Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Straw-Suckin’ Highland Lake Residents Permit Up

Image by NASA

The shorelines of Buchanan Lake recede during a record year of drought

If you’ve spent much time on the Highland Lakes in Central Texas (Buchanan, Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls, Travis and Austin) you’ve likely seen pipes running from residences down into the lakes. Some of those homes now sit over a hundred feet above the lake, thanks to drastically low lake levels over the last year. (Even after heavy rains this week, Lakes Buchanan and Travis are still less than half full.)

In February, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), which manages the lakes, warned residents to stop sucking water out without a permit, which is against state law. At the time, an estimated 5,000 residents were doing so, 2,000 of them without a permit. (That number was even lower in 2009, when fewer than 60 had a permit.)

Now the LCRA says that an additional 1,200 people have signed up and contracted to draw water from the lake, bringing the total number of contracts to nearly 3,200. That leaves an estimated 1,800 people that still need to permit up, but the LCRA is happy with their progress.

“The response has been tremendous,” LCRA General Manager Becky Motal said in a news release. “The Highland Lakes are vital to the entire region, and it’s only fair that everyone pay for the water they use. We’re very impressed by the number of people who have decided to do the right thing.”

The cost of the contract is relatively low. Residents pay $151 a year for an acre-foot of water, which equals almost 326,000 gallons. (The average Austin household uses about 100,000 gallons of water a year.) The fine for drawing water without a permit can go as high as $875.


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