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BURNET — During the next 90 years, demand for water from the Highland Lakes will triple, costs to supply it will increase and lake levels will drop due to sedimentation.

That was the sobering report a panel of government officials heard late last week on the state of the Highland Lakes through 2100.

Some of the leaders at the water-issues meeting, hosted by the Burnet County Commissioners, said off-channel reservoirs and stepped-up conservation could offset any challenges. They stressed that changes today could mean a rosier future for the chain of lakes stretching along the Colorado River that nourish Central and Coastal Texas.

However, there is enough existing water to meet the demands of the entire lower Colorado River basin during the next 50 years, said Jim Kowis, the Lower Colorado River Authority water resource planning manager.

Still, LCRA officials estimate it may cost up to $1.6 billion to supply the water needs of the Highland Lakes and other users during the next 90 years.

“It is not cheap in any way, shape or form,” Kowis said.

LCRA officials expect total demand among water users will more than triple between now and 2100, from about 157,000 acre-feet per year to 670,000 or higher, Kowis added.

An acre-foot is the volume of water — 43,560 cubic feet or 325,851 gallons — that will cover an acre to a depth of one foot. It’s also the amount of water that will supply a family of four for a year.

However, even if more water conservation and off-channel reservoirs come into play, increased sedimentation in Lake Buchanan could at times drop the water to 32 percent below its  average elevation, Kowis added.

“If I had a home on Lake Buchanan, I would sell it as soon as the lake was full,” County Environmental Services Director Herb Darling quipped.

Despite the grim forecast and high price tag for more water quoted by Kowis, officials at the meeting voiced support for off-channel reservoirs and other methods to develop new water supply resources.

“We are not going to buy or get water cheaper than what we pay today,” County Emergency Management Coordinator Jim Barho said. “The price is going to go up, no matter what you do.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Bill Neve indicated he favors off-channel reservoirs to ensure an adequate water supply for the Highland Lakes between now and 2100.

“It is the only way to secure water for the future,” Neve said.

The commissioner recommended “multi-faceted” approaches to pay for the reservoirs, including LCRA surcharges on new water contracts with municipal and industrial users.

In addition, the contractors and developers of new electric or nuclear power plants might also contribute the cost of the reservoirs, Neve added.

Kowis also said the development of new water resources within the LCRA’s jurisdiction might require federal funding and other methods.

“Can I predict what kind of assistance that will be? No,” Kowis said.

Based on an early look at LCRA public opinion surveys, water conservation is the first choice the public prefers to prevent future water shortages, he added.

“There may be some lifestyle changes we may have to deal with,” Kowis said. “Instead of having five to six shower heads in your home, you may have to go back to one.”

Other choices include desalination, wastewater reuse, more rainwater collection and groundwater use, Kowis added.

The LCRA board will review the opinion surveys before adopting its proposed water supply resource plan in June, Kowis said.