What is in this article?:
- The recent ruling by the Lower Colorado River Authority on the amount of water rice farmers could receive from the Highland Lakes continues to be discussed.
- Rice farmers had the first claim on the LCRA water before the construction of the Highland Lake reservoir system.
- But the growth of cities and other industries in the area served by the LCRA has created much higher demand for the agency's supplies.
Historically wet month
LCRA officials say October is historically the third wettest month of the year in Central Texas, but only about an inch of rain fell in most areas of the Lower Colorado River basin that month, and that is only about one-quarter of October’s average rainfall. Currently lakes Travis and Buchanan contain about 860,000 combined acre-feet of water, or about 43 percent full. The amount of water flowing into the lakes this year from its tributaries has been 35 percent of average. Last year inflows were the lowest on record at about 10 percent of average.
“This drought that has plagued our region continues,” said LCRA Board Chairman Timothy Timmerman. “Some of our inflows into the Highland Lakes have been lower than we saw during the worst drought this region has even seen, which is known as the Drought of Record. This plan isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we could come up with.”
The Board also noted that it could revisit the issue at a later date if conditions warrant. LCRA has now forwarded the request for emergency relief to the TCEQ for their consideration.
“We tend to discuss possible releases of water from the Highland Lakes in terms of acre-feet of storage and forecasts for future weather conditions, but it’s really all about lives and livelihoods,” Timmerman said. “We are keenly aware of that and always have that foremost in our minds as we decide how to best manage the water in the Highland Lakes under these conditions.”
The emergency relief LCRA is requesting is similar to a provision in LCRA’s proposed Water Management Plan for lakes Travis and Buchanan that is currently pending with TCEQ. That amended plan was approved by the Board after an 18-month process involving stakeholders in the basin, including municipal customers, lakes-area residents, environmental interests, business and agriculture.
But the future of all stakeholders, especially the agriculture sector, may depend on developing plans set into motion by LCRA. The Authority is planning several new water supply projects downstream that could create at least 100,000 acre-feet of water by 2017, which would provide some relief from the amount of water that would need to be released from the lakes for agricultural irrigation.
“This situation shows precisely why LCRA is aggressively moving forward with plans to build as many as three downstream reservoirs,” Motal said. “We need to find new water supplies, and building new reservoirs downstream will help us capture water that otherwise would flow into Matagorda Bay.”