Climate Fiction | From the Travis Archives

Lake Travis
Lake Travis

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The following text is a piece of climate fiction.

The following selections of text are excerpts from journals kept by residents or visitors of the former Texas capital, Austin, and the surrounding areas. The selections were written during the period of 2035-2047, a period known as the Great Drain of the Highland Lakes, commonly referred to as the Great Drain. The Great Drain was one of the most devastating climate catastrophes in American history at the time, where all of the Highland Lakes of the Texas Hill Country dried up, reverting the man-made water reservoirs into barren wastelands, displacing over a million people. It can be concluded that the cause of the Great Drain was anthropogenic: a result of human-induced climate change.

The excerpts primarily focus on the Great Drain in regard to Lake Travis. This lake was located northwest of Austin, from 1942 until 2042.

The following excerpt is from Dr. Olivia L. Chambers’s observation journal while conducting research that would later be published in a paper titled Agricultural Advancement and Jevons Paradox. The research article was published on June 8, 2035, however the date this particular observation journal entry was written on is unclear. Dr. Chambers earned her PhD in Agricultural Economics from Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University in 2027 and was interested in sustainable agriculture.

I am nearing the end of my data collection for my research on the connection between Agricultural Advancement and Jevons Paradox in the area surrounding Lake Travis in the Texas Hill Country. After preliminary analysis of the data, I have uncovered problematic findings. I figure it would be best to make some sense of them here before advancing with my research.

First off, in the past few years alone, agricultural technologies have seen drastic advancement and growth, expanding the possibilities of agriculture in a world where the climate is rapidly changing. We now have genetically modified crops that require less of the limited resources we rely on: land, water, nutrients. Additionally, those crops have been engineered to withstand the extreme temperatures of Central Texas and increased exposure to direct sunlight, both of which are crucial as the climate is changing. They are the perfect crops. It was the perfect solution. The intensity of food shortages have been reduced around the globe, as more food has been able to be produced than ever before. But, the problem arises when we look at the data. Water usage should have decreased and prices should have decreased (due to simple supply and demand concepts). But they didn’t. Agricultural water use skyrocketed, prices stayed about the same, and demand for the crops only grew. That’s why I needed to research this topic, however in doing so, I realized that it is worse than I originally thought it to be.

Despite the crops requiring less water to grow, they still need water. And now, the population is growing faster than ever before and demand has increased dramatically for the crops, water use for agriculture has grown instead of shrinking as what was hoped with the introduction of these crops. This is a classic case of Jevons Paradox. Increased efficiency resulting in increased consumption. The solution becomes the problem. At the current rate, the agricultural industry would end up draining the lake in a matter of months. That’s a little dramatic, however, in our world today, nothing is out of the question. I plan on finishing my research on this topic soon, and I would like to aim for a late May or early June publication date, that is if all goes well in the next few months with my further analyses of the data.

For those curious, Agricultural Advancement and Jevons Paradox used to be on record at the Travis Archives, however, it was lost due to a fire which destroyed most of the documents on record in the archives.

The following excerpt is from Ethan Palmer’s journals, volume 4, page 37. This particular entry can be traced back to October 27, 2042. Palmer was a reporter for a local news company, however it cannot be discerned exactly which one it was that he worked for at this exact time. His primary focus was on the impacts of the climate crisis in the Central Texas region.

The water level of Lake Travis has been on the decline for years now. But, this time I sense it’s different. It’s natural for rivers and lakes to fluctuate in water volume with dry seasons and wet seasons, yet this dry season has been lasting longer than any we have seen before. The data shows that the water level of Lake Travis is dropping faster than anything we had ever seen before. It’s all of them, though. All the Highland Lakes, not just Lake Travis. No way to sugar-coat the situation like we do with some of the news, we’re callin’ it the Great Drain.

Strange thing is, nobody seems too certain of the cause. Or at least that’s the way people sound when I talk to them here in the office. I think that’s a bold face lie though. I think everyone’s too scared to say what they actually think and know it is, myself included. Summers have been getting hotter and lasting longer and everyone is starting to feel it. Not just us here in Austin and the surrounding communities. I know deep down that it’s climate change to blame, and everybody else knows it too. Why ain’t we saying anything about it?

Water prices have shot through the roof and LCRA1 has yet to comment. Gasoline prices have been unreasonable ‘cause not as much can be squeezed from the ground anymore. But prices for water have already surpassed that. So bad that people from communities surrounding the lake are trying to move themselves closer to the lake. Starting colonies of sorts in areas which used to be completely underwater; creating a new city that people have decided to call Travis. None of those people have any fear the lake will rise. Travis’s a cross between a graveyard, a shanty town, and ranchland. Groves of dead pecan trees have begun to emerge from the water from long ago before the Colorado River was turned into a lake. People have moved cattle in to graze on grass thriving next to what’s left of the water in the area. Somehow, people already know that the water level isn’t going to rise again but again nobody’s saying anything. Leaves me to wonder if this is how everything ends. In a silent storm?

Footnotes added by the Travis Archives for ease of reading and comprehension.

1 – LCRA: Lower Colorado River Authority.

The organization responsible for the maintenance of the water supply, electricity generation, and ecology of the Lower Colorado River region during the time before and during the Great Drain.

Volumes 1-4 of Palmer’s journals are available in the Travis Archives, and are open to the public to read. This entry is the last of his journal entries on record.

The following excerpt is from Ava Reynolds’s “news reflection journal” as she titled it. This particular entry can be traced back to January 29, 2047. Little is known about Ava Reynolds. Based on conclusions drawn from this journal, Reynolds was one of the original students of the Travis School, and this journal was an assignment given by one of her classes. The journal follows the Austin-American Statesman newspaper, with a new entry each week, reflecting on the news of that week. This excerpt was selected because it documents the news during the week in which the effects of the Great Drain reached the climax.

