AUSTIN — The Lower Colorado River Authority is stepping up enforcement against people without a contract who take water from the lakes and lower Colorado River via “straws,” but officials are giving a few days’ warning before really cracking down.
“We want to do everything we can at this stage of the game to get everybody to play by the rules,” said John Hofmann, the LCRA executive vice president of water. “It’s a question of fairness.”
If people don’t comply, the matter could be turned over to the state for further enforcement.
The LCRA will begin increased lake and river patrols Aug. 1 in an effort to identify illegal diversions from the lower Colorado River and the Highland Lakes. This refers to people who extend pipes into the river or lakes and draw out water for irrigation, landscaping or other uses without a contract with the LCRA. Hofmann said the LCRA has about 3,600 contracts with residents along the lake to do such a thing, but there are probably another 2,400 sucking out water who don’t.
Hofmann said this illegal diversion is more critical now that the two water-storage reservoirs, lakes Buchanan and Travis, are at 38 percent capacity.
“What we’re going into is the hottest, driest part of the summer. August and September are the dog days of summer when lawns get especially thirsty and people are more inclined to water their landscapes,” he said. “It’s especially true when we have a drought that’s taken us over a seven-year journey and brought our reservoirs to a 38 percent combined storage — our water-storage reservoirs.”
The LCRA offers contracts for businesses and residents who would like to draw water directly from the lake for landscape irrigation purposes. Hofmann said it’s the same rate the authority charges municipalities.
Starting Aug. 1, LCRA officials will be patrolling the waterways and land daily in search of illegal water diversions. Hofmann said the authority would prefer people with those pipes to first contact the LCRA to work out a contract.
Even during the stepped-up enforcement, Hofmann said the initial request the LCRA makes when officials find an illegal diversion is to get the property owner to enter into a contract.
In the past, several cases of illegal diversion ended with the owner contracting for the water with the LCRA. Hofmann said, if this request fails, the authority will turn over the matter to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. He pointed out a fine is a possibility.
“We really urge (people with illegal diversions) to contact the LCRA and get a contract this week,” Hofmann said.
Go to lcra.org to learn more or find out who to contact for a contract.