LCRA general manager talks drought, water development project

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

MARBLE FALLS — When it comes to the drought strangling the Highland Lakes and most of Texas, Lower Colorado River Authority General Manager Beck Motal understands the impact it has on communities up and down the river’s lower basin.

But, she said, nobody in her organization is sitting on their hands when it comes to the regions surface water supply.

“We’re trying to be defensive and offensive,” Motal said while visiting The Picayune office March 13. “We do have enough water for our firm water customers. But we’re still looking at ways to develop more water resources while efficiently managing the ones we have now.”

LCRA is charged with managing the surface water from the Highland Lakes that is utilized for municipal, industrial, agricultural and environmental purposes. Motal said the water authority must follow a state-approved water management plan but has requested, and been granted, emergency drought relief in regard to downstream agricultural releases.

This is the second year in a row, LCRA has curtailed most water releases for downstream agricultural purposes with the exception of some granted through senior water rights, she said.

Still, LCRA is looking to develop more water releases to take pressure off the two storage reservoirs: lakes Buchanan and Travis.

One of the most impressive projects would be building an off-channel reservoir downstream of Austin. Motal said LCRA has identified a location for the reservoir near Lane City in Matagorda County.

“Why down there?” Motal said. “Well, it rains more down there.”

The more rain means more excess water entering the Colorado River, but with no means of capturing the additional inflows, it flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

“In 2012, more than 800,000 acre-feet of water went down river into Matagorda Bay, above and beyond what was needed (for environmental flows),” she said.

That’s equal to the amount of water now in lakes Buchanan and Travis.

The off-channel reservoir would allow LCRA to capture 90,000 acre-feet a year for downstream use. Motal said this would help meet the needs of several downstream firm-water customers, such as the nuclear power plant.

A firm-water customer is one that is guaranteed its water even if conditions reach that of the 1950s drought of record. Interruptible customers, such as downstream agricultural interests, can have their water curtailed if the drought reaches such significant amounts that it hits various trigger points. Or, as in the current case, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issues an emergency order granting LCRA permission to deviate from its current water management plan.

The LCRA board also approved the staff to look into developing groundwater resources in Bastrop County to pump about 10,000 acre-feet of water. This would serve the Lost Pines Power Park in Bastrop County.

Motal said, while it looks as if the projects only benefit customers downstream of Austin and the Highland Lakes, they actually help the entire lower Colorado River basin.

“It takes pressure off the Highland Lakes,” Motal said. “That’s water we don’t have to release from the Highland Lakes for downstream.”

She also stressed conservation efforts.

Over the years, LCRA has worked with rice farmers to laser level their fields to reduce runoff. And the water authority, through the water management plan, requires municipal users to include conservation plans as well.

For more information on the LCRA plans and projects or water conservation, go to www.lcra.org.

daniel@thepicayune.com