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LCRA Seeks to Reduce Releases from Highland Lakes for Fourth Consecutive Year

The Lower Colorado River Authority (“LCRA”) is seeking an exemption from the water release obligations in its 2010 Water Management Plan for the fourth year in a row. This plan determines how the water from Lakes Travis and Buchanan, the region’s water supply reservoirs, is managed.  With parts of Texas in the midst of a persistent, severe drought and an analysis indicating that the combined storage in Lakes Travis and Buchanan could fall below 600,000 acre-feet triggering the declaration of a “Drought Worse than the Drought of Record,” LCRA is petitioning to lower the amount of water released from the lakes to below the state-approved amount of 170,000 acre-feet of interruptible stored water for agricultural purposes. On November 19, 2014, the LCRA Board of Directors voted 11-2 to ask permission from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) to curtail releases from the lakes in 2015.

Though the vote was of large majority, there are many opposed to this motion. If approved, this decision would suspend water supplies for downstream agriculture users, such as rice farmers, for the fourth consecutive year.  The Lower Colorado River Basin Coalition (“LCRBC”), who represents lower basin agricultural interests, is concerned by LCRA’s action.

“While this is certainly expected with the ongoing serious drought and low lake levels, the request continues to pose grave risks for the sustainability of businesses, communities, agriculture, waterfowl, fish and the environment throughout the downstream Colorado River basin,” said Kirby Brown, co-chair of the Coalition. “Downstream interests have borne the brunt of the drought for the past four years and we believe the sacrifices should be more evenly shared up and down the basin.”

LCRBC is advocating for “more aggressive and systematic” conservation and recommends that LCRA impose mandatory water uses restrictions on all of it customers if some are going to have their water supply suspended.

The Central Texas Water Coalition (“CTWC”), which seeks to bring together stakeholders in the region to protect the Highland Lakes water supply, would take LCRA’s action a step further and reshape the policies governing the release of water to rice farmers to limit those deliveries.  One of CTWC’s key arguments revolves around a price disparity between municipal users, who pay about $175 per acre-foot, and rice farmers, who pay about $6.50 per acre-foot.   The organization contends that this imbalance provides no incentive for farmers employ conservation methods or pursue alternative water supplies.

Ultimately, CTWC argues for overhauling how water supplies are managed.

“The decision to release the water and the price that it is sold for are examples of why it’s time our entire state must rethink water management,” said CTWC President Jo Karr Tedder.

She added, “We can’t wait until we’re out of water to better manage it. One and a half million residents in one of the fastest growing regions in the country depend on these lakes. Communities and economies all across Texas are threatened. We must have better planning, sound management, equitable pricing and greater conservation by all.”

Since filing its application with TCEQ, LCRA broke ground on a new reservoir that will reduce demand on the Highland Lakes.  The Lane City Reservoir, a 40,000-acre-foot off-channel reservoir near the Texas Gulf Coast, is region’s first significant new water supply reservoir in decades and is expected to begin operating in 2017.

Written by Stratecon Staff