Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

The lakes that supply Austin with water - Travis and Buchanan - have risen dramatically over the past few days, but city of Austin officials are not ready to lift water restrictions just yet.

Before this most recent round of rains, the lakes were 39 percent full, combined. Now, they're 55 percent full

The Lower Colorado River Authority's vice president for water, John Hoffman, says they're happy the reservoirs are rising, but they still see it as a glass half empty. 

Courtesy of LCRA

Water from the Highland Lakes is important to everyone in Central Texas — from urban Austinites to rural rice farmers downstream. Wednesday, the board of the Lower Colorado River Authority was set to vote on a much-delayed plan to manage that water, but the authority's board postponed that vote to gather more public input. 

The proposed plan, which would ensure that more water stays in the lakes in times of drought, is widely supported by upstream stakeholders, namely the City of Austin.  But it’s unpopular downstream with agricultural interests that would likely see themselves cut off from water more often. The plan must ultimately be approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality


From StateImpact Texas: 

In 2012, some farming districts on the Lower Colorado River were cut off from water for irrigation for the first time. Reservoirs were too low to flood tens of thousands of rice fields. Some asked, “Why would anyone be farming rice in Texas in the first place?”

The answer is long, and it begins with the fact that parts of Texas haven’t always been dry. For farmers like Ronald Gertson, who remembers driving a tractor through rice fields as a child, recent years have been hard to bear.

“It’s just unbelievable that it’s been so bad that we have had three unprecedented years in a row, and I recognize some experts say we could have a couple of decades like this. I hope and pray that’s not the case,” says Gertson, a rice farmer, chair of numerous water-related committees and, in recent years, unofficial spokesman for the Texas Rice Belt. “If that is the case then yeah, this whole prairie is going to change.”

But it has already changed.

KUT News

Today, the group tasked with figuring out how to wean Austin off carbon dioxide-emitting coal power is scheduled to vote on its recommendations, and some members of that group think they  have found a new approach to the biggest road block between Austin and a coal-free future: the Fayette Coal Plant.

Austin Energy owns the plant along with the Lower Colorado River Authority, and gets about 20 percent of its electricity from it. While selling off the plant or retiring it completely has been a long held dream of city officials and environmentalists, city staff has warned that it could be prohibitively expensive and legally tricky. Previous plans to sell off that stake, or shut down the plant have also been opposed by the LCRA.

I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

Editor's note: This report comes from KUT's reporting partner, the Austin Monitor

The Lower Colorado River Authority’s new general manager Phil Wilson received a hefty pay increase when he moved from the hot seat at the Texas Department of Transportation to another hot seat at the state-created water and power authority two months ago. And his pay increase could get even heftier.

Wilson’s annual base salary has been set at $425,000, according to LCRA spokeswoman Clara Tuma in an email response to questions from the Austin Monitor. In addition, Wilson could receive a bonus of up to 25 percent of his salary, Tuma indicated.  Wilson’s salary and any bonus are determined by LCRA’s 15 member board of directors, which hired him late last year. He took over the job on Feb. 3.

Environmentalists are giving cautious approval to a plan by the Lower Colorado River Authority to raise municipal water rates by 19.5 percent next year.

The increase would not affect Austin Water customers, because the city-owned utility has a separate deal with the LCRA. But it would affect people in other Central Texas cities such as Dripping Springs, Cedar Park and Leander. 

“Water in Texas is very cheap and by and large," says Ken Kramer with the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, "price increases will, in the long term, at least have a positive impact in making us more efficient in the use of that valuable resource.”

But some Central Texas mayors are not enthusiastic about their constituents paying more for water, especially in some of the faster-growing Austin suburbs like Leander. That city partnered with Round Rock and Cedar Park to develop a $350 million regional water system that could accommodate their growing populations. 

Photo by KUT News

This is an excerpt from an article written by our Austin City Hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor (formerly In Fact Daily).

The City of Austin faces formidable legal hurdles and, potentially, significant costs if the City Council decides to sell or shut down the city’s share of the coal-fired Fayette Power Project, according to a new city Law Department memo.

Half of Texas is experiencing drought conditions, and for the third year in a row, rice farmers in Central Texas may be cut off from water supplies because of severe drought.

The Lower Colorado River Authority has asked the state to approve emergency plans to cut water to farmers in 2014 if reservoir lakes are at less than 55 percent capacity. The lakes are currently 36 percent full.

Homes and businesses would also face water restrictions.

Lower Colorado River Authority

Parts of Central Texas saw as much as 12 inches of rain over the weekend. Water levels in the Highland Lakes  rose slightly, but the storm was far from a drought-buster.

