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Monday, November 6, 2017 by Jessi Devenyns

Central Texas resident asks Environmental Commission for dam help

On Nov. 1, Ann McElroy, co-founder of the organization No Colorado River Dam Inc., stood in front of the Environmental Commission to plead for its assistance in encouraging the city of Austin to pass a resolution denouncing a dam that is planned near the city of Goldthwaite.

Although this in-channel dam is slated to be constructed 100 miles northwest of Austin, McElroy explained that the city should be aware of this project because Austin “is so dependent on the river” and adverse effects following construction would be experienced by downstream landowners for miles.

The dam in question was applied for in 2011 by the Leonard family and is a 20-foot-high in-channel structure that will create a 9-mile-long reservoir covering 109 acres and containing 325 million gallons of water. According to McElroy, this is the second dam in the area that would belong to the Leonard family. “Essentially you would have 12 to 15 miles of our Colorado riverbed under the control of one family,” McElroy said. “It would be a private lake.” This private lake, she explained, is intended to irrigate the Leonards’ pecan tree crop.

As pecan trees take 5 feet of water a year and currently the tilled area along the Colorado River receives 2 feet of water annually, this dam is designed to make up the 3-foot difference. However, according to McElroy, raising the water levels with this dam would only benefit the Leonard family. “What would happen here if another dam was built is that the damage to the downstream landowners would be more severe,” she said. She was comparing the potential future damage from the Goldthwaite dam to the ecological stress that has already been put on downstream neighbors as a result of the Leonards’ first dam.

If the Leonard family was able to fully exercise their water rights in the area, they would own 5,632 acre-feet of waterway; already about half of that was used in 2013, according to a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality report. According to McElroy, the construction of this proposed dam could allow the family to claim additional acre-feet.

McElroy explained that the proposed dam was originally recommended in regional plans, but, “When Region K did their due diligence, they chose to remove that dam from that water plan.” Region K is part of the Lower Colorado Regional Water Planning Area that is composed of 14 counties. It is one of 16 regional water planning groups developed by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) in 1997 as a tool through which to develop a comprehensive water plan for Texas through 2070.

Commissioner Wendy Gordon noted that this project would not be subjected to the approval of the Texas Water Development Board’s regional recommendations because the request is through a private landowner and not a municipal project.

As of Nov. 1, McElroy said, “As far as we can tell, no additional action has been taken (for the planning and construction of the dam).” Nevertheless, she came before the Environmental Commission to ask them to follow the suit of other counties and oppose its construction. “There was public opposition expressed by several counties in our area,” she said. McElroy also said that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Lower Colorado River Authority, and Central Texas Water Coalition have expressed environmental concerns over the construction of this dam. The city of Austin also sent a letter to TCEQ voicing its concerns.

Commission Chair Marisa Perales asked for the commission to be presented with the letter the city of Austin sent to TCEQ before it considers recommending a resolution against the dam. However, the Environmental Commission plans on having a more in-depth presentation on the project at a future meeting.

The Austin Monitor made multiple attempts to contact representatives of the Leonard family for this story.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

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