LCRA: Drought conditions still exist

LCRA: Drought conditions still exist Lake Travis storage levels remain low despite late January rainfall. The Highland Lakes could soon benefit from a downstream reservoir that would help satisfy lower basin needs.[/caption]

The city of Austin received above-average rainfall in 2014, yet much of that water failed to stream into the Highland Lakes, the areas primary water supply.

Last year marked the second-lowest year for inflows—new water flowing into the reservoirs—since lakes Travis and Buchanan were created in 1942, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority, the agency tasked with managing the areas water supply. Combined storage in the two lakes is around 700,000 acre-feet as of Jan. 23, rising slightly thanks to some late January rainfall.

LCRA is still hopeful an El Nino storm pattern will form by spring to help produce more rainfall, said John Hofmann, executive vice president of water. But for the fourth consecutive year, LCRA is seeking emergency drought relief from the state, essentially cutting off downstream agricultural users from Highland Lakes water to help the reservoirs replenish.

That request seeks the same drought relief approved last year by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state agency that has final say on such issues. TCEQ may take up the request during its February meeting, according to spokeswoman Andrea Morrow. TCEQ also hosted a public meeting in early January to discuss LCRAs proposed long-term water management plan, first submitted in 2012 and resubmitted in 2014 based on input from the state agency. The WMP is still under technical review, Morrow said.

"Once that is completed, there will be another public meeting and then an opportunity to submit comments," Morrow said. "Then after the response to comments, the full commission will determine whether to send [the plan] to the State Office of Administrative Hearings," or SOAH, which handles contested hearings. Once any recommendation from SOAH is made, TCEQ commissioners will potentially take action on the proposed long-term plan, which dictates how Highland Lakes water is distributed throughout the lower Colorado River basin.

In the meantime LCRA plans to break ground in late January or February on a new 90,000 acre-foot refillable reservoir in Wharton County near Matagorda Bay. That area typically receives twice the rainfall as Central Texas, Hofmann said, and the reservoir can be used to meet water demands in the lower basin that typically we're satisfied using water from the Highland Lakes.

"So instead of having to make a release from Lake Travis, we'll have the ability to make a [water] release from a reservoir literally one county up," Hofmann said.

Every acre-foot of water released from the new reservoir, which should be ready by 2017, represents water that does not need to be removed from the Austin areapotentially helping to keep as much as 90,000 acre-feet of water in Central Texas each year.

"In a sense, were putting water back in savings," Hofmann said.
By 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.