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LCRA board to review committee proposals to change water management plan

AUSTIN — Several proposals from a volunteer committee may alter how the Lower Colorado River Authority manages lakes Buchanan and Travis, including releases to rice farmers downstream.

Last year, LCRA formed the Water Management Plan Advisory Committee to review and propose changes to the plan during drought and normal water-use periods.

During their conference July 12, the committee offered several changes to the plan, subject to review by the LCRA board. Some include:

• Each year, determine how much water is available from lakes Buchanan and Travis for rice farmers downstream on June 1, as well as Jan. 1.

• Reduce by 100 percent the water supply from the lakes to rice farmers when the combined storage of the lakes falls below 600,000 acre-feet. The current plans calls for 100 percent reduction at 200,000 acre-feet.

• Limit water for rice farmers to 249,000 or 273,500 acre-feet per year, depending on water demand by cities and industries in other parts of the lower Colorado River basin.

• Mandate water-use reduction on cities and industries only after similar restrictions are imposed on rice farmers.

• Double the annual amount of water set aside for urban and industrial use to 375,000-400,000 acre-feet.

• Use recent environmental studies to determine how much water is needed to support aquatic life in Matagorda Bay and its estuaries.

• Assess projected water-use for cities and industries over a five-year period, as well as the current 10-year period.

“The water of the Highland Lakes is a precious and limited resource that is critical to a wide variety of interests throughout the (lower Colorado River) basin,” LCRA General Manager Becky Motal told the committee. “The hard work of these committee members to help LCRA balance those interests, so we can meet critical needs throughout the basin, even in severe drought, is invaluable.”

The committee includes environmentalists, as well as volunteer representatives from the lakes, cities, rice fields and other LCRA service areas. Local committee members include Lake Buchanan resident Jo Karr Tedder, Windermere Oaks Water Supply Corp. president Kerry Spradley and Burnet City Manager David Vaughn.

“The impact of your work cannot be highlighted enough,” LCRA Water Services Executive Manager Suzanne Zarling told the committee “It has been an extraordinary effort on everybody’s part, and it will benefit everybody in this basin.”

The LCRA board plans to review the committee proposals next month, officials said.

Lakes Buchanan and Travis are considered full at 2 million acre-feet. An acre-foot is the volume of water — 43,560 cubic feet or 325,851 gallons — that will cover an area to a depth of one foot.

Currently, the combined storage of the lakes is just over 1 million acre-feet or about 54 percent of their full capacity.

LCRA officials asked local customers to conserve water on a voluntary basis earlier this year. Mandatory conservation goes into effect if the combined storage of the lakes is less than 900,000 acre-feet.

raymond@thepicayune.com