Winter’s low temperatures and dormant yards may lull many people in the Colorado River basin into believing that the devastating drought that has gripped our region in recent years has eased. But those who live along lakes Travis or Buchanan -- or who rely on the river to make a living – know that the drought remains in full force.
The total combined storage of those two lakes, the region’s primary water supply reservoirs, hovers just above one-third full.
The LCRA Board is aggressively managing the river through this drought. Among the most noteworthy actions were the decisions to cut off water to most farmers the last two years. If significant rains don’t come by March 1, and if the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approves our request for emergency relief, most farmers will be cut off again this year.
While the agricultural curtailment and other actions are not without controversy, one thing most people up and down the basin agree on is the need to find new, diversified water supplies for the region.
In January 2012, our Board set a goal of adding 100,000 acre-feet of firm water to the region’s water supply by 2017. It’s ambitious to think we could find that much water that quickly, but we’re almost there.
• We have started engineering and permitting work on a new reservoir in Wharton County that could add as much as 90,000 acre-feet a year. This historic project is the first new reservoir in the region in decades. It should be completed by 2017.
• We are drilling five wells on LCRA property at the Lost Pines Power Park in Bastrop County. Those wells could produce as much as 10,000 acre-feet in drought years. Two of the wells are pumping now, and the rest are scheduled to be working by this summer.
· Last month, our Board voted to secure the exclusive rights to develop groundwater from a 5,000-acre site in Bastrop County that is home to the Griffith League Scout Ranch. This strategic acquisition will allow LCRA to seek permits and add this supply to our portfolio when it makes the most sense for LCRA. .
Securing new water supplies will help us meet demands throughout the basin, while decreasing the pressure on the Highland Lakes, the water supply for more than 1 million Texans.
Finding new water costs money. LCRA is a nonprofit agency created by the state Legislature. We don’t get tax money. For us to pay for this new and critically needed infrastructure, we will be considering a plan to raise our water rates for all of our customers over the next few months.
We began discussing increasing water rates at an LCRA Board meeting, Jan. 14, in Austin. This is the start of a months-long public process during which we will be talking about water rates and our rate structure a lot. We hope all of our customers will give us feedback.
It’s too early to know exactly what the new rates will be. We won’t know that until we thoroughly study the issue and hear from our customers and the public. We can’t speak to how each of our customers will deal with the change, but all things being equal, early projections call for LCRA to raise rates for our customers to a level that should only cost an average household $3 to $5 a month more for 12,000 gallons of water. Rates for downstream farmers also will be increased.
We strongly believe the efforts we are making to increase the region’s water supply will make a very big difference in the lower Colorado River basin during this drought and well into the future.
If you would like more information on the proposal being considered, I invite you to attend our LCRA Board meetings or go to LCRA.org. We will post updated information there as we work our way through this rate process.
Please send your comments to email@example.com. I and other members of the Board would like to hear from you.