Water Levels Remain a Concern in Austin: LCRA Update

January 30, 2014by Brian Talley

westrim.lake and amoa laguna gloria from westlake drive sideFor residents along the Highland Lakes, water levels are often a concern. Lake Travis rides the ebbs and flows of droughts and floods, and Lake Austin recently had its constant water level status threatened due to low water levels. Downstream, prolonged drought has threatened agriculture and wildlife. Relief will come, but the question is when – and how to handle it in the meantime.

In comes the Lower Colorado River Authority, which is charged with managing the water supply and environment of the lower Colorado River basin. Here are a couple of their recent actions:

1. In a narrow vote for the action, on December 10, 2013 the LCRA sent a request for emergency drought relief to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. This request, if granted, would cut off water from the Highland Lakes to most farmers, if the combined storage of Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan is less than 1.1 million acre-feet on March 1, 2014.

Notably, 2012 and 2013 triggers were set at only 850,000 feet. The LCRA said the higher trigger of 1.1 million acre-feet was set because, even with water cut off to most farmers for two consecutive years, the lakes have failed to significantly recover. Right now, the lakes are at about 765,000 feet, which is about 38 percent full.

TCEQ is expected to address the issue in early 2014. If this request is approved, it will be the third year in a row for this action – and only the third time in LCRA’s history that water has been cut off in this manner. This threshold also could impact household watering in Austin, triggering a sustained once-a-week policy.

Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan provide water for more than a million Central Texans and are filled only by rain falling on the lakes or on its tributaries. While 2013 saw many heavy rains in central Texas, much of it fell too far east to considerably help the lake levels, although they have seen improvement.

2. The LCRA announced plans to expand the region’s water supply by pursuing the rights to pump groundwater at the Griffith League Scout Ranch, a 5,000-acre site in Bastrop County. The ranch is over the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer. The LCRA also is pursuing other groundwater well opportunities in Texas and working on a new reservoir in Wharton County near the Texas Gulf Coast.