LCRA Actions Are Important First Step, but Only the Beginning of Tough Fight to Protect the Lakes
Last August, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) staff proposed significant changes to the Water Management Plan for Lakes Travis and Buchanan to better protect the region’s drinking water. This will provide better protection of the region’s water supply, especially for “firm” users, which primarily consist of drinking water users and businesses. Your Central Texas Water Coalition (CTWC) was unrelenting in its efforts to raise awareness about the growing crisis and to build support for action to protect the lakes from further depletion during this unprecedented drought. While the coalition may have lacked the resources of agricultural interests that initially resisted the changes, it was not deterred and its diligence paid off with the LCRA’s proposed amendments to the region’s Water Management Plan.
After a series of public meetings last August and September with stakeholders from throughout the basin, the LCRA recommended three sets of operating conditions to determine the amount of interruptible water that will be available for agriculture use in the coming years. These revisions were approved by the LCRA Board and then forwarded to the TCEQ in October. On January 31st of this year, CTWC voiced its concerns with the TCEQ on that latest plan submitted by the LCRA.
There is still much work to be done by the TCEQ and the LCRA before the amendments are adopted. The LCRA must provide additional data and information requested by the TCEQ, who must then complete its technical review. After that, the TCEQ will issue a draft permit. Then there will be a formal public comment period. Even if all goes smoothly, the TCEQ commissioners may not vote on this proposed plan until September. The proposed provisions of the pending revised LCRA Water Management Plan would prevent future releases for interruptible agriculture use until such time as the lakes have recovered more than under past versions of the Water Management Plan.
The LCRA requested release trigger levels are:
1. Under EXTRAORDINARY DROUGHT conditions: 1.3 million acre-feet of water must be stored in Lakes Travis and Buchanan combined or no stored water will be released to interruptible agricultural users downstream (primarily rice farmers);
2. Under LESS SEVERE DROUGHT conditions: 1.1 million acre-feet must be stored in the lakes or no stored water will be released to interruptible agricultural users; and
3. Under NORMAL CONDITIONS: 1.0 million acre-feet must be stored in the lakes or no stored water will be released to interruptible agricultural users.
While the coalition is encouraged with the LCRA’s actions, it is only one step of many that must be taken to ensure responsible water management policies are in place.
An LCRA study projects the current drought could soon be declared the worst ever recorded. In fact, due in large part to incredibly low inflows during this drought, the LCRA staff members recently decreased their estimate of the amount of water available for sale on a firm basis from the entire LCRA system by 100,000 acre-feet. It is important to understand that a lack of rainfall is not the only reason for the crisis we are facing — past water management policies resulting in the 2011 release of nearly half of the available water supply in Lake Travis for rice farming played a significant role. But we are pleased with the leadership the LCRA has shown with these proposed revisions to the Water Management Plan. The LCRA’s actions are a tremendously important first step. It is now essential that the TCEQ approve the revised Water Management Plan as soon as possible. In the meantime, the LCRA requested and the TCEQ Executive Director granted an Emergency Order that stops releases of interruptible water in 2015 to most of the irrigation districts. The Emergency Order has been set for consideration by the TCEQ Commission on its March 4th agenda.
As this discussion continues, the CTWC will continue its work to ensure proper management and appropriate usage of the region’s limited water supply. To continue to be effective, the coalition needs the support of area businesses and residents to continue the fight. Those wanting to support the coalition’s continued efforts may do so by contributing to the CTWC by clicking here.