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LCRA exec addresses water concerns of Lake Buchanan residents

LCRA's John Hofmann at Lake Buchanan Communities Alliance meeting

LCRA Executive Vice President of Water John Hofmann gave a presentation on water management to dozens of Lake Buchanan residents during a meeting of the Lake Buchanan Community Alliance on Monday, April 24. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The Lower Colorado River Authority answered questions and discussed concerns of residents during the Lake Buchanan Communities Alliance‘s regular meeting on Monday, April 24, in Buchanan Dam. 

LCRA Executive Vice President of Water John Hofmann gave a presentation on the authority’s management practices and the state of the Highland Lakes. He also dispelled myths surrounding water usage and held a lengthy question-and-answer session.

Hofmann and the LCRA reached out to the alliance and offered to hold a town hall meeting, which led to Monday night’s presentation. The LBCA was formed in September 2022 as a group of property owners’ associations concerned with LCRA policies that negatively impacted them. It has since grown into a coalition of Lake Buchanan-area organizations and communities with the intent of strengthening their collective voices

In an hour-long presentation, Hofmann covered a breadth of topics, focusing on the historical levels of lakes Buchanan and Travis, the realities of water revenues to the LCRA, the authority’s water management plan policies, and the future of water usage in the Highland Lakes.

“One of our primary jobs is to provide information to people,” Hofmann told after the meeting. “If you don’t do (LCRA work) every day, this can seem kind of complex, so it’s our job to break it down and make it as simple and straightforward and ingestible as we can make it.”

After the presentation, Hofmann fielded questions from LBCA members and non-affiliated Lake Buchanan residents. LBCA President Wayne Shipley told that while Hofmann shared a wealth of information, he believes major concerns still need to be addressed.

“Austin, Georgetown, and Round Rock are the largest-growing metropolitan areas in the country,” Shipley said. “Leander is the fastest-growing city in the country. Where is that water going to come from?”

According to Hofmann and data collected from the LCRA, the major Highland Lakes reservoirs are currently half full. At maximum capacity, lakes Buchanan and Travis hold about 2 million acre-feet of water. As of April 2023, they collectively held about 1 million acre-feet, meaning they are at 50 percent capacity.

Hofmann further broke down these numbers and showed that the LCRA had 500,000 acre-feet of water held in firm water contracts, but only about 250,000 acre-feet of that contracted water was used in 2022.

He also listed the LCRA’s plans for future water gains, citing ongoing municipal water conservation efforts, the construction of the Arbuckle Reservoir (expected to hold 90,000 acre-feet), and agricultural water conservation programs, among other topics.

“I think people are rightfully interested, not just in the supply but in what the future may hold,” Hofmann said.

Shipley expressed further concerns about the future of the Highland Lakes and the reliance on floods to refill the reservoirs.

“Do we really want to have a society based on waiting on a 100-year flood?” he asked rhetorically. “Because that’s what got us out of this last time.”

Hofmann addressed the historical drought-flood cycle that occurs in the Highland Lakes region. A graph depicting the water levels of lakes Buchanan and Travis since 1940 showed a clear relationship between long-term droughts that deplete the reservoirs and flooding events that replenish them within a relatively short period of time. 

Droughts as severe or more severe than the current one occurred in 1940, 1953, 1964, 1984, 1999, 2006, 2008, and from 2011-14. Each of these major droughts was immediately followed by flooding that rapidly refilled the reservoirs in less than a year.

“(Lakes Buchanan and Travis) are built to capture water in wet times so that we have water to use during dry times,” Hofmann told the crowd. “They’re going to fluctuate as they fill, are used, and refilled. That’s a fundamental premise of water supply reservoirs. We can’t really supply water and keep the lakes full. They’re going to go up a lot when it rains a lot, and they’re going to go down when it doesn’t.”

He also spoke on the impact of La Niña and El Niño weather patterns. An abnormally long La Niña just ended after three years, which likely contributed to the dry weather. Currently, the region is in an ENSO Neutral pattern, meaning average weather conditions. It is predicted to become an El Niño later this year, likely meaning more rain for Central Texas.

Questions over the LCRA’s profits surrounding water were also addressed. The authority has brought in about $38 million from water sales in 2023. This is 3 percent of the overall $1.1 billion the authority brings in overall. Of that, 94 percent of LCRA’s revenue comes from wholesale power and energy transmission. Hydroelectric power only accounts for about 6.5 percent of the energy produced and transmitted by the LCRA, according to Hofmann.