Central Texas Water Coalition President Jo Karr Tedder speaks to a group of area business leaders about water issues during a roundtable in Lakeway on Thursday, Jan. 19. Staff photo by Nathan Bush
State Sen. Donna Campbell plans to file a bill during the current Texas legislative session to add two elected, at-large seats to the Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors, members of her staff told those attending a roundtable on water issues in Lakeway on Thursday, Jan. 19. Currently, the LCRA board consists of 15 members appointed by the governor.
“The reason that we’re doing this is because we think it will allow (the public) to have a bigger voice and a little bit more transparency on the water management plan,” said Ashley Smothers, the legislative director for Campbell’s congressional office.
The Central Texas Water Coalition hosted the roundtable for area business leaders. Presenters spoke about the region’s water issues, including how droughts impact the local economy, and expressed ways the public can help ensure the vitality of the Highland Lakes.
The bill regarding elected LCRA seats will be filed later in the legislative calendar, said Carrie Smith, Campbell’s chief of staff. State Rep. Ellen Troxclair, who represents Burnet County, will file the House version.
“Once the bill is set for a hearing, we really need (the public) to come up and testify in favor of the bill,” Smith said. “We don’t necessarily need people to come up and speak on the bill, but you can also register your support or send in written testimony to the committee.”
Coalition Vice President Ron Doughty opened the meeting by warning audience members about the economic consequences of historic droughts.
“If we experience another drought along the levels of 2008 to 2015, we’ll see a reduction of the (gross domestic product) in Texas of up to $117 billion and a loss of up to a million workers,” he said.
To protect the health of the Highland Lakes, Doughty challenged the LCRA to revisit its water management plan, which was drafted in 2020.
“With the unpredictable and extreme shifts in weather conditions, we’re not immune from extended droughts,” he said. “Business-as-usual management policies of the lakes no longer work.”
Dr. John W. Nielsen-Gammon, a state climatologist and researcher at Texas A&M University, used historical data and computer models to illustrate the state of water in Central Texas.
“Temperatures have gone up in the state of Texas by 1.5 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, and they’re projected to continue going up,” he said. “If that trend continues and the projections are similar to what the historical trend has been, we’re going to continue to see higher and higher temperatures.”
Steady increases in temperature mainly affect evaporation, Nielsen-Gammon said.
“The problem is, with higher temperatures, evaporation happens faster,” he said. “Things dry out faster; plants undergo water stress faster; and the demand for water increases.”
The region might soon have to rely on random weather events to keep the lakes from drying out, Nielsen-Gammon said.
“My fear is it will become increasingly a matter of water roulette,” he continued. “We may not be able to count on regular runoff to do its job. We might have to rely on heavy rainfall events and occasional floods that dramatically refill lakes and replenish the water supply.”
To prevent Nielsen-Gammon’s scenario from becoming reality, coalition President Jo Karr Tedder encouraged business leaders to challenge the LCRA.
“We have to be more assertive about reaching out to the people who have the voice that legislators and the LCRA will hear,” she said. “It’s not going to be a little grandmother on the lake. It’s going to be you as business people.”
Learn more about the Central Texas Water Coalition’s mission on its website.