The Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors unanimously approved a contract April 19 with the Garwood, Gulf Coast and Lakeside agricultural divisions for supplementary downstream water needs in 2016.

Downstream customers in the Garwood, Gulf Coast and Lakeside agricultural divisions are interruptible customers of the agency—meaning their water contracts can be interrupted, or stopped, to meet the needs of firm water customers such as municipalities including the city of Austin and Travis County Water Control and Improvement District 17. As supplemental interruptible customers, they can receive water only if there are sufficient levels in the Highland Lakes to provide for LCRA’s firm water customers and the water is not needed for rice or turf grass irrigation. Examples of these types of supplemental agricultural uses include wildlife management, and row crops.

Recent history

On February 17, LCRA approved first crop contracts with its interruptible customers so that downstream rice and turf grass farmers can be provided water for irrigation purposes beginning March 1.

On March 1, the combined storage of lakes Travis and Buchanan was 90 percent full and sufficient—under the new water management plan approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in November—to provide for downstream users’ first crop, or rice and turf grass agriculture.

The interruptible contracts approved April 19 will allow row crop and supplemental farmers to receive water.

All interruptible contracts are slated to end Oct. 15, at the completion of the irrigation season, said John Hofmann, LCRA executive vice president of water.

April weekend rain event

LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson said the agency is trying to dissipate the large quantity of rain that fell this past weekend, prompting Texas Governor Greg Abbott to declare several counties a disaster April 18.

“We are working very diligently with the stakeholders and communities utilizing our public safety resources and trying to anticipate where some of this massive amount of water is going right now,” Wilson said.

The majority of the rainfall that occurred upstream in the Highland Lakes between Saturday night and Sunday morning averaged about 1.5-2 inches throughout most of the watersheds, Hofmann said.

Although LCRA used hydroelectric generators at Inks Lake, Lake LBJ, Lake Marble Falls and Lake Austin to keep the water reservoirs within their normal operating ranges throughout the storm, no water has been released from those lakes since April 18, Hofmann said.

Intense rainfall over Lake Travis on Sunday afternoon—5.8 inches in two hours—caused LCRA to open the flood gate at Tom Miller Dam for about five hours, Hofmann said.

“The [lower Colorado River] basin itself weathered the [rain] event up around the Highland Lakes very, very well,” he said.