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Once-a-week watering restrictions likely, LCRA warns

Lake Buchanan, Central Texas

If conditions remain dry, the combined storage of lakes Buchanan (pictured) and Travis is expected to drop below 600,000 acre-feet by September or October 2024, which would trigger Stage 3 drought contingency restrictions in firm water use. The Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors is considering tightening restrictions in the Drought Contingency Plan to help conserve water. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Most Highland Lakes residents will be restricted to watering lawns once a week if the Lower Colorado River Authority approves a new Drought Contingency Plan now under consideration. A presentation to the authority’s Water Operations Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 23, outlined recommended updates to the plan and 2024 weather predictions that could push conservation efforts even further in the fall.

“Going from watering twice per week to watering once per week reduces annual water use by about 7 to 12 percent,” said Monica Masters, LCRA vice president of Water Resources. “The savings will be significantly higher in the summer months.”

If approved, the new restrictions will be passed down to LCRA firm water customers, including the city of Marble Falls and most municipalities along the Colorado River chain of lakes. Those customers will, in turn, have to amend ordinances for residents and businesses.

The new Drought Contingency Plan tightens restrictions at the Stage 2 and Stage 3 drought levels, which are triggered by combined storage totals in the two reservoirs in the Highland Lakes chain: Buchanan and Travis.

Stage 2, which is the current drought stage, limits lawn watering to twice a week when the combined storage is at 900,000 acre-feet or less. Under the new plan, which will most likely go into effect in May, watering will be limited to once a week.

Stage 3 occurs at 600,000 acre-feet of combined storage, which LCRA staff predicts will happen in September or October. That triggers pro-rata curtailment, requiring firm water customers to cut back water usage by 20 percent.  

“That will most likely happen unless there’s a significant change in weather patterns,” Masters said. “And there’s less than a 5 percent chance of that happening.” 

The combined storage of Buchanan and Travis as of January 2024 is 836,025 acre-feet, or 42 percent full. 

At its March meeting, the LCRA Board of Directors will consider making all water curtailments mandatory rather than voluntary. 

“Our studies show that voluntary stages have no effect on conservation savings at all,” Masters continued. “As we move forward, we will most likely recommend taking out the word voluntary.” 

“We are hearing the same thing from our firm water customers,” added Executive Vice President of Water John Hofmann. “They know this is coming.” 

Also under consideration are banning automatic irrigation systems and using cumulative inflows to advance drought stages more quickly. 

“This will help slow the decline (in water),” said LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson. “These changes will allow us to respond quicker.”

The schedule for revising the Drought Contingency Plan began in November 2023 when LCRA staff met with firm water customers to update them on possible changes. 

The board will hear more details at its Feb. 21 meeting. In March, the LCRA will post draft plans and seek public comment. It will be back before the board for approval on March 27.

The authority has a May 1 deadline for submitting an updated plan to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Once submitted, it will be put into action. 

CORRECTION: The original story incorrectly referred to the Drought Contingency Plan as the Drought Contingency Water Plan in the first paragraph. Also, John Hofmann is the executive vice president of Water, not the president of Water Resources for LCRA. regrets the errors.