Water Update – November 2022

Central Texas Water Update Newsletter for Local Elected Officials – Fourth Quarter – 2022

Central Texas’ Water Supply Is at Risk; CTWC Releases Report on Steps to Address Changing Conditions

The Central Texas Water Coalition (CTWC), a nonprofit dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of our local water supply, has released a report outlining what it believes to be flaws in the current Water Management Plan used to manage the Highland Lakes. The organization believes the region’s water supply could be at risk unless a more protective approach to managing it is adopted. The reason, according to the group, is that shifting weather patterns and other factors are drastically reducing the amount of water we have available, but the way that water is being used has not changed to reflect ongoing trends as the region continues to experience rapid population growth.

The organization’s report is available here.

The LCRA is the public utility that manages Lakes Buchanan and Travis, which are the primary water supply for almost 2 million Central Texans. LCRA’s current Water Management Plan (WMP), which guides usage of this water, contains policies the CTWC believes must be updated to reflect the new normal for the region. The plan is currently set to be revisited in 2025, with implementation expected two to three years after that.

“We believe discussions to update and improve the current Water Management Plan should begin now,” said Jo Karr Tedder, president of the Central Texas Water Coalition. “Conditions in Central Texas have been changing rapidly, and it’s leaving our water supply vulnerable.”

According to the CTWC, making improvements to the Water Management Plan as soon as possible could help avert disaster, a step the LCRA has resisted. The CTWC would like to see the following concerns addressed:

  • Water modeling based on historical data is no longer predicting current inflows into the lakes due to shifting environmental factors as well as upstream structures that capture surface water before it reaches the lakes. However, historical data are still being used to predict future inflows.
  • Recent rapid declines in lake storage suggest that the WMP is not sufficiently protective of our water supply. Large releases of water to downstream rice corporations beginning in March of this year contributed to the declines, yet were considered unproblematic according to the current WMP.
  • While the current WMP prescribes a combined storage reserve, it’s unclear whether the reserve level is sufficient given the growing population and business growth in the region.
  • Given the trend toward reduced inflows, LCRA’s calculation methods cause concerns over whether LCRA is overselling the available water supply.
  • Water conservation efforts and drought contingency measures are not consistent and fair across all of LCRA’s water customers.

“Given the seriousness of these concerns, it’s hard to understand why the LCRA is so opposed to dialogue on these issues,” said Tedder. “The future of our water supply could be at risk; are we supposed to wait until it’s almost gone before we start to address the flaws in how it is managed?”

The CTWC officially requested that the current Water Management Plan be updated in a letter on Aug. 4 to the LCRA Board of Directors and in person during the LCRA’s board meetings on May 18 and Aug. 17. The LCRA has responded by saying it will not review the plan ahead of schedule. In a September letter, the organization also asked the governor to intervene in light of the LCRA’s resistance to taking action. A resolution requesting that the LCRA reopen the plan has been supported by Travis and Burnet County Commissioners Courts, by individuals on the Williamson and Hays County courts, and by other cities, organizations, and individuals.

“Both Republican and Democratic leaders, people from both rural and urban areas, and counties that depend on both groundwater and surface water are all working together to protect our water supply into the future,” said Tedder. “It underscores what we all know: Water isn’t partisan.”

Inflows Into Highland Lakes Continue Decline to Historic Lows

Water flowing into the Highland Lakes was only 3,157 acre-feet for the month of October, marking the 14th straight month inflows were below the monthly average recorded during the worst drought on record (2008-2015). The 3,157 acre-feet was only 7% of the average recorded in October during the drought of record and only 2% of the average for October since records were first recorded in 1942.

According to Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) data, in recent years, inflows into the Highland Lakes have declined to a fraction of what they once were. In fact, in early August of this year, the region saw its longest-ever streak of zero-inflow days. At the same time, scientists have noted that the drought line in the United States has shifted over the years from the 100th meridian to the 98th meridian, meaning Central Texas is now on the more arid side of the line, and likely to remain there. Parts of the Western U.S. have been in a “megadrought” for 22 years that is drier than anything recorded since the start of the scientific record around 1,200 years ago. This raises concerns that a drought worse than the 2008-2015 Drought of Record could be on the horizon in our region as well. Meanwhile, Central Texas could add an additional 1 million residents, further stressing the water supply.

In October, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a climate adaptation plan for Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana in response to the impacts of evolving weather patterns. The report found that Texas was especially vulnerable to more severe droughts, whose effects are increasingly pronounced in Central Texas.

October Inflows Chart (pdf)

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of Central Texas continues to be in the advanced stages of drought.  Following is the current drought status in counties within the upper basin of the Highland Lakes as of November 8, 2022:

County % in Drought Status
Bastrop 75% Severe
Blanco 100% Severe / 98% Extreme
Burnet 69% Severe / 11% Extreme
Hays 100% Severe / 97% Extreme
Llano 63% Severe
San Saba 23% Severe
Travis 83% Severe / 46% Extreme
Williamson 90% Severe

Water News of Interest

Ongoing drought, growing population and aging infrastructure affecting water supplies

Texas’ plan to provide water for a growing population virtually ignores climate change

Texans’ fear of losing access to water is already here

To save water in Texas, these nonprofits are paying farmers to leave it in reservoirs

Texas can’t ignore extreme weather in planning future water supply

Not only is Lake Powell’s water level plummeting because of drought, its total capacity is shrinking, too

Stay tuned for more details