This graphic shows the amount of money cities have paid the Lower Colorado River Authority for water per acre-foot during the past 10 years. ‘Firm customers are the ones who pay the bills,’ said John B. Hofmann, LCRA's executive vice president of water. Courtesy graphic
The Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors made official on Wednesday, Oct. 20, what Highland Lakes municipalities knew was coming: a water rate increase.
The increase will help the LCRA cover the cost of maintaining its current water supply infrastructure as well as future development.
The directors unanimously voted to increase the firm water customer rate from $145 to $155 per acre-foot of water. It’s the first rate increase since 2016.
Cities contract annually for water by the acre-foot from the LCRA. Each acre-foot is 326,000 gallons. If a city uses less than the contract specifies, that city pays the reservation rate instead of the acre-foot rate.
The directors also approved an increase in the reservation rate from $72.50 per acre-foot to $77.50.
The new rates will go into effect in January 2022. General Manager Phil Wilson told the board that LCRA also will pay the rate increases for water for its power-generating plants.
Prior to LCRA Executive Vice President of Water John B. Hofmann presenting the measure to the directors, LCRA staff met with leaders of Highland Lakes cities to tell them what was ahead.
The directors asked Hofman how the cities felt about the increase.
“No one is going to jump up and applaud when you do a rate increase,” Hofmann said.
He noted they all “worked really hard through some difficult issues the board struggled with going back through the worse stages of the drought and early into the 2014-2015 time frame.”
But the rate increases are necessary, according to LCRA Public Information Officer Clara Tuma.
“Costs have increased as we have continued to invest in water infrastructure, including our dams along the Highland Lakes and new projects that will add to the region’s water supply,” she said. “Domestic use customers who draw water directly from the Highland Lakes also pay the firm water rate.”
Firm water refers to water that is available to municipal and similar customers even during extreme droughts. The LCRA also offers interruptible water, usually for agricultural purposes, that can be reduced or curtailed when the two reservoirs — lakes Buchanan and Travis — dip below certain levels.
Wilson told the board the rate increases will go to two important projects: water supply damage infrastructure and predevelopment.
“We’re investing in our dams because these are old infrastructure facilities that need new gates and new spauldings and new technologies invested because we’re going to keep the public safe,” he said.
While he added “the Highland Lakes are a great gift from God. And they’ve done a tremendous job,” he noted the predevelopment of engineering, reviews, and getting projects “shovel ready” are priorities.
“Our customers on the firm side really get the dam maintenance and rehab program because without those, we can’t have the water supply we need,” he said. “And they’re growing as well. Look at the list of customers; they’re adding hundreds of people it seems a month to their communities. Each and every one of them.”