On September 17th the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) voted unanimously to approve a new Water Management Plan, which determines the way LCRA protects and releases water supplies from the two Highland Lakes in Central Texas. After gathering feedback from stakeholders from multiple locations along the Colorado River this past month, revisions to the plan for managing the water stored in Lakes Travis and Buchanan are currently undergoing finalization by the LCRA board.
This decision changes the way water is managed in the Highland Lakes, especially in drought conditions such as the one Central Texas has been experiencing for the past few years. The new plan redefines the parameters set in 2012 for drought conditions. Previously, recovery from drought was recognized when the lake levels had reached 45% capacity; now, this has been upped to two thirds full. This change will allow the lakes to recharge more completely after extreme conditions, and will help prevent lake levels from dropping to extreme lows in the future.
The LCRA board initially postponed making a decision on the new plan last month to allow more time to gather input from stakeholders, especially the agricultural users in the Lower Colorado River Basin who rely on upstream water for their crops. Under the new plan their water use will be more limited. However, with the proposal to build a new downstream reservoir to store additional water for lower basin users, and after the process of gathering feedback and making slight changes to the plan over the past month, the new plan has garnered widespread stakeholder support.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, the new plan’s biggest winners are the authority’s 135 firm customers – local businesses and municipalities (such as the City of Austin) that pay to guarantee water rights during a drought. The new plan requires Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan’s combined water levels to be at least 64% full during droughts before the authority begins selling to customers that do not pay the annual fees, such as the downstream farmers.
Once the LCRA has finalized the plan, they will send it to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for final approval and implementation. This is a huge step in preserving Central Texas’ water resources, both immediately and in the future. Though it will take time for the lakes to refill, the new plan helps to ensure that our lakes will be full and beautiful again, and will remain that way for years to come.