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Texas river flows approach record lows, but Hill Country outfitters still afloat

Tubers float in the river below the landmark water tower in Gruene.
Shane Wolf
Rockin' R River Rides
Tubers float in the Guadalupe River below the landmark water tower in Gruene.

A Texas river expert says river flows across the state this summer are headed into the record books for being among the lowest ever, especially if rain does not fall soon.

Still, businesses that rely on the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers have managed to float past serious financial trouble so far.

Greg Waller, a senior coordination hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, said the only rivers in Texas flowing where they should be are in East Texas, where rainfall has been fairly normal. Those include the Neches, Sabine, and Trinity Rivers.

"It's not a hyperbole to say this could be a top five event. This could be a top three event when we are all said and done looking at the statistics at how hot and dry it is," he said.

Waller said meteorologists are now beginning to compare this drought to the most recent Texas droughts of 1980 and 2011, but he said the state is not quite there yet. It will likely take tropical activity from the Gulf of Mexico to bring drought relief, but he said that could bring different weather dangers like flooding. He added it's possible we may have to wait for the first cold fronts of the fall to see rain.

Many rivers in the Hill Country have zero flow in some spots or are bone dry. Waller said the Nueces River near Corpus Christi is also in really bad shape. The Frio River at Concan last week had a nearly zero flow level.

One of the most visited rivers in Texas, the Guadalupe, was flowing around 68 cubic feet per second just below Canyon Lake this past weekend. Ideal tubing conditions are considered to be 250 to 350 CFS.

Tubers on the Guadalupe River at New Braunfels
Shane Wolf
Rockin' R River Rides
Tubers on the Comal River at New Braunfels.

The chief operating officer for Rockin' R River Rides, Shane Wolf, said no outfitters who rent tubes, kayaks, rafts, and canoes have shut down during the drought, but tubers can expect a very slow float down the river. Rockin' R locations include one at Gruene on the Guadalupe, where the river runs a little deeper, and on the Comal River.

"No one has closed up. There are some other outfitters up on River Road that do not have the deeper sections of river...more rock shelfs. So it's been definitely slower on the weekdays up there," he said

He said outfitters are glad to see the summer visitors they have been seeing especially after something else dried up business for a while, not the weather, but the pandemic.

Local officials said the rivers saw large crowds of water recreationists during the Fourth of July weekend and overall peg summer visitation at pre-pandemic levels even with the drought.

Mallory Hines, vice president of the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau, said outfitters are survivors.

"I mean our hope is some rain, obviously... but I will say our tourism community, these outfitters, these businesses, they've weathered mother nature time and time again. The beauty of being in this growing, but small town is that everybody works together to support each other," she said.

Hines said in 2019 the hospitality industry in the area generated more than $913 million for the local economy with the rivers being a huge economic driver for local businesses.

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