Drought forces Texas town to truck in water

An August 2011 photo shows a dried up pond in Amarillo, Texas.

SPICEWOOD - Tanker trucks loaded with water have become the lifeline for a Texas lakefront village that came precariously close to becoming the state's first community to run out of drinking water during a historic drought.

Spicewood got its first delivery of water Monday under dark clouds and rain. The 8,000-gallon water delivery arrived 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.

The town uses wells, not the nearby lake, for its drinking water. Ryan Rowney, manager of water operations for the authority, said it plans to truck water into the Central Texas town for several more weeks while exploring alternatives, including drilling a new well or piping water from 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.

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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.

"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.

The Lower Colorado River Authority 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 an additional 1.3 feet overnight. The severest forms of water restrictions were put in place, and the authority said there would be no new hookups to the town's water supply.

Water still ran Monday through pipes and faucets of Spicewood. But 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.

"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, Rowney 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, about 35 miles from Austin, is 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.