Click to view this email online. Click here to unsubscribe.

Lower Colorado River Authority: Drought Update

LCRA Board of Directors adopts drought relief measures

Because of the extreme drought gripping Texas, LCRA will ask the state's permission to deviate from the Water Management Plan to significantly cut back or even cut off water to farmers next year.

The Board of Directors made the decision at its Sept. 21 meeting, and the recommendations were endorsed by a diverse group of stakeholders who negotiated the drought relief measures Tuesday evening. That group included farmers, lake area residents and business owners, and representatives from LCRA's municipal customers, including Austin. Many of these customers have served for more than a year on an advisory committee that is helping LCRA update the Water Management Plan for lakes Travis and Buchanan.

"The relationships and trust our customers have forged with each other over the past year proved invaluable during the difficult and frank discussions Tuesday," said LCRA General Manager Becky Motal. "This shows how people from all across the region can come together under difficult circumstances and make decisions to benefit the entire basin, even when it involves something as precious as water."

LCRA will now ask the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for permission to deviate from the Water Management Plan in 2012 to:

  • Cut off Highland Lakes water to farmers in the Gulf Coast and Lakeside irrigation divisions if the lakes contain less than 850,000 acre-feet of water on March 1, 2012; or
  • Allow no more than 125,000 acre-feet of Highland Lakes water to be pumped from the Colorado River to LCRA's four irrigation divisions if the lakes contain between 850,000 acre-feet and 920,000 acre-feet of water on March 1, 2012. The 125,000 acre-feet pumped from the river is equivalent to about 145,000 acre-feet of water released from the Highland Lakes because of the water lost from evaporation and seepage as it flows downstream to the farming areas of Wharton, Colorado and Matagorda counties.

If water is available for farmers:

  • It would only available for the first crop of the season (a second crop would be subject to LCRA Board approval), and
  • Pumping would not begin before April 1 and would last no longer than 145 days or until 125,000 acre-feet is pumped, and
  • If the lakes contain more than 920,000 acre-feet of water on March 1, LCRA would manage the water according to the Water Management Plan.

The severe drought throughout the state is hitting record-setting levels. The 11 months from October 2010 through August 2011 have been the driest for that 11-month period in Texas since 1895, when the state began keeping rainfall records, and Texas' summer has been the hottest in the nation's history.

This unprecedented hot and dry weather is affecting lakes Travis and Buchanan, the region's water supply reservoirs. The Board's decision comes as new projections show that the combined storage of the lakes could drop to 640,000 to 680,000 acre-feet by January 1. As of Sept. 21 the lakes were 39 percent full and held 789,000 acre-feet. This would move the lakes very close to the 600,000 acre-foot level that would trigger a declaration that conditions are worse than during the worst drought in the state's history, the 10-year drought of the 1940s and 50s.

If the lakes hit 600,000 acre-feet, the Board will take action to cut off water to farmers immediately and to reduce the water available to LCRA municipal and industrial customers by 20 percent. Today's Board decision would come into play only if there is enough rain in the next few months to fill the lakes a moderate amount, but not enough to change the long-term water supply forecast. The goals of today's decision are to offer more certainty to LCRA customers and to select a level so that water is not released to start a crop next year and then cut off mid-crop if lake levels hit 600,000 acre-feet. This would waste the water since the crop would be ruined.

Other drought relief measures approved by the Board Sept. 21 include:

  • Increasing the excess use surcharge for famers.
  • Seeking TCEQ authorization to temporarily amend LCRA's downstream water rights to allow municipal and industrial customers to use water from the river when it is not being used by agriculture. This could reduce the amount of water downstream customers need from the Highland Lakes.
  • Requiring Board action for all firm water contracts for new demands except requests of 50 acre-feet or less to meet emergency municipal demands.

"This intense drought is painful for everyone, but with these drought relief measures in place, we will continue to responsibly manage the region's water supply to meet our customers' critical health and safety needs through this challenging time," Motal said.


Important Links
Drought Update

Water Use Restrictions

LCRA Boat Ramp Info

Daily River Report
Featured Video
Aerial video of Lake Travis
Watch the video

If you live or work in the Highland Lakes area, it's easy to save water and money.