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Thursday, November 20, 2014 by Gene Davis

LCRA seeks more limits on downstream release

With an analysis predicting the possibility of record low storage levels in lakes Buchanan and Travis early next year, the Lower Colorado River Authority board of directors voted 11-2 Wednesday to ask the state for a fourth year to limit the release of water from the Highland Lakes to agricultural interests downstream.

The board also voted to ask the state for a second year to reduce the amount of water released to support the habitat of the blue sucker fish, a threatened species.

John Hoffman, the executive vice president of water for LCRA, called the board’s vote difficult but necessary.

“Everyone has to deal with the effects of not having enough water to go around,” he said.

A Water Management Plan adopted in 2010 requires LCRA to receive permission from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to limit the amount of water released from the Highland Lakes. The plan, in part, mandates that LCRA release a set amount of water for agricultural interests and to protect the blue sucker fish habitat.

Hoffman said LCRA recently submitted an amended Water Management Plan to TCEQ that would allow the agency to reduce the amount of water released from the Highland Lakes without receiving state approval. Hoffman said he expected TCEQ to move quickly on the proposed amended plan because of the severity of the drought.

As for the drought, the combined storage in lakes Buchanan and Travis as of Nov. 1 was 680,863 acre-feet, which is at 34 percent capacity. An LCRA study shows the combined storage could drop to 600,000 acre-feet by February 2015, which would trigger the LCRA board to declare a drought worse than the drought of record, according to an emergency resolution approved by the LCRA board Wednesday.

Hoffman said he found it notable that many of the downstream agricultural interests who have watched their irrigation water from the Highland Lakes be reduced or cut off over the past three years have seemingly reached a certain acceptance of the situation.

“The facts are pretty straightforward,” he said in reference to the current lake levels.

However, the Lower Colorado River Basin Coalition issued a news release following the LCRA board vote calling for more conservation and drought measures. Kirby Brown, co-chair of the coalition and a biologist with Ducks Unlimited, said in a statement that while the board’s vote was expected given the severe drought, the emergency order continues to pose serious threats for the sustainability of everything from businesses to the environment throughout the downstream Colorado River basin. He said that water conservation efforts should be more aggressive for all LCRA customers.

“Downstream interests have borne the brunt of the drought for the past four years, and we believe the sacrifices should be more evenly shared up and down the basin,” Brown said in the statement.

If the Highland Lakes receive an unexpected amount of rainfall by March 1, Hoffman said LCRA staff could bring the issue back before the board and ask TCEQ to pull the emergency resolution.

Before the vote, Board Director Sandra Kibby told LCRA staff that she trusted them to do the right thing.

“I think we are doing the best we can,” she said.

 

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Lower Colorado River Authority: The quasi-governmental organization charged with, among other key items, regulating water policy for the Lower Colorado River--the body of water that runs through the heart of Austin. The creation of the organization in 1934--and the eventual series of dams it built--helped send electricity to portions of the Texas Hill Country.

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