Hill Country News

Serving Lakeway, Bee Cave, and nearby communities.

LCRA raises lake release trigger to 1.1M acre-feet

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NOV. 19, 2013

LCRA raises lake release trigger to 1.1M acre-feet
As the state faces a Drought Worse than Drought of Record, the tides appear to have turned in the ongoing struggle between Lower Colorado River Authority’s Highland Lakes customers and those who it serves through releases downstream, primarily rice farmers.
In what could prove a landmark vote today at a special called meeting, the LCRA board voted 8-7 to ask the state for permission to raise the trigger point for downstream releases to 1.1 million acre-feet combined storage of lakes Travis and Buchanan.
On Nov. 13, the combined storage stood at less than 728,500 acre-feet, or 36 percent of capacity.
According to LCRA, the recommended 1.1 million acre-foot trigger for curtailment is higher than similar emergency triggers in 2012 and 2013, when the threshold was set at 850,000 acre-feet. Combined storage on March 1 was below that figure in both years, and Highland Lakes water was cut off to most downstream farmers both years.
“This is 180 degrees from what we saw last year,” Lakeway City Manager Steve Jones said of the board’s decision. “In my mind, LCRA has come to realize that firm water customers have superior rights to interruptible water customers.”
Jones cited a 1980s adjudication that mandated the needs of firm water customers be met first before those of downstream customers.
“That obligation has never been fulfilled because we haven’t had a drought like this before,” he said.
Though heavy rains in October drenched much of the Austin area, the Highland Lakes remain under severe drought conditions.
Current LCRA analysis indicates the possibility of combined storage dropping to 600,000 acre-feet and triggering the LCRA board to declare a Drought Worse than Drought of Record as early as spring 2014.
Consequently, LCRA staff recommended the agency’s board seek emergency drought relief for 2014.
For the first time, the LCRA board also voted to require firm customers to limit homeowners and businesses to watering a maximum of once a week, if combined storage is below 1.1 million acre-feet on March 1. Firm customers include cities in Central Texas that depend on water from the Highland Lakes.
“These are some of the most difficult decisions in LCRA history,” outgoing LCRA General Manager Becky Motal said in a press release. “Right now, this drought is so severe it’s not possible for everyone to have all the water they want. We have to protect water for cities and industries, and unless it rains a lot in the next few months, that could mean farmers may be cut off for a third straight year.”