The Lower Colorado River Authority's Board of Directors has set as a major goal to implement projects within the next five years to expand its water supply by at least 100,000 acre-feet.
The additional water would supplement the water supply that LCRA draws from lakes Travis and Buchanan, its major water-supply reservoirs, and its other water rights, and would be used to help meet the needs of customers served by LCRA throughout the lower Colorado River basin. (One acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons.)
"This is a major commitment that the LCRA Board and staff have made in a time of terrible drought conditions," said LCRA Board Chair Timothy Timmerman. "It reflects LCRA's commitment to seeking permanent solutions that will ensure that our basin's long-term water needs are met, regardless of rain or drought."
"This is certainly an ambitious goal, but so was LCRA's original goal of creating the chain of Highland Lakes that is the source of our present-day water supply," said LCRA General Manager Becky Motal. "This supply has served us well for many years and will continue to do so, but we clearly need to continue to expand our water resources to deal with growing demand, especially during drought cycles. I am confident LCRA will be able to achieve this goal."
Motal said the most likely sources of additional water would be rain runoff and other river flows that currently flow into the Gulf of Mexico. "We could capture a small portion of these flows and store them for later use, while still keeping water in the river for the environmental health of the Colorado River and the bay and estuary system that depends on freshwater inflows from the river," she said.
LCRA is considering several options for storing the additional water, including building off-channel reservoirs or storing the water in aquifers. "Nothing is off the table," she said. "But we need to explore all aspects of any option, including cost as well as environmental impact."
Last April the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) granted LCRA a permit to capture water from the Colorado River downstream of Austin during high flows.
Currently, lakes Travis and Buchanan are at a combined 37 percent of capacity, the result of severe drought conditions that have reduced inflows into the Highland Lakes to historic lows as well as increased demand for water from LCRA's customers.
LCRA continues to manage its water resources under its state-approved Water Management Plan, as well as emergency measures that were approved by the TCEQ late last year. The plan and emergency measures provide for the possibility of a pro rata water curtailment to LCRA's customers and the cutoff of "interruptible" water supplies for agriculture, possibly as early as this spring, if rains do not replenish the water in the lakes.
"Eventually the rains will return and the drought will end, as it has in previous years," Motal said. "But this drought has pointed out the need for us to add to our water resources, and we will do that."