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The LCRA operates the six dams on the Colorado River that form the scenic Highland Lakes of Central Texas. Photo by Reshma Kirpalani for KUT News and Reporting Texas

What Is The Lower Colorado River Authority?

Background

The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) is a conservation and reclamation district formed by the Texas Legislature in 1934. It plays a variety of roles in Central Texas including, delivering electricity, managing the water supply and environment of the lower Colorado River basin, developing water and wastewater utilities, providing public recreation areas and supporting community and economic development.  It has no taxing authority and operates solely on utility revenues and fees generated from supplying energy, water and community services.

The LCRA has been the primary wholesale provider of electricity in Central Texas since 1937. It supplies wholesale power to 42 city-owned utilities and electric cooperatives and one former co-op, serving over a million people in all. The LCRA also generates power from coal, natural gas and wind.  It has operated the Fayette Power Project, a three-unit coal-fired power plant near La Grange, since 1979.

The LCRA operates the six dams on the Colorado River that form the Highland Lakes of Central Texas. These are lakes Buchanan, Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls, Travis and Austin. The LCRA is responsible for discharging water to manage floods, managing invasive underwater plants and regulating drought management.

Drought management has become an especially controversial issue for the LCRA during the 2011 drought, the worst one year drought in Texas history. Big businesses and those with individual interests have disagreed over how to use limited water resources. Currently, the LCRA is trying to balance the interests of rice farmers with demands from the White Stallion Energy Center, a coal plant in Matagorda County in southeast Texas.

In 2010, the San Antonio Water System took LCRA to court for purportedly violating a contract established in 1998. The LCRA was contracted to pipe water to San Antonio for 80 years in exchange for funding for downstream rice fields and dams. The suit came after LCRA said it didn’t have enough water in its basin to protect its rate payers and share water with San Antonio. A judge threw out the case, saying suits between governmental agencies are limited. San Antonio has since appealed the ruling.

In 2011, LCRA General Manager Tom Mason resigned from his post. Rumors circulated that he was pushed out for having too much of an environmentalist agenda when others wanted a more pro-business leader. The Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter director, Ken Kramer, levied charges that Governor Rick Perry wanted his own appointee in the position. The LCRA maintained that the decision was untainted by politics.

Latest Posts

LCRA Raises Water Rates For Some Customers

As summer sets in and drought drags on, the growing burden of a strained water supply is weighing on Texans in the Lower Colorado River Basin. The board of directors for the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), the quasi-state organization that controls water from that basin, voted unanimously on Wednesday to raise water prices for some customers [...]

As Highland Lakes Near Record Low, Will They Ever Fill Again?

The combined storage of the Highland Lakes is expected to approach its record low – 30 percent full – by the end of this summer. After that, forecasters say, the El Niño weather pattern could bring some relief. But how much rain would it take to get them full again? The total volume of water in the [...]

Months Behind Schedule, New Water Well Finally Arriving For Spicewood Beach

  Behind the counter of a general store just off Highway 71, Kim Clifton, the cashier, shrugs her shoulders and shakes her head when asked about the lingering drought. “We just need more rain,” she says. She rolls her head back to let out an exasperated laugh, “Bring the rain! Bring it!” It’s something you [...]

Where Will Austin Go For Water Next?

The Highland Lakes, the main reservoirs for over a million people in and around Austin, are only a third full. They could reach their lowest levels in history this summer. As the shores of those lakes receded during the Texas drought, businesses dried up and water quality declined. If you take a trip out to [...]

TCEQ rejects LCRA Water Plan, Suggests Fewer Downsteam Releases

Citing the current drought, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) rejected the Lower Colorado River Authority’s (LCRA) most recent amendment to its water plan. TCEQ’s decision, announced in a letter from Executive Director Richard Hyde to the LCRA on Friday, comes as the latest unprecedented move in the agency’s attempts to combat persisting drought conditions. At [...]

Citing ‘Mismanagement,’ Lawmaker Threatens Massive Overhaul of LCRA

It’s almost strange to refer to the Highland Lakes of Central Texas as “lakes.” They’re sitting at just over a third full, and Lake Travis looks more like a river with plenty of bare, scraggly shoreline. The lake system is the crucial water supply for the million-plus people in and around Austin, and they could [...]

TCEQ Goes Against Recommended Ruling, But Still Cuts Off Rice Farmers

For the third year in a row, most Texas rice farmers along the Lower Colorado River will not have water for their crops due to the ongoing drought. Today, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) approved the Lower Colorado River Authority’s request for an emergency cutoff, but went against a recommended ruling by administrative law judges [...]

Near-Catastrophe During Flooding Highlights Issues at Dam in Austin

A lot of people who walk or drive past Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin probably assume it’s a natural feature. They appreciate the trails and parks that line the lake’s 416 acres, unaware of the series of floodgates on the Longhorn Dam that hold its waters in. But recent flooding along the waterway has [...]

Why It Takes a Lot of Snow To Equal a Small Amount of Rain

Texas is seeing its first real winter storm this weekend, and already parts of the Panhandle are seeing trace amounts of snow. Snow is welcome precipitation for a part of the state that is still struggling with extreme drought. But it takes a lot of snow to have the same effect as just a small [...]

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