LCRA’s Board of Directors, noting the record-breaking drought conditions gripping the region, has agreed that Highland Lakes water should be withheld from most farmers this year if water supply conditions don’t improve by March 1.
The Board of Directors voted unanimously to seek emergency drought relief at a special meeting Jan. 8. The relief must be approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality before it is final.
LCRA staff recommended the measures the Board approved to protect LCRA’s municipal and industrial customers during the prolonged drought gripping the lower Colorado River basin. The amount of water flowing into the Highland Lakes, called inflows, was the lowest on record in 2011, and the fifth lowest on record in 2012. In fact, five of the 10 lowest years on record for inflows have occurred since 2006. Lakes Travis and Buchanan, the region’s water supply reservoirs, currently are about 41 percent full, holding about 826,000 acre-feet of water.
“We’re in the middle of a drought that could end up being the worst in recorded history,” said LCRA General Manager Becky Motal. “This drought has been painful for everyone, but LCRA is committed to protecting the water supply of the City of Austin and the other communities and major industries throughout the basin.”
The drought relief LCRA is seeking is similar to the relief TCEQ granted in 2011 that led to most downstream farmers going without Highland Lakes water in 2012. If approved, the new drought relief would cut off Highland Lakes water to most farmers unless the combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis is at or above 850,000 acre-feet at 11:59 p.m. on March 1, 2013. The requested relief works as follows:
• Provide no stored water to farmers in Gulf Coast and Lakeside irrigation divisions if the combined storage is below 850,000 acre-feet;
• Provide up to 121,500 acre-feet of stored water for irrigation if the combined storage is between 850,000 acre-feet and 920,000 acre-feet on March 1; or
• Provide stored water in accordance with the current Water Management Plan if the combined storage is at or above 920,000 acre-feet on March 1.
If combined storage on March 1 is at or above 920,000 acre-feet, any stored water that is made available for first crop under the current Water Management Plan and is unused could be available for second crop. If combined storage on March 1 is between 850,000 acre-feet and 920,000 acre-feet, a limited amount of water would be provided for second crop only if storage on July 1 is at or above 950,000 acre-feet.
In November, the Board asked TCEQ to allow LCRA to provide less water to downstream farmers in 2013 than called for in its Water Management Plan. That request was submitted to TCEQ on Nov. 21. But after a historically dry November and extremely low inflows to the lakes in December, Motal asked TCEQ to delay ruling on LCRA’s November request for emergency drought relief until after the Board decides how to proceed at the Jan. 8 meeting.
“The Board said in November that it would consider altering its request for emergency relief if conditions warranted,” Motal said. “Unfortunately, this devastating drought has shown no signs of breaking, so LCRA must continue to make difficult decisions to responsibly manage the water supply during this painful time.”