(Update: We have learned how much water was sold from Spicewood Beach. Read our new reporting here.)
When news first broke last week that the community of Spicewood Beach, about 40 miles outside of Austin, was going to run out of water within days, the blame was placed squarely on the drought by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). They’re the ones that own and manage the water system, as well as much of the water in Central Texas. “It is all a function of the drought,” LCRA spokesperson Clara Tuma told StateImpact Texas at the time.
But there may be another culprit: Spicewood Beach’s water was for sale, as we reported earlier in the week. Today the LCRA confirmed to StateImpact Texas what residents told us earlier: that over the last year and all the way up until a few weeks ago, water was being sold from the Spicewood Beach water system to contractors and trucked out of the community.
So before water had to be trucked in, it was being trucked out.
The LCRA says that it had authorized two water haulers to purchase and truck out the water. On January 4th, the day the system was moved to Stage 3 water restrictions, they were notified by the LCRA that they could no longer truck water out of Spicewood Beach. “Since then the water levels have fallen substantially,” LCRA’s Tuma says.
The LCRA says they are looking into what companies were trucking out the water and how much was taken out of the system. The water was used for construction projects and to fill private wells that had gone dry, the LCRA says.
The wells in Spicewood Beach, a community of some 1,100 people, began to fail earlier in the week. Late Monday afternoon, a tanker truck pulled up to a water storage tank in Spicewood Beach and started pumping out 4,000 gallons of water that came from a fire hydrant some ten miles away.
Today the Austin American-Statesman reports that Senator Troy Fraser, a Republican that represents the district of Horseshoe Bay, where Spicewood Beach is located, has delivered “a letter to the LCRA that asks about assertions made by several Spicewood area residents.”
Here are some of the questions in Fraser’s letter, via the Statesman:
How does LCRA monitor water usage and well levels in order to know how much water is available? When did LCRA implement each state of drought restrictions? How were water users notified?
Does or did the LCRA have contracts with water haulers to pump water out of this system for use outside of the service territory?
Are the water rates currently being paid by customers in Spicewood Beach comparable to other water rates in the area? Will Spicewood Beach customers pay additional water rates for the water being trucked into their community?
Read our earlier report on Spicewood Beach running dry here.