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Plan suggests shutdown of Decker power plant

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

The City of Austin is considering taking the Decker Creek Power Station offline in order to secure access to water from adjacent Lake Walter E. Long in the case of a future drought emergency.

The idea is one of several key recommendations set forth in a report by the Water Resource Planning Task Force, a team that the Austin City Council created in an April resolution.

The purpose of the task force, according to the city website, is to “evaluate the city’s water needs, to examine and make recommendations regarding future water planning, and to evaluate potential water resource management scenarios for Council consideration.”

The council discussed the potential shutdown with  Austin Water Utility Director Greg Meszaros  last week, while considering a resolution that would direct City Manager Marc Ott to develop a schedule for implementation of certain task force recommendations by Sept. 25.

Among other recommendations, the task force’s report suggests that, “if there is potential” to replace the Austin Energy power station, and “if new electric supplies do not need this water supply,” Lake Long should be used as “enhanced off-channel storage.”

Meszaros explained the rationale behind this suggestion. “The way it’s currently configured, the power company uses a lot of water for Decker,” he said. “That strategy would imagine Decker either being decommissioned or significantly changing the way it generates power to where it’s a lot less water-intensive, and Austin Energy has communicated that they are evaluating those kinds of changes at Decker.”

This, he said, would turn Lake Long into a “more hands-off channel” that could be used to store water in order to meet downstream needs and reduce the potential need to import water from other regions in the case of a drought emergency. It would also supplement water from lakes Travis and Buchanan in order to avoid overburdening them.

 Council Member Bill Spelman brought up the decision-making timeline during discussion of the resolution Thursday. He noted that the task force’s report suggests that, after Jan. 1, 2016, the city will access water from Lake Long if the combined water storage of Travis and Buchanan fall below 420,000 acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is equal to 326,000 gallons. “That would suggest that we would have to have made the decision … basically next year.”

The resolution’s primary sponsor, Council Member Kathie Tovo, said these types of decisions are yet to be made and that the resolution is a “first step, and not by any means a last step.” She explained that it only authorizes staff to propose a schedule, a plan and a budget for the recommendations and present them to council. “We’re not actually, at this point, authorizing any work beyond that.”

Other specific task force recommendations direct city staff to address a toilet replacement plan that includes both a 1.28 and 0.8 gallon-per-flush toilet rebate program, code changes for gray water, rain water collection and reclaimed water infrastructure, and the engagement of home and commercial builders to discourage in-ground irrigation systems.

A few additional speakers made comments, including Roy Waley, vice chair of the Austin Sierra Club, who said his group supports the resolution.

Following a minor amendment, council passed the resolution unanimously.  Council Member Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole co-sponsored the measure.

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