Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

The LCRA’s New Year’s Resolution: Gain 272 Billion Pounds (of Water)

Photo by LCRA

The extreme drought has lowered levels in Lake Travis, exposing formations not seen for some time.

The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), the state entity that handles water for Central Texas, has announced their New Year’s resolution for 2012. And instead of losing weight, they want to gain some: A whopping 272 billion pounds (of water).

In a news release today, the LCRA says that it’s set a major goal of increasing its water supply by at least 100,000 acre-feet (equal to 32.5 billion gallons), the equivalent of roughly one-eleventh of the water in Lake Travis when it’s full. That’s enough water for some 400,000 to 500,000 people a year.

The two lakes that provide much of Central Texas with water, Travis and Buchanan, are currently at a combined 37 percent of their full capacity in the midst of a record single-year drought. The LCRA says that inflows into the lakes are at “historic lows” while water demand is at an all-time high. (Only half a percent of Texas is currently drought-free.)

So where will this new water come from, you ask?

Photo by LCRA

LCRA General Manager Becky Motal

The LCRA is counting on “rain runoff and other river flows that currently flow into the Gulf of Mexico.” The agency’s General Manager Becky Motal says in the release that the LCRA “could capture a small portion of these flows and store them for later use, while still keeping water in the river for the environmental health of the Colorado River and the bay and estuary system that depends on freshwater inflows from the river.”

In a phone call with StateImpact Texas, LCRA spokesperson Clara Tuma pointed out that no sites have been chosen for the water collection but that “a goal has been set – how to get there is what we’re figuring out.” The LCRA says that the area where the water would be collected is below the Highland lakes in the lower Colorado River basin. Essentially, when it rains, the LCRA wants to grab as much of that water as they can.

Once the water is collected, there’s another decision facing the agency: where to store it. The water could be put in aquifers of reservoirs. “Nothing is off the table,” LCRA General Manager Becky Motal said in the release. “But we need to explore all aspects of any option, including cost as well as environmental impact.”

The LCRA was given approval by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in April to “capture water from the Colorado River downstream of Austin during high flows.”

“Eventually the rains will return and the drought will end, as it has in previous years,” Motal said. “But this drought has pointed out the need for us to add to our water resources, and we will do that.”

Today Motal published an op-ed about how the LCRA has handled the drought and is preparing for the future. You can read it in the Austin American-Statesman.


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