As Lake Buchanan rises, some leery of releasing water downstream

CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER

lake buchanan

Since May, Lake Buchanan has risen from 51 percent to 69 percent full, credited, in part, to rainfall in June. Staff photo by Jared Fields

BUCHANAN DAM — Domestic water use advocates caution that the drought remains a threat to water supplies as the peak of summer approaches, even though recent rains have boosted Lake Buchanan levels by nearly 20 feet in the past several weeks.

Since May, Lake Buchanan has risen from 51 percent to 69 percent full, credited, in part, to rainfall in a two-week period in June in the so-called recharge zones of the San Saba County area.

Lake Travis downstream hovers at about 85 percent full.

The combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis is 77 percent full or 1.5 million acre feet of water, according to LCRA

Despite the influx of runoff from rain, the Lower Colorado River Authority reported that the area remains in a severe drought.

On July 1, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality upheld an emergency order July 1 to withhold water releases from the Highland Lakes reservoirs to rice farmers downstream.

“It’s not unprecedented to get some rain in a drought. In 2010, the lakes were more significantly full than they are today. But because of the water releases in 2011, we were approaching record lows,” said Kevin Kline, vice president of communication for the Central Texas Water Coalition. “The amount of water in Lake Buchanan right now is roughly the amount that was released in 2011 for 200 or so rice farmers downstream that used that water.”

Planned releases are on hold for hundreds of rice farmers in Matagorda Bay, at least for six more months, as a result of the emergency order in favor of capturing the water in the two main reservoirs in the Highland Lakes.

“It’s the principal water supply for over a million people. We’re still far from being out of the woods in terms of being out of the drought,” Kline said. “There’s still a lot of capacity to fill up. Even with the record rainfall, inflows have still been below average.”

On July 20, TCEQ will allow both sides of the issue to give input during the amendment process of the 2010 Water Management Plan, which could determine the future of how LCRA handles water releases.

The public meeting is 7 p.m. that day in Building E, Room 201S, at the TCEQ headquarters in Austin.

‘It can turnaround rather quickly. Until we can get inflows up, we know we’re in a solid pattern of not being in a drought anymore. We still need to be cautious about releasing water,” Kline said.

To find out more about the Water Management Plan, click here.

To offer input online, click here.

connie@thepicayune.com

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