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Lake Travis environmental model moving forward

Tuesday, November 25, 2003 by

Project can shed light on effectiveness of programs, predict future

The Lower Colorado River Authority’s board of directors has approved $2.9 million toward the second phase of a sophisticated environmental model of the Lake Travis watershed.

The LCRA’s River Services Division is completing the second year of what is likely to be a 10-year project to provide an accurate environmental model of water quality in the 300 miles of the lower Colorado River. That covers the area between Lake Buchanan through the Highland Lakes, down the Colorado River out to Matagorda Bay.

Environmental modeling will provide critical answers to the LCRA. For example, a proper mode based on accurate data would help the LCRA select the appropriate level of nutrients in the basin to limit algae growth. The model also could evaluate whether the LCRA’s nonpoint-source pollution ordinance has been sufficient.

Results from the model also are expected to address community questions regarding the effectiveness of the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality’s watershed discharge ban on Lake Travis. The model could also predict how many discharges the lake could handle without a significant impact to the ecosystem

“Monitoring is a good picture because it can track what has happened,” said Project Control Manager Dennis Daniel. “Modeling looks forward. We use the data we have and the knowledge of the system to predict what happens over a series of scenarios.”

The model is likely to drive future LCRA policy decisions, Daniel said. It will also provide objective data to educate the public on potential impacts on the environmental.

This is the first substantial environmental modeling project for the LCRA, Daniel said. The LCRA has done some spot modeling in the past, such as an analysis of whether adding heated water from the Fayette County power plant into Lake Fayette would impact the lake. The river authority also has modeled some of the inflow needs into Matagorda Bay.

Lake Travis was the first priority of the modeling project. Daniel said the water basin actually encompasses five sub-basins totaling 1.6 million acre-feet of water.

The $2.9 million will be used to create both the software and the data sets to be crunched by the model. Monitoring will be completed over the next two years, within the five sub-basins of Lake Travis and across various weather conditions, Daniel said. Results from the model should be ready to plug in by the summer of 2006.

“We will use the models as a tool to make decisions about how we operate the basin; what types of polices we want to advocate; how we want to interact with state and federal authorities,” Daniel said. “This tool will help us explain what’s happening and what could happen under a certain set of circumstances.”

The full-scale project, known as the Colorado River Environmental Models program, will take 10 years to complete at an estimated cost of $8.2 million.

'Buy Greater Austin' promotion to be unveiled

Hoping to capitalize on increased shopping for the holidays, the City of Austin, Capital Metro and area chambers of commerce will launch a campaign explaining to shoppers why it is in their best interest to spend their money within the Austin city limits. The campaign—to be unveiled at a news conference this morning—ties city services such as fire fighting, police protection and parks to sales tax dollars.

Mayor Will Wynn and Capital Metro’s Vice President of Communications Rick L’Amie plan to draw attention to 16 billboards and public service announcements on 50 Capital Metro buses urging the public to “Buy Greater Austin” and keep sales tax dollars at home. Each public service announcement highlights a community service and then equates its funding to sales tax.

“Most people probably don’t realize that holiday shopping in our community funds essential services for our basic needs and quality of life, and ultimately keeps some of the burden off property taxes,” says Wynn. “In terms of economic development, this is an easy way to retain and promote what we already have here, not only with our businesses, but also within our community as a whole.”

The intent of the campaign is not to ask people to spend more, but to ask them to support the community as a whole by spending their holiday dollars in Austin.

“We know economic times are tight—still, many people will shop for holiday gifts,” said Capital Metro President and CEO Fred Gilliam. “We suggest that when they do, pause a minute and remember that it means a lot if the dollar stays in the Greater Austin area.”

Mayor Wynn added: “This isn’t a competition, but rather an awareness campaign that helps people help themselves in addition to their loved ones, friends and neighbors this holiday season.” The idea for the campaign arose during city and Capital Metro budget conversations.

Although Austin registered a slight uptick in sales tax receipts in its November check (for sales in September), sales tax collections for the last fiscal year were 4.5 percent lower than the previous year. The City’s sales tax has declined for 2 ½ years. About one-quarter of the city’s general fund comes from sales tax proceeds.

Representatives of the Austin Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, the Capital City African American Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Texas are scheduled to join the Mayor and Capital Metro officials at this morning’s press conference.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Austin in the national news . . . National Public Radio yesterday reported on the problems Austin’s Planned Parenthood encountered in building its new clinic in South Austin. Today, Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Daryl Slusher and Brewster McCracken may be seen on the CBS morning show sometime after 7:30am. The three were interviewed about 10 days ago about the city’s battle over the smoking ordinance . . . Planning Commission meets tonight . . . The commission tried to have a meeting last week to talk about a recommendation on the Lowe’s settlement. However, a lengthy discussion of the same issues at the Environmental Board, which met at the same time, prevented the Planning Commission from deliberating on the matter. The commission will meet at 6pm this evening at One Texas Center. They will also have a chance to give an opinion on the proposed anti-big-box over-the-aquifer ordinance. Theirs will be the final meeting of the week . . . Social services still suffering . . . Most social service providers in Travis County report an increased demand for their services and three-fourths of those providers say they have no more staff—often less—than they had last year at this time. According to a report from the Community Action Network, “Even with some hopeful signs that the economy is improving, the non-profit sector continues to see increased demand at a time of diminishing resources.” Although budget cuts have hit every area, providers of humanitarian services said they found that basic needs, mental health care and education are most in demand this year. According to the survey, the greatest gaps are in services to the elderly, Spanish speakers, children, crime victims and the disabled.

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