The bed of the Colorado River is drying up and cracking in some parts of Spicewood Beach, Texas after more than a year of drought. Ben Sklar for The New York Times

By MANNY FERNANDEZ
3 February 2012

SPICEWOOD BEACH, Texas – The water that once nourished this central Texas community never traveled far: it came from a fenced-in well at the edge of Lake Travis, down a winding street next to the golf course. These days, the water that flows from kitchen and bathroom faucets takes an extraordinary journey that can be measured not in feet but in miles.

This drought-stricken place in the scenic hills outside Austin has been forced to bring in water by truck from more than 10 miles away because its sole well came close to running out of water. Spicewood Beach is one of four subdivisions in Burnet County that became the first communities in Texas to run so low on water that it had to be hauled in by truck. The four subdivisions, made up of about 1,100 people in a part of Texas known as the Hill Country, all relied on the Spicewood Beach well.

Several times a day, a truck carrying 4,000 gallons of treated water from another subdivision has pulled up to a beige storage tank in Spicewood Beach. Workers pump the water from the truck to the tank through a long green hose. A crowd of reporters and residents watched the first delivery on Monday. But by Wednesday morning, the deliveries had become a part of life here, and no one watched as the water that residents use to wash dishes and take their showers flowed out of a truck from an aptly named company, H2O2U.

Droughts are deceptive disasters: they knock down no buildings, spread no debris. But they are disasters nonetheless. The Texas drought that started more than a year ago has cost ranchers and farmers billions of dollars in lost income or additional expenses. It has forced hundreds of towns and cities to restrict water use and has turned lakes into ponds. Last year was the driest in Texas since 1917, with a total statewide rainfall of 15 inches, much lower than the average of 27.64 inches, according to John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist.

The Spicewood Beach well is one of 13 public water systems in the state that are projected to run out of water in 180 days or less and that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is tracking. Officials who oversee many of those systems are taking steps to increase their water supply, including digging new or deeper wells. One water system that serves about 1,500 people in Limestone County near Waco is estimated to run out of water on March 1. […]

“If the drought continues as it is, we’re going to continue to see small communities struggle with their water supplies,” said Robert E. Mace, a deputy executive administrator for the water board. […]

Lake Travis sets the decidedly recreational tone of Spicewood Beach. […] The lake has all but vanished in the drought. Down past the well, Lake Travis is now a kind of sandy, rocky canyon, where wooden fishing docks sit like shipwrecks on dry land and you can walk more than halfway across the lake bed before your feet get wet in a thin band of water. A dead lake is a surreal thing, as is the drought itself, which for the moment seems impervious to the rain that has fallen here and throughout the state in recent weeks. The lake’s water level has decreased 44 feet below its February average.

“I heard on the news a while back that some town got an Indian to come and do a rain dance,” Mrs. Heller told Joseph Barbera, 69, president of the subdivision’s homeowners association, as she stood near her golf cart. “We may have to do that.”

Texas Drought Forces a Town to Sip From a Truck

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