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REFLECTIONS: RAINWATER IN 2023 AND HOW WE CAN SAVE OUR SWIMMING HOLES!



TLDR: Not enough rain to solve water issues in central Texas. Alternative water solutions are essential to restoring healthy and sufficient levels to precious aquifers.


As the calendar year draws to a close, many of us are pausing to reflect or consider the past 12 months. Did we achieve our goals?  What obstacles did we overcome? What were the high and low points of the year? What did we learn from them? How will our experiences in 2023 shape and motivate our choices in 2024? 





It has been an exciting and expansive year for Hill Country Rainwater. As part of our community, whether near or far, we hope you’ll join us on a quick stroll down memory lane as we reflect on the past year’s highs and lows, and, then, that you’ll join us as we reflect on how we can make 2024 even better!



JANUARY 2023: SLEET & ICE EVENT




January started off with a bang, or rather, an icy crunch? The ice storm January 30th thru February 1st broke records around the state for accumulated sleet - 1.3” at DFW Airport - and duration of hours at or below freezing - 84 consecutive hours at Waco Regional Airport (Data and photo above from NOAA and the National Weather Service) . The sleet caused many broken branches and the fallen tree limbs that pulled down power lines around the state. According to this article from the Austin-American Statesman, 171,000 households in Austin were without power on February 2nd. 


Point to consider: For those with rainwater harvesting systems precipitation, even frozen, is still precipitation. As the sleet thawed, any accumulation on the collection surface would be deposited into the rainwater collection tank. One square foot of roof accumulates .62 gallons per inch of rain. Therefore, a 4000 square foot roof can collect 2480 gallons of water from 1" of rainfall.


While a filtered rainwater system still requires electricity to operate the pump and filter, the water itself remains accessible to the homeowner because it is stored above ground unlike well water which must be brought to the surface from several hundred feet underground. We often get asked if the water in the tank freezes in the winter and the answer, here in Texas anyhow, is no. Even during the 2021 extreme freezing event only a thin layer of ice formed in most larger water tanks and the vast majority of the system we installed required little to no repairs when things thawed out and ERCOT finally managed to get the power back on. We design our systems with freeze protection in mind and have carefully considered the best and most cost effective solutions for winterizing.


APRIL: I CAN STAND THE RAIN


By mid-April, the Hill Country was experiencing a slightly wetter than normal winter and early spring. At Canyon Dam on April 21st, the National Weather Center reported 3.16” rainfall which pushed the total annual accumulation to 9.76” (the normal being 9.15”). As you can see on the chart below from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the level of accumulated precipitation hovered just above normal until June 23rd.  Just for fun, let’s do some math and translate these rainfall amounts into gallons. Using the roof example from above of 4000 sq. ft., if that that homeowner had installed a rain water collection system they would have harvested approximately 24,204.8 gallons by April of 2023! That’s more than just a drop in a bucket! It's enough for the average family to live on for 4 months.




For the installation crew at Hill Country Rainwater, these significant and persistent rains (for which we were very grateful!) translated to increased difficulty trenching and laying pipe on job sites. Rather than delay all of our projects moving forward, we changed tactics and began installing the collection tanks on upcoming projects. This allowed us to maintain productivity rather than fall victim to the elements. 



JUNE: DECLARATION OF EL NIÑO




In June, the National Weather Service announced the entrance into the El Niño weather pattern. For the Texas Hill Country this typically translates to increased precipitation and the risk of flooding. The El Niño pattern varies in intensity from season to season and year to year, so there are no guaranteed outcomes. However, for residents and business owners with rainwater harvesting systems, increased precipitation with a large enough storage tank means building self-sufficiency and reduces reliance on groundwater sources such as our precious aquifers. 


If you’d like to learn more about what El Niño means for Central Texas, check out the Hill Country Rainwater blog post from July which breaks down the details.


If you lived through this past summer with us in the Texas Hill Country (or if you actually looked at the precipitation accumulation graph from January) you know that though we received a decent chunk of rain in May, the late season rains did not last long. The heat turned up in Texas and the rain turned off. Which takes us to...


AUGUST: CLOSURE OF JACOB'S WELL & BLUE HOLE SWIMMING HOLES


After weeks of scorching temperatures and no precipitation, the beloved and iconic swimming holes of Jacob’s Well and Blue Hole both closed. The closure of Jacob’s Well was also significantly impacted by over-pumping to support the growing population’s water usage. Private wells all around the Hill Country were also going dry as the aquifer was continuously depleted with no rain to counterbalance the drain. Texas Monthly’s Forrest Wilder wrote a thorough article on the causes and potential solutions (Who's Killing Jacob's Well?) If you don’t have time for a full article, KVUE has a more concise review and video clip.




