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Town halls on state of the lakes

Lake Buchanan lighthouse

A lighthouse on Lake Buchanan is far from the water’s edge. Buchanan is at an eight-year low due to a lack of rain and triple-digit temperatures. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The Central Texas Water Coalition is holding a town hall meeting to discuss water conservation in the Lake Buchanan area at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29 at Boat Town Burger Bar, 151 Melodie Lane in Kingsland. This is one of two meetings. Another for residents closer to Lake Travis is 6:30 p.m. Aug. 24 at The Oasis on Lake Travis, 6550 Comanche Trail in Austin. 

Both lakes are reservoirs on the chain of Highland Lakes managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority. The lakes supply water to about 1.4 million residents in Central Texas.

“We want to hear residents’ concerns,” coalition Executive Director Shannon Hamilton told about the meetings’ purpose. “But we also want to ask for help and support in asking for a more protective water management plan so that we can keep more water in our basin.”

The Central Texas Water Coalition is a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring the responsible management of the Highland Lakes water supply. It has been critical of the LCRA in recent years. The river authority has refused coalition requests for an overhaul of its official water management plan. Although the LCRA denied the group’s request, authority officials acknowledged that current conditions are approaching severe levels

“It’s been a while since we’ve had any rain, and these extreme, 100-degree-plus days are taking a toll on all of us,” said LCRA Vice President of Water John Hofmann in a media release issued on July 24. “They also are taking a toll on our water supply lakes. With very little water flowing into the lakes and a ‘heat dome’ roasting our area since early June, lake levels are decreasing as significant amounts of water evaporate or are used on landscaping in the region. We all need to step up and do our part to conserve.”

Stage 2 of the LCRA’s drought contingency plan is triggered when the combined storage capacity of lakes Buchanan and Travis reaches 45 percent. It was at 48 percent on Thursday, Aug. 3, and will likely reach the 45 percent threshold before the end of August if extreme heat persists and no rain falls, according to experts. Under Stage 2 restrictions, all LCRA firm water customers must implement a policy to reduce water usage by 10-20 percent.

The Kingsland town hall is open to the public and will provide comprehensive updates on the conditions of Lake Buchanan and the Llano River. Buchanan is at an eight-year low; the river was flowing at just 3 cubic-feet per second at the time of this story’s publication. 

“We’re depleting (water) faster than we’re gaining right now, and it isn’t sustainable,” said the CTWC’s Hamilton. “Whether you’re on Buchanan, LBJ, or Travis, we are all sharing a water supply, we are all vulnerable, and we need to think about each other when we use our water.”

While it is normal for Lake Buchanan inflows to dwindle during the hot summer months, only 1 acre-foot of water went into the lake on Aug. 2, the same day 1,291 acre-feet of water was released downstream. The Lower Colorado River Authority manages the lakes to supply water to most Highland Lakes communities, much of the Austin metropolitan area, and even rice farms on the Texas Gulf Coast, where the Colorado River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. A portion of water is also set aside for environmental reasons.

Lakes LBJ, Inks, and Marble Falls are all considered “run-of-the-river” lakes, which maintain a relatively constant level year-round. They are all dependent upon water from Lake Buchanan, which drops when more water is released than recovered from upstream inflows.