Marble Falls residents drink treated water from Lake Marble Falls, which is purchased from the Lower Colorado River Authority. The LCRA Board of Directors approved a new firm water agreement with the city on Jan. 24, 2024, that will more than double the contracted amount. The city will pay to reserve an additional 4,000 acre-feet for the future. Staff photo
The Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors on Wednesday, Jan. 24, approved a city of Marble Falls request for an additional 4,000 acre-feet of water per year for 40 years. The city will pay the LCRA $310,000 annually for a guarantee that the water will be there when needed.
The LCRA board had to vote to deplete its reserve by enough to meet Marble Falls’ request as well as four contract renewals and amendments from other entities, including one new industrial customer. Four of the contracts, including the one from Marble Falls, were approved at the January meeting. The fifth will be on the agenda for the Feb. 21 meeting. All five requests add up to an additional contracted 20,786 acre-feet per year.
Since 1989, the LCRA board has held firm water in reserve from lakes Buchanan and Travis for future needs in the authority’s 35-county water service area. On Wednesday, it voted to reduce its 31,000 acre-feet in reserve to 10,000 acre-feet, leaving 1,995 acre-feet available for additional contracting.
“We have basically committed the reserve,” LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson said when asked by a board member about plans to replenish it. “Our intent is that Arbuckle (reservoir) will be ready in a few months, and we will take that (acre-feet) left and add 90,000 acre-feet to it. We will also continue to develop new supplies.”
The new Arbuckle reservoir is being built on 1,100 acres off of the main channel of the Colorado River in Wharton County. It is slated to come online in September.
Wilson also pointed out that some of the water contracted from the reserve will not be “dispatched for years to come,” including the water set aside for Marble Falls, which is also developing new supplies.
“It’s our security blanket at the moment,” Marble Falls Mayor Dave Rhodes told DailyTrib.com. “It will be some time before we need to use it. We may even give some of it up at some time in the future.”
One of the contracts the LCRA board renewed during Wednesday’s meeting was for a decrease. The city of Lago Vista requested 2,000 acre-feet less per year than its current amount of 6,500 acre-feet based on new growth projections that came in lower than expected.
According to projections for Marble Falls, if the city grows at a rate of 4 percent, it would run out of water under its current contract of 3,000 acre-feet a year in 2036. At a 12-percent growth rate, it runs out in 2026. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city is currently growing at a rate of 2.52 percent a year based on the 2020 census count.
In the fall of 2023, Marble Falls purchased a $7 million groundwater system from Capstone Ranch that will supply about 720,000 gallons a day, about half of what the city now treats out of Lake Marble Falls.
“We’re growing and going to continue to grow, and we can’t continue to grow without water,” Rhodes said.
A new Direct Potable Reuse wastewater treatment plant currently in the design phase will also increase supply when it goes online.
“For every million gallons we put in the front of the plant, we can get 700,000 out of the back side of the plant that is drinkable,” Rhodes said. “Texas is going to go this way. We have to. I am confident people will come from around the state and beyond to look at our system.”
Water from the current wastewater plant, which the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has said must be replaced, is irrigated because of a decades-old agreement with the LCRA. Marble Falls receives 1,000 acre-feet a year for free in exchange for not discharging treated effluent into the lake.