Low lake levels could shut down three-city water system as soon as July 22

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Despite extensive rainfall in Central Texas on July 15, a three-city water system created by Cedar Park, Leander and Round Rock is likely to go dry sometime later in the month.

The rain may have delayed the dismantling of a temporary water intake barge in Lake Travis, where the Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority obtains water, but lake levels are still expected to drop too low to safely continue operating, BCRUA General Manager Tom Gallier said.

“This is becoming the new normal, and we simply have to deal with it,” he said.

But plans to create a deeper, more permanent intake pipe will proceed July 17 when all three city councils convene for a public hearing to obtain land in Sandy Creek Park, which is located near Volente along Lake Travis. The land would be used to build a permanent pumping station, although the completion of the $180 million Phase II project is at least five to 10 years away, Gallier said.

Public comment will be accepted during the hearing, which will be led by the BCRUA board—a compilation of council members from all three cities. If the board approves a resolution supporting the project plans, all three city councils will then need to hold a second round of public hearings before approving ordinances that also support the project.

The Lower Colorado River Authority, the park’s landowner and the state-approved manager of Lake Travis water, and the Travis County Parks Department would then each have to hold their own public hearings before an official land purchase agreement could be made, Gallier said.

In the meantime, the BCRUA board will separately vote July 17 on a $100,000 agreement to dismantle the water authority’s temporary water intake barge. That process, if approved, was scheduled to begin July 22—although recent rainfall could allow more time until such removal is necessary, Gallier said.

Removing the temporary water intake barge would immediately stop any more Lake Travis water from traveling to the BCRUA plant in Cedar Park. That plant would effectively end water operations up to 24 hours later, he said. The barge dismantling process will take two to three weeks, Gallier said, enough time before lake levels drop too low to safely relocate the intake system.

In 2012, the BCRUA plant stopped intaking water in October, Gallier said, so it is not unusual for the plant to stop operations. Nonetheless, this would be the first time the water authority is forced to dismantle the temporary barge, which would cost at least $80,000 to reinstall once Lake Travis water levels increase, he said.

Until then, Cedar Park and Leander will rely on their own city-owned water treatment plants to serve their water customers.

“The way it’s structured now is they’re taking the bulk of the load, and we just come in during peak demand [periods],” Gallier said. “Can they handle it this year without this plant being online in August and September? Their side says yes; it will be tight, but they will make it.”

Round Rock currently does not take any water from the BCRUA plant and will not until at least 2014, Gallier said.

The 7 p.m. July 17 meeting on the Phase II pump station project will take place at the Cedar Park Recreation Center, 1435 Main St.

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Joe Lanane

Joe Lanane’s career is rooted in community journalism, having worked for a variety of Midwest-area publications before landing south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2011 as the Stillwater News-Press news editor. He arrived at Community Impact Newspaper in 2012, gaining experience as editor of the company’s second-oldest publication in Leander/Cedar Park. He eventually became Central Austin editor, covering City Hall and the urban core of the city. Lanane leveraged that experience to become Austin managing editor in 2016. He managed eight Central Texas editions from Georgetown to San Marcos. Working from company headquarters, Lanane also became heavily involved in enacting corporate-wide editorial improvements. In 2017, Lanane was promoted to executive editor, overseeing editorial operations throughout the company. The Illinois native received his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and his journalism master’s degree from Ball State University.

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