TCEQ sends LCRA emergency drought relief request to judge

FROM STAFF REPORTS

AUSTIN — Some Lower Colorado River Authority irrigation customers, including rice farmers, have challenged the authority’s emergency drought relief request, forcing the issue to go before an administrative judge in February.

On Feb. 12, LCRA officials asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to approve emergency drought relief for a third straight year. The LCRA also requested the TCEQ allow the water authority to set a 1.1-million acre-feet trigger point instead of the previous two years’ 850,000-acre-feet threshold.

Under the request, if the combined water stored in lakes Buchanan and Travis wasn’t at 1.1 million-acre feet as of March 1, the LCRA could curtail downstream releases for irrigation purposes.

The two lakes currently have about 762,000 acre-feet of water. LCRA officials told TCEQ commissioners they wanted a 1.1-million-acre-feet trigger point to allow the lakes to better recover from the drought as well as “to allow LCRA customers more time to prepare for additional drought measures or possible mandatory curtailment, and allow time to potentially develop new water supplies.”

While Central Texas and parts of the Highland Lakes have received some rainfall during the fall and winter, it hasn’t been enough to break the current drought or significantly bring up lake levels.

After five hours of public comment, the TCEQ opted to send the LCRA request to an administrative law judge through the State Office of Administrative Hearings.

The judge is an independent, third-party individual.

The TCEQ has requested the administrative judge hold a hearing and issue a proposal for decision by Feb. 21.

The TCEQ can then revisit the issue during its next scheduled meeting Feb. 26.

“We understand the drought has caused hardships on people throughout the basin,” said LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson. “This is unprecedented territory, and we believe the emergency relief is an appropriate, responsible response to the prolonged, record-setting drought with no clear end in sight.

“Our Water Management Plan doesn’t address the hydrological situations we’ve seen the last few years,” he added. “Inflows to the Highland Lakes are at a record low. In fact, 44 of the last 45 months have had below-average inflows, and inflows in January were the lowest since the 1950s.”

Go to www.lcra.org for more lake and drought information.

editor@thepicayune.com