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Falling lake levels trigger harsher LCRA water restrictions

Lake Buchanan at Llano County Park

The combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis has dropped below 900,000 acre-feet, or 46 percent storage capacity, as of Aug. 11, which triggered the Lower Colorado River Authority's Stage 2 drought restrictions for the entire Highland Lakes area. Lake Buchanan (pictured at Llano County Park) is at an eight-year low, and most public water access has dried up due to the receding shoreline. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The Lower Colorado River Authority implemented Stage 2 drought restrictions on Saturday, Aug. 12, the first time it has done so since 2015. Firm water customers must cut usage by 10-20 percent or face increased rates. 

Stage 2 restrictions are triggered by an appendix in the Water Management Plan when the combined water storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis reach 900,000 acre-feet, or 46 percent of their full capacity. The appendix is called the Drought Contingency Plan for Firm Water Customers.

“This is a serious drought, and everyone needs to step up and do their part to reduce water use,” LCRA Executive Vice President of Water John Hofmann said in a media release. “We have enough water, but we don’t have enough water to waste.”

Firm water customers are responsible for determining how to reduce usage. They are required to create their own drought management plans when they enter into a contract with the LCRA. 

A firm water customer is a large entity that buys water rights from the LCRA. In the Highland Lakes, almost every city, town, and major industry has a firm water contract with the river authority. The cities of Marble Falls, Granite Shoals, Burnet, Cottonwood Shores, Horseshoe Bay, Sunrise Beach Village, and Llano as well as the Kingsland Water Supply Corp. and Corix are LCRA firm water customers.

Most municipalities have already implemented their own drought stages, which mostly impose mandatory restrictions on outdoor watering to reduce overall usage. If the drought continues and combined storage drops below 600,000 acre-feet and the LCRA Board of Directors declares a Drought Worse than Drought of Record, the LCRA will move to Stage 3 and implement “pro-rata curtailment.”

“At that point, the amount of water available to all firm customers would be reduced by an equal percentage from the customer’s reasonable demands,” said an LCRA spokesperson.

Stage 2 restrictions can be lifted at the discretion of the LCRA board if the Highland Lakes rise above the 900,000 acre-foot trigger. 

Central Texas has been in the midst of a severe heat wave since early July, and it does not look like it will end in the near future. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The global climate pattern El Nino developed in early June and is predicted to bring heavy rains in the coming fall, winter, and spring, which could end the hot, dry conditions that have smothered the region for the past two summers.

CORRECTION: The original story misstated the date of the last time the LCRA implemented its Stage 2 Contingency Plan. It was in 2015, not 2013. Also, the LCRA said it is not implementing mandatory restrictions but requesting “that firm customers implement mandatory water use reduction measures.” And finally, although the LCRA guidelines quoted about possible civil action and excess use rates or surcharges were correctly rendered, what would actually happen, said the LCRA, is called “pro rata curtailment,” or reducing the equal percentage of water from the customer’s reasonable demands.”