AUSTIN (KXAN) — With summer heat intensifying, there are increasingly fewer places to swim in Central Texas.

In May, popular swim sites on the Barton Creek Greenbelt had already dried up. At most, some locations were reduced to stagnant puddles, which have quickly filled with potentially dangerous algae.

A pool of stagnant water in a nearly dried-out riverbed
Campbell’s Hole on the Barton Creek Greenbelt in May was a very shallow and stagnant pool. (Cora Neas/KXAN Photo)

Algae blooms are also prevalent in Lady Bird Lake, in which swimming is not allowed, but is an attraction for kayaking and paddle boarding. The City of Austin recently began a $300,000 project to treat the water to hopefully reduce algae levels.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System, 67% of Travis County is under severe drought, and 31% is in extreme drought. Travis County is currently in Stage One Drought Water Use Restrictions.

A portion of Hamilton Pool reopened for swimmers at the start of July, but reservations are currently fully booked. The pool closed last summer due to rocks falling into the pool from an overhanging cliff.

Outside of Travis County

Beyond Austin, Blue Hole in Hays County is still open and recently received a 2022 Travelers’ Choice Award from Tripadvisor. The award marks the spring-fed swimming hole as in the top 10% of attractions worldwide.

Swimmer jumps into the water at Wimberley's Blue Hole Regional Park. Frank Martinez/KXAN
Swimmer jumps into the water at Wimberley’s Blue Hole Regional Park. (Frank Martinez/KXAN Photo)

Jacob’s Well, which is also spring-fed, has not been as lucky. The site opened for swimmers in May but is now closed due to a declining water level.

Jay Taylor, Hays County lead park specialist for operations, said Jacob’s Well has stopped flowing before, but this is a first for the county.

“This is a new situation for us. We would love to reopen, but that would be dependent on the rainfall over our recharge area, and we would need to see sustained flow from the spring,” Taylor said.

USGS data confirms this is Jacob’s Well’s lowest point at only 11 inches of water. According to the site’s recent provisional data, the water level dropped from 2.66 feet to .99 feet on July 6.

The Pedernales River has also steadily dropped. Provisional data shows a drop from 10.55 feet at the start of May to 9.55 feet on Friday.

The McCary family frequents the river for waterskiing and said this is “the worst our family has ever seen in over three decades.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t think the clock will ever reset on the Pedernales,” Mark McCary said. “The lack of consistency in rainfall, growth of foliage and the heat doesn’t indicate that it will ever return to the depths needed for a low draft slalom or decent fishing.”

  • Mark McCary on a waterskiing outing on the Pedernales River in 1996. In the distance is the southside of the TX-71 bridge. (The McCarys/Submitted Photo)
  • Bobby Blumofe on a waterskiing outing on the Pedernales River in 1996. In the distance is the southside of the TX-71 bridge. (The McCarys/Submitted Photo)
  • The Pedernales River, taken from the south side of the TX-71 bridge in June. (The McCarys/Submitted Photo)
  • The Pedernales River, taken from the north side of the TX-71 bridge in June. (The McCarys/Submitted Photo)

USGS data from 2007-2022 does show a similar drop in July 2011, with a recorded low of just above 8.5 feet at its water gage near Johnson City, Texas.

A recent Twitter post by Pedernales Falls State Park has another important reminder: surface temperatures can be much hotter than the air temperature. In a picture accompanying the post, two temperature measuring tools can be seen; the air temperature reads 111.2 degrees while the surface monitor shows 144.7 degrees.

Virginia Parker with the San Marcos River Foundation says we need rain to fill up our area rivers and watering holes.

“We are in a stage three drought which isn’t great with no signs of rain and these hot temperatures aren’t helping either,” said Parker.

Water levels have dropped in the San Marcos River, but not low enough to stop tubers or people swimming, but Parker says things can change, especially if people aren’t aware of the impact of population growth.

“As growth continues over the recharge zones of any aquafer, growth and impervious cover affect the ability of aquafers to recharge,” Parker said.