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TROUBLED WATERS: Who’s in charge of Highland Lakes water

Fall Creek Falls on Lake Buchanan

A flowing, vibrant Fall Creek Falls on Lake Buchanan is not guaranteed. Lake Buchanan is one of two reservoirs managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority. During droughts and when water releases exceed inflows into the lake, the falls can run dry. This photo was taken during the summer of 2020, a wet year when the lakes were full. Photo by Ronnie Madrid/Divine Radiance Photography

This story is one of a series on water issues in the Highland Lakes. The series kicked off in the August 2022 issue of The Picayune Magazine. For an up-to-date list, visit the Troubled Waters webpage

A lot of agencies dip their oars into Central Texas water, whether on the surface or underground. All of them follow a water plan. 

Since 1961, the Texas Water Development Board has developed the state’s water plan. In 1997, the Texas Legislature established a new “bottom-up” consensus-driven approach, breaking the state into 16 regions that developed more localized plans used to write a statewide plan. 

The Highland Lakes is in Region K, which includes all or parts of 14 counties stretching from Mills County southeast to the Gulf Coast. It is called the Lower Colorado Regional Water Planning Area.

The Lower Colorado River Authority works with Region K and the state board to develop a specific water management plan for the the lower Colorado River, which begins at Lake Buchanan and flows to Matagorda Bay on the Texas Gulf Coast. 

The waters of Texas’ Colorado River are divided in LCRA’s plan among residential, business, and industry in the Highland Lakes and Austin area, downstream rice farmers near the coast, and the coastal bays and estuaries, which require fresh water to maintain healthy marine life.

The LCRA plan, which is rewritten every five years, is set for an update in 2025. Currently, some of the entities with vested interests in the Highland Lakes water supply are fighting to have the plan updated sooner to take into consideration drought conditions. 

Other players include the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the water warriors, nonprofit watchdog groups that attend meetings, fund their own studies, lobby governments, and fight to keep the Highland Lakes full of clean, accessible water. 

Here is a list of the agencies and nonprofits involved in managing and preserving Highland Lakes water resources, both surface and ground. 

TEXAS COMMISSION ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY

12100 Park 35 Circle, Austin, TX 78753

Mailing address: P.O. Box 13087, Austin, TX 78711-3087

512-239-1000

TCEQ is the EPA of Texas, a government agency formed to protect the state’s natural resources. About 2,800 people work for the agency in Austin and its 16 regional offices. It is run by a governor-appointed chairman and two commissioners along with a hired executive director and staff. The commission issues permits to industries that affect air, land, and water. Questions or comments on any environmental issues can be sent to info@tceq.texas.gov

TEXAS WATER DEVELOPMENT BOARD

1700 N. Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701

512-463-7847

facebook.com/twdboard

The board has three members and 16 regions, each with a long list of voting members representing a variety of interests. Burnet and Llano counties are in Region K, which has 25 voting members. The board’s mission is to “lead the state’s efforts in ensuring a secure water future for Texas and its citizens,” reads the website. 

The Texas Water Development Board is the state’s primary water planning and financing agency with three responsibilities: 

1. Collect and disseminate water-related data.

2. Plan for the development of the state’s water resources.

3. Administer cost-effective financing programs. 

REGION K

The Lower Colorado River Authority is the administrative agent for Region K, one of 16 regions in the state that operates under the Texas Water Development Board. Region K, which includes the Highland Lakes, has a localized plan that is updated every five years.The Lower Colorado River Water Planning Group for Region K meets quarterly. Representing the Highland Lakes on the 25-member board are: 

  • Jim Luther, Burnet County Precinct 1 commissioner
  • Mitchell Sodek, general manager for Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District Area 8 
  • David Lindsay, vice president of technical research for the Central Texas Water Coalition
  • Mike Reagor, former mayor of Llano

LOWER COLORADO RIVER AUTHORITY

3700 Lake Austin Blvd., Austin, TX 78703

512-578-3200

Created by the Texas Legislature in 1934, the LCRA manages the lakes of the lower Colorado River: Buchanan, Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls, Travis, and Austin. It also manages the dams that form those lakes, producing and delivering electric power. It is self-funded, mostly through selling the electricity it generates via its natural gas-, coal-, and solar-power plants. 

Its Board of Directors consists of 15 members, including Carol Freeman and Raymond A. “Ray” Gill Jr. from Llano County and Nancy Eckert Yeary from Burnet County. 

CENTRAL TEXAS GROUNDWATER CONSERVATION DISTRICT

225 S. Pierce, Suite 104, Burnet, TX 78611

512-756-4900

The district manages and protects groundwater resources in Burnet County. It is a government entity with an elected Board of Directors and authority to levy ad valorem taxes. It was created by legislation in 2005 and is in charge of the aquifers that supply water to Burnet, Bertram, and a wide range of farmers, ranchers, and unincorporated developments. 

CENTRAL TEXAS WATER COALITION 

P.O. Box 328, Spicewood, TX 78669

info@centraltexaswatercoalition.org

The coalition is a nonprofit advocate formed to preserve the water in the Highland Lakes. The group participated in the public process of updating the LCRA’s 2015 and 2020 water plans but is asking the authority to rewrite the plan based on current drought and water usage data rather than waiting until 2025, when the next version is due. 

suzanne@thepicayune.com

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