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Coalition seeks action on Highland Lakes ‘water crisis’

Central Texas Water Coalition President Jo Karr Tedder

Central Texas Water Coalition President Jo Karr Tedder gave a presentation on the dismal state of water in the Highland Lakes to the Burnet County Commissioners Court on March 28. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Central Texas Water Coalition President Jo Karr Tedder painted a dire picture of the Highland Lakes during an educational presentation to the Burnet County Commissioners Court on March 28. She commended commissioners for their support of the coalition but made a call to action for more awareness of the drought’s impact and better management of the area’s water by the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Tedder has been holding round-table discussions and giving presentations on the dismal state of Central Texas water in recent months, visiting legislators, officials, and businesses in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Llano, and Burnet counties. Her March 28 presentation hinged on the current drought, low inflows into lakes Buchanan and Travis, and a critique of LCRA water management.

“Our deal is getting people in the (Texas) Legislature and our leadership to recognize that there is a water crisis going on,” she told commissioners. “We live it every day, and it is not at the top of anyone’s agenda.”

According to data collected and assembled by the coalition, 2023 has seen disturbingly low flow rates into the Highland Lakes. A graph comparing the average flow rates in the years 1942-2022, 2008-15, and 2023 shows a marked decrease in recent years.

The average in-flow of water into lakes Buchanan and Travis in the years 1942-2022 was 79,535 acre-feet. In the years 2008-15, the average in-flow was 51,890 acre-feet. The February 2023 total was just 9,867 acre-feet — only 12.4 percent of the 1942-2022 average.

“These are just hard facts. This is not spin,” Tedder said. “This is certainly not what we wish it to be, but this is a reality.”

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Burnet County is in a D3 Extreme Drought, one step from the most severe ranking of D4 Exceptional Drought. D3 is characterized by “major crop/pasture losses and widespread water shortages or restrictions.” 

Along with the governments of Travis and Burnet counties and several Highland Lakes communities, the coalition has lobbied for the LCRA to initiate an update to its current water management plan for over a year. Tedder said the authority has “flatly refused” to do so.

“Our fear is that we will eventually reach a tipping point and simply not have enough water,” she said. “It’s an ongoing battle. We need people to step up. We need water champions to step up.”

Burnet County Commissioner Joe Don Dockery applauded Tedder for her efforts and agreed with her stark assessment of water in the Highland Lakes.

“It’s probably pointing out the obvious, but the water on these inflows in March is not going to get much better,” he said.