A new plan that would significantly change how water is managed in the Highland Lakes region of Central Texas was sent to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for review and approval today. The plan was adopted by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) in late February. The TCEQ now has up to a year to look over the plan, but the actual approval may only take a few months.
The new plan would change how water is allocated from Lakes Buchanan and Travis, the two main reservoirs for water in Central Texas (including the city of Austin). Under the changes being proposed, less water would be diverted for agricultural use during dry periods (when certain requirements aren’t met for how much water is in the lakes at a given time), and more water reserved for municipal and commercial use.
It took 18 months for a group representing the various interests that depend on the lake — farmers, municipalities, industry and lake residents and businesses, to name a few — to agree on a plan to present to the LCRA. The board at the LCRA approved that plan on February 22, with ten on the board in favor and five against, with all of the against votes coming from LCRA board members that represent counties downstream of Austin and the Highland Lakes.
“The water of the Highland Lakes is vital to people throughout the basin and there has been tremendous interest in this plan,” LCRA General Manager Becky Motal in statement today. “The plan LCRA has submitted to the state tries to balance the interests throughout the basin and protect customers during severe droughts, like the one we are still experiencing.”
For the first time in history, rice farmers downstream were cut off from water to flood their fields this year because there wasn’t enough water in the Highland Lakes. Under an emergency drought plan adopted by the LCRA last fall, the rice farmers needed 850,000 acre-feet of water in the lakes as of midnight on March 1st, and they ended up about a billion gallons short. Under the new plan, it wouldn’t have even been a close call: they would need to have 1,000,000 acre-feet of water in the lakes by January 1st each year in order to have water diverted.
And under the new plan, there’s also a second “trigger-point” at which rice farmers would be cut off for their second crop of the year on June 1st, which would result in fewer floodings in the future.