Lakes Travis and Buchanan remain only about one-third full. 

Lower Colorado River Authority

Lake Travis could drop to a  50-year low this weekend, possibly falling below 626.1 feet. 

“When that does occur, that would be the third lowest level ever on record for Lake Travis, and the lowest since November of 1963," Meteorologist Victor Murphy with the National Weather Service said. "It tells us the drought is persistent and ongoing."

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT News

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is taking more time to review the Lower Colorado River Authority’s water management plan. The additional evaluation could take about a year.

The water management plan directs how the LCRA uses lakes Travis and Buchanan to meet the needs of water users. The state wants to meet with stakeholders and collect more data before approving the new plan.

Flickr, Ronnie Pitman

The Lower Colorado River Authority is reminding people who live along the Highland Lakes that you need a contract to pump water from the lakes.

The reminder comes at a time when Central Texans are starting to think about lawn care.

The LCRA wants to keep track of the water removed from the lakes and help educate people about responsible water use. 

Reshma Kirpalani/KUT News

Two days of storms that delivered about 3 inches of rain to Austin did little for the levels of the lakes that serve as Austin’s water supply. Lake Travis rose by less than a foot; Lake Buchanan was up slightly more than 2 inches.

Dan Yates with the Lower Colorado River Authority says it provided a very small bump. 

“We need a good season of rainstorms like this that we saw yesterday and the day before... that would get us out of the trouble,” Yates said.


The agency that manages the Highland Lakes, which serves as Austin’s primary source of drinking water, would not be allowed to send water downstream to rice farmers if the lakes are less than 42 percent full, under a bi-partisan proposal in the state legislature.

The bill was filed by State Senators Kirk Watson (D-Austin) and Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay). Watson says the Lower Colorado River Authority needs to prioritize so-called “firm” customers, such as cities and power plants, over “interruptible” customers such as rice farmers, who pay a fraction of the price for water.

Update: Travis County Parks reversed its decision to change boating rules at Hippie Hollow on Lake Travis at a public meeting last night.

In fact, after about a week of tension between Travis County Parks and people who frequent Hippie Hollow, the meeting ended with laughter and applause.

“This is a great example of a grass roots movement. Where people are trying to reach out the administrators who work in their government and the guys come to the table and listen to what the folks have to say,” Friends of the Hollow member Randall Huntsinger said.

LCRA Proposes Relief for Rice Farmers

Jan 16, 2013
Jeff Heimsath/StateImpact Texas

The Lower Colorado River Authority approved a plan this week that could ease the strain on the Highland Lakes in the future. For StateImpact Texas, David Barer explains plans to build a new reservoir for downstream rice farmers.

It’s a decision that should have very positive impacts for the basin from top to bottom. So, looking forward for the board and staff moving forward in that.

Good morning, and congratulations on reaching another Friday. It’s a cold and wet one out there, so drive carefully.

The weather outside is frightful: The National Weather Service says most precipitation will be cold rain, albeit with some light sleet will briefly mixed in. That rain won’t be helping out much with the drought either: accumulation is expected to be below an inch, with a dry and warmer weekend forecast.


Recent rainfall is helping to fill the Highland Lakes—at least a little bit.

Parts of Central Texas received more than two inches of rain on Sunday. Combined with rainfall from earlier last week, rainfall totals for some areas topped nine inches.

The Lower Colorado River Authority says the water level of Lake Travis is up a little over a foot. Lake Buchanan only saw a gain of a few hundredths of an inch.

"The location of the rain makes all the difference and, in this case, the vast majority of the rain fell over the Highland Lakes basin," LCRA river operations center supervisor Dan Yates says.

Securing More Water for Central Texas

The Lower Colorado River Authority is taking action on three projects that the Board of Directors say will increase its water supply and reduce demand for water from the Highland Lakes.

The LCRA has put money down to hold land near the Colorado River while it explores the option of building two water reservoirs there. The LCRA says water could be diverted to the reservoirs in times of heavy rain or floods and then be made available for customer use.

The LCRA is also putting together a purchase agreement to buy the Alcoa aluminum property northeast of Austin that would give it rights to a groundwater aquifer *as well as surface water.

Watch What You Eat

A Minnesota company is recalling more than 15,000 pounds of ready-to-eat meat and poultry products – some of which was sent to a distribution center in Texas.

The meat products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

The recall affects:

  • 5.6 oz. packages of "Armour Active Packs Turkey & Cheese Wrap" Package Code 1026090112 or Case Code 27815-17994
  • 5.6 oz. packages of "Armour Active Packs Ham & Cheese Wrap" Package Code 1026090112 or Case Code 27815-17995