Photo from David Baker shared on KXAN article found here:


Counties across the state raised drought levels and increased watering restrictions. Residents on public water supplies who had not also installed a rain water harvesting system, found themselves in the unenviable position of watching their gardens and landscapes wither in the heat . Worse still, as the aquifers were pumped lower and lower many folks who relied on personal wells for potable water found themselves without a reliable water source at all! By midsummer calls were pouring in (pardon the pun). Because installing rain water collection systems is arduous work in the best of conditions, let alone working in full exposure to the sun in 100+ degree conditions daily, production goals were modified after we experienced fatigue to our equipment and personnel. Though we'd hate to have to do it again, we learned a great deal about our own personal resilience this summer.


With the heat indices well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the team at Hill Country Rainwater had to pivot our techniques yet again. Building metal rainwater collection tanks in temperatures that high is nothing short of dangerous for crew members which could easily result in heat exhaustion or heat stroke. To rise above this challenge, our crews would arrive at the shop or job site well before sunrise to get as many working hours in as possible before the heat reached critical levels. Even with these precautions in place, the toll of weeks of working in this heat was challenging for our crew. However, at Hill Country Rainwater, we are thankful for our understanding and compassionate customers who were patient with the delays in our production schedule which resulted from these extreme temperatures as we adjusted expectations to keep our crew safe and healthy.


OCTOBER: TEXAS RAIN CATCHER AWARD




In October, Hill Country Rainwater was honored to receive a Texas Rain Catcher Award for our project at Baker Equestrian Center. The center provides full-service horse boarding, grooming and riding facilities, all of which require significant quantities of water.  The center’s rainwater system can collect approximately 12,400 gallons of water per inch of rainfall which comes to over 400,000 gallons of rainwater harvested annually! In addition to saving the owners thousands of dollars every year, their rainwater collection system preserves groundwater resources and reduces flooding to the adjacent pasture, which also increases the horses’ grazing area. Cue mic drop. Read more about the project and see more photos here.


DECEMBER: RAINY REFLECTIONS


In the last month of the year, we can look back on rainfall over the past 12 months. Current Data from the National Weather Service shows average rainfall by mid-December about 31.48” but in 2023 it had only reached 21.92” (seen on the chart above) Precipitation below normal levels is insufficient to significantly impact reduced water levels due to the drought. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that if we want to be able to swim in Blue Hole or Jacob's Well again, we are going to have to rethink our water use policies and habits.


Perhaps the most impactful thing you can do as a homeowner to protect the aquifers and our swimming holes is to install a rain water harvesting system on your home and live withing your water "budget" that you've collected. You may be surprised to learn that, with 30000+ gallon storage systems, it's actually not difficult to never take a single drop of water from the aquifer for household use and live comfortably on rain water alone!


Next, designing and installing drought tolerant landscapes is another massively impactful step you can take to practically eliminate the need to pull water from our lakes, rivers and aquifers to put into your yard.


Find landscaping ideas from the City of Austin in their Native and Adapted Landscape Plants digital resource or www.growgreen.org .


Looking back over 2023, even in the face of some of the most extreme and difficult weather conditions, the team at Hill Country Rainwater adapted to overcome those challenges to remain almost entirely on schedule. We learned valuable lessons and have incorporated what we learned into our standard operating procedures and are ready for an amazing new year!


2024: RESOLUTION - SAVE OUR SWIMMING HOLES


2024: Reflections on actions for the New Year


We know from this past year’s data that there’s not enough rain to replenish the aquifers which are being over-pumped to support the area’s growth. However, there is some hope and definitely some actions we can take!


NOAA predicts rainfall to be above normal in 2024 so now is an ideal time to explore how rainwater harvesting could supplement or replace your water usage! 





This is excellent news for Central Texans! Especially those with rainwater harvesting systems which are designed to capture the excess rain water in months when it is present to use in the months that it is not. If every home and business in Texas were to incorporate maximum rain water collection practices into their building envelope it would have the effect of reversing decades of poor water management practices and would give us the best possible chance to replenish our aquifers and swimming holes for all future generations. Here at Hill Country Rainwater that is our mission and we remain committed to that vision.


Interested in being a part of the solution and would like to explore the possibility of installing a rainwater system for your home or business but need more information? The Texas Water Development Board  is a great place to start your learning process. We also provide much of the information that you need to get started on our website: (https://www.hillcountryrainwater.com/) for FAQs, tank sizing and average cost. While you are there you can see many of our other projects and easily reach us via our contact form to contact our team to request a free estimate!


As you reflect on your year and how you can make a difference in 2024, won’t you consider adding a resolution regarding water conservation to your list?


If you’re ready for an on-site visit or a phone consultation to discuss your project, please reach out to Hill Country Rainwater either on our website or call the office at (512) 856-4626 and we’ll be happy to assist you!




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