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Groups voice concerns about water supply, dredging zones at LCRA meeting

Lake Travis at Pace Bend Park

Lake Travis, as seen from Pace Bend Park in Spicewood. File photo

Save Lake LBJ member Laura Patterson addressed a recent change to a dredge and fill zone ordinance that affects the lake at the Wednesday, June 15, meeting of the Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors. The board also heard concerns about the area’s water supply from the Central Texas Water Coalition, which asked it to consider updating the current water management plan before 2025, when the next review is planned.

As part of LCRA’s Dredge and Fill Ordinance, which went into effect on Jan. 1, the board granted General Manager Phil Wilson the authority to create zones where commercial operations can file for a permit to dredge sand and sand sediment. He also has the authority to make adjustments. 

Patterson raised concerns about a dredge and fill zone on the Llano River arm of Lake LBJ that was extended an additional 1,800 feet up the river without input from residents and property owners. 

Patterson believes the decision to grant the extension was made to accommodate a commercial entity looking to set up dredging operations in that location. She urged the board to change the ordinance to require public input for such decisions, taking them out of the hands of only one person.  

While the board couldn’t address her concerns, as they came during public comments, Wilson did explain why he made the adjustment to this zone.

He extended the zone effective April 1 based on a recommendation from the LCRA staff’s independent review and assessment of the area to facilitate additional sand and sand sediment removal. Wilson pointed out that no one has filed for a dredge and fill permit. When permits are filed, they go through a thorough review process compete with public comments before the LCRA makes a decision. 

On a different topic, Cindy Smiley, an Austin-based attorney representing the Central Texas Water Coalition, raised concerns that the current water management plan, which the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved in 2020, won’t protect the upper basin in the years to come.

“CTWC is looking at the current and projected conditions (of water availability) as cause for alarm,” Smiley told the board. “As we understand it, LCRA does not plan to initiate an update of the existing water management plan until March 2025.”

That’s too long, she added, especially considering it will take the TCEQ, under the best conditions, two additional years to review the updated plan. Based on that assessment, the LCRA will operate under the current plan for the next seven years, she continued.

“We are asking you to initiate a targeted review of the water management plan this year with this focus: review of the specific elements of the plan that have the greatest impact on the sustainability of the upstream water supply,” Smiley said.

The current plan does include steps to help conserve water in the upper Highland Lakes. It requires three evaluation dates — March 1, July 1, and Nov. 1 — to determine water supply conditions at each point and time. The March 1 and July 1 dates are used to determine water supply conditions related to downstream agricultural purposes. The Nov. 1 date is for evaluating environmental waterflow conditions.

Based on those three dates, the LCRA determines water supply levels as Normal, Less Severe Drought, and Severe Drought.

Smiley pointed out that, on March 1, 2022, even with the low inflows to the lakes and drier-than-normal conditions, the river authority determined that water supply conditions were at Normal.

“It sure feels like ‘normal’ today,” she said.

The Central Texas Water Coalition projects that by the July 1 date, the combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis, the two water-storage reservoirs, will likely dip below 1.3 million acre-feet, which would fall within Extreme Drought conditions. 

While that would trigger some downstream adjustments, the CTWC doesn’t believe those will be enough to sustain the upper basin’s water supply, Smiley said.

Since Smiley’s concerns were made during the public comments section and the water management plan was not listed on the agenda, the directors were not allowed by law to address her remarks or take any action on the topic at the meeting.


The LCRA board approved a firm water contract with the city of Dripping Springs. The contract commits up to 2,438 acre-feet of water per year for 40 years. The city requested the water to serve three different developments in Hays County totaling more than 2,000 acres. 

When those developments completely build out, it will include more than 4,800 living units and approximately 17,000 people.