The federal government is still collecting information for the 2010 Census, but preliminary population numbers shows that Central Texas is booming.
Travis County now has more than 1 million people, while Hays and Williamson counties are among the fastest-growing in the country, according to 2009 population estimates recently released by the Census Bureau. Altogether, the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area topped 1.7 million, up from 1.25 million in 2000, while the ten counties that make up the Lower Colorado River Basin have grown 23 percent over the same period of time.
Texas demographers expect the trend to continue far into this century. It’s driven by normal growth and the lure of the Hill Country’s economy and natural splendor.
"If somebody is … living in a place that is really cold and there are no jobs and the cost of living is high, moving to the Texas Hill Country probably looks pretty good," said Lloyd Potter, director of the Texas State Data Center.
As Central Texas grows, so does the need for water, power and other services.
The Lower Colorado River Authority has seen demand for its services balloon over the last ten years and the utility is preparing for more of the same in the coming years.
LCRA’s parks now routinely log more than 1 million visits a year. Its environmental laboratory runs more than 1 million tests a year, and its Community Services department is working on 171 economic development projects to help counties and cities plan for and manage the growth.
LCRA’s peak power demand grew from 2,692 megawatts in 2000 to 3,794 megawatts this January. Peak demand is the amount of power generated when customers have the greatest needs. This generally occurs on steamy summer evenings when people get home from work and turn on their air conditioners and on frigid winter mornings when heaters are cranked up as people begin their day. A megawatt of power can serve approximately 230 homes.
LCRA provides power to 42 cities and electric cooperatives and one former co-op in 55 Central Texas counties, and now is in the process of negotiating new long-term power contracts with its customers whose contracts can end in 2016. Thirty-two have signed extended contracts and the rest are in discussions with LCRA.
Future demands for LCRA’s power will depend on customer needs, said Dan Kuehn, LCRA Executive Manager of Wholesale Power Services. But given all the growth coming to Central Texas, he expects that demand to go only one way.
"My crystal ball said that load will grow," Kuehn said. "The bottom line is that when we make decisions about our resources we make them in collaboration with our customers."
LCRA is in the midst of several projects to prepare for the region’s growing demand for energy. An agreement with the Sandy Creek Energy Associates will provide 200 megawatts of power to LCRA customers when the new coal-fired power plant near Waco is complete. LCRA is also building a new natural gas plant at Winchester Power Park in Fayette County. The new unit will provide 179 megawatts of power and is designed to be used when demand is at its highest.
LCRA in December signed an agreement with E.ON Climate and Renewables North America to purchase 200 MW of wind power from phase two of the Papalote Creek Wind Farm when that facility comes on-line, likely December 2010. This is in addition to the 116 megawatts of clean renewable energy the utility already purchases from wind farms in West Texas.
As population grows, so does pressure on the Colorado River. Demand for this precious resource can fluctuate wildly with weather, but LCRA water planners project that its customers’ demands for firm water will roughly double within the basin in the next two decades and continue to grow from there. Firm water is water that LCRA guarantees will be available in a drought as bad as, but not worse, than the drought of the 1950s, which is considered the drought of record. Cities and industry tend to buy firm water, while farmers tend to buy interruptible water from LCRA.
The utility is finishing up a detailed Water Supply Resource Plan to act as a road map for meeting the region’s needs through the end of this century.
LCRA is working with local communities and state and federal agencies to better identify areas of potential flood risk so that local governments can provide property owners and businesses with up-to-date information on where to safely build to protect lives and property. It’s also discussing with building industry groups how to develop and implement building standards for more water efficient homes.
"LCRA is stepping up to do more on conservation," said Manager of Water Resource Management Karen Bondy. "There’s going to be more growth coming, so the idea is to integrate conservation into new developments."
Anton Caputo is an LCRA senior communications specialist.
The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) is a nonprofit conservation and reclamation district that provides energy, water, and community services to Texans. Created by the Texas Legislature in 1934, LCRA has no taxing authority and operates solely on utility revenues and service fees. LCRA supplies electricity to more than 1.1 million Texans through more than 40 wholesale customers. LCRA also provides many other services in the region. These services include managing floods, protecting the quality of the lower Colorado River and its tributaries, providing parks and recreational facilities, offering economic development assistance, operating water and wastewater utilities, and providing soil, energy, and water conservation programs.