee.
Walker bought land in Spicewood in 1988 when only a handful of families lived here. He built a house and moved into town full time in 2002.
"I have faith they will haul water in. They don't really have a choice, there are a lot of people here," Walker said.
Joe Barbera, president of the local property owner's association, said residents have been "really worried about this for a long time now," but have always been conservation minded.
"You look around and you don't see any immaculate lawns," he added. "This is just normal use for a normal community."
For more than a year, nearly the entire state of Texas has been in some stage of severe or exceptional drought. Rain has been so scarce lakes across the state turned into pools of mud. One town near Waco, Groesbeck, bought water from a rock quarry and built a seven-mile pipeline through a state park to get water. Some communities on Lake Travis moved their intake pipes into deeper water. And Houston started getting water from an alternative, farther away reservoir when Lake Houston ran too low.
And even though it has started to rain more this winter, it's not enough to fill the arid state's rivers and lakes.
A few inches of rain certainly won't be enough to fill Spicewood's wells.
"We're talking about rainfall events of 20 inches plus. Huge, huge flood events to bring the lake levels up," Rowney said, explaining that many parts of Texas can no longer wait for the rain. "The downside of that is that everyone's praying for a flood, well floods can be bad too."
Plushnick-Masti contributed to this report from Houston. You can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com//RamitMastiAP