LCRA to Vote on Water Release
Today the Lower Colorado River Authority may make a crucial vote that could determine whether water will be released for downstream agriculture next year. If the LCRA releases the water, it could put a serious dent in Central Texas’ already diminished water supply.
The question before the LCRA board is whether to seek emergency drought relief from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. That would make it easier for the LCRA to withhold water from downstream rice farmers, whose water-intensive crops take a big gulp out of the overall storage in the Highland Lakes. Central Texas communities want to see that water stay in the lakes for people to drink in case drought returns to the region.
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell points out that farming interests pay much less for water than his city.
“Most of the agricultural users do not have firm contracts,” Leffingwell said. “They’re what are called interruptible contracts. And I think its entirely appropriate that those with interruptible contracts be curtailed before the city does.”
But even if the LCRA adopts a new emergency relief plan, it may not be enough to save lakes from dropping to historically low levels. The plan still allows for close to 150 thousand acre feet of water to be released downstream if the lakes are around 38 percent full on Jan. 1. That could bring the lakes down to around 30 percent full, something that would trigger a declaration of worse-than-drought-of-record conditions on the lakes and reduce water available to municipal and agricultural users alike.