The news this week has been some of the scariest things I’ve seen. It has made me feel like I am living the life of one of those characters in the science fiction books I used to read. I stopped reading those a while ago because they started becoming too real. But that’s how it is with most of the news nowadays I guess. On the front page of the Statesman was an article with the title: “The Great Drain has taken its toll: Lake Buchanan now empty.”

The article began by talking about everything that has happened so far with the Great Drain. Nothing new there. First, Lady Bird Lake drained, then Lake Austin, then Lake Travis, and so on. Then the article said that Lake Buchanan, the largest of the lakes and the closest to the source of the Colorado River of Texas, the lake that everyone believed would withstand the Great Drain, finally drained because of the stress we put on it. The cover picture is of what used to be Lake Buchanan and an abandoned town that was uncovered from the draining lake. They’re calling it the Atlantis of the southwest.

Now all of the lakes are dry and not even a stream of water flows through our town of Travis anymore, my oasis, my home, has lost its lifeline. What does the future hold for us? We still have some water stored in underground tanks, but how long will those actually last us? I’m afraid it won’t be long enough. Especially with the excruciating heat waves we have been getting throughout the year, even during the winter months. It’s all too much. I don’t know.

This journal is the only piece of Reynolds’s work in the Travis Archives. For other analyses of the news from this time period, please refer to the news journals of Harper J. Anderson.

The following selection is from Mitchell “Mitch” T. Harrison’s research paper The Great Drain, Lake Travis, and Today. This is a new addition to the archives, as it was written on July 7, 2200. Harrison is a student at the Travis School and focuses his schoolwork on environmental issues, both past and present. The research focuses on the effects of the Great Drain and how people have been able to overcome this tragic event.


In 1942, Mansfield Dam’s construction was complete. The dam created Lake Travis, a vital water source that would support the people living in Central Texas for years to come. However, the reservoir’s life was cut short due to the Great Drain, a catastrophic event wherein the Highland Lakes of the Texas Hill Country “drained.” They didn’t actually drain, however, they did experience rapid reductions in water level over a short period of time, causing people to feel as if the lakes were actually draining. In reality, the Great Drain was a complex problem stemming from excessive agricultural water usage, climate change, and population growth. However, as time went on, we have been able to overcome many of the challenges the generations before us faced during the time leading up to and immediately following the Great Drain of the Highland Lakes. The purpose of this research is to synthesize the information that has been gathered about the Great Drain into a comprehensive analysis of the period.

Excessive Agricultural Water Usage

During the time period between 2025-2042, major advancements in agriculture were made. Dr. Olivia L. Chambers, a researcher in the topic of agricultural advancements during the period, focused on the excessive use of water on agriculture despite increased efficiencies in crops. Because of genetic modification, the crops being grown during this time period were designed to “require less of the limited resources we rely on: land, water, nutrients” (Chambers, 2035). With the ability to produce more crops at a lower environmental cost, it would have made sense for the cost of food to decrease, both in every industry, however, that is not what occurred. Due to a paradox known as Jevons Paradox, the prices stayed the same, demand went up, and usage of land, water, and nutrients skyrocketed as well. The increased efficiency in crop production resulted in increased consumption and production, causing environmental damage. While climate change can be argued to be the primary cause of the Great Drain, agricultural water usage should not be overlooked.

Climate Change and Improper Water Management

Climate change was another major factor in the cause of the Great Drain. However, what makes the effects of this factor worse is improper water management. During the period and before, people who lived in the Lake Travis area (and all around the world) felt that the world was getting warmer. Summers were getting longer and cloudless skies were becoming more common (Palmer, 2042). The region began to get “excruciating heat waves…throughout the year, even during the winter months” (Reynolds, 2047). Water was becoming more of a luxury resource as the quantity of it available was dwindling due to changes in the weather patterns. The Chihuahuan Desert started to expand upwards during this time, desertification, a phenomenon primarily observed in the Sahara Desert and the Amazon Desert. Despite that, there didn’t seem to be much of any extreme restriction (other than raised prices) placed on the people drawing from the lakes, despite the dire situation. Proper management of the water supply would have gone a long way to preventing the Great Drain from becoming as bad as it did.

Population Growth

Population growth was the final straw in the equation of the Great Drain. This was what threw the Great Drain over the edge to becoming a terrible disaster. In Dr. Olivia L. Chambers’s research, she noted that the “population is growing faster than ever before” (Chambers, 2035). As a result of the population growth increase, more water usage was required to sustain the population in both the domestic and agricultural sectors, which effectively drained the lakes. And with the unpredictability of the weather and the lack of information about the climate, nothing was able to be done to manage the situation before it derailed.


While the world isn’t perfect, we have definitely been able to make improvements, both in quality of life and quality of the environment. Most people have adopted environmentally friendly habits and are leading a life of planetary stewardship, as opposed to the humans who lived generations before us. The dams built to hold the lakes now stand as ruined walls to remind us of a past that we should strive to never repeat; that we need to be better than the ones who came before us. Water is still scarce, at least on the surface. The Colorado River’s flow has been restored and now flows like a creek on the surface, however, most of the water that the Colorado provides us comes from underground. Because of the river restoration, the aquifers underground have been restored, and we can repurpose existing oil drilling machinery to extract water instead of oil. Initiatives to collect the condensation from the air conditioning units and store it in our existing underground storage tanks are emergent and taking off very fast. Although water is not as plentiful as it was before the Great Drain, we do have enough of it to sustain the small community here in Travis.

More of Mitchell T. Harrison’s work is available by request in the Travis Archives and in the Anderson Memorial Library in the Travis School.

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