The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Feb. 13 approved LCRA’s request for emergency drought relief that would withhold Highland Lakes water from most farmers in 2013 if water supply conditions don’t improve by March 1. LCRA’s Board of Directors, noting the record-breaking drought conditions gripping the region, voted unanimously to request the relief on Jan. 8.
The drought relief is similar to the relief TCEQ granted in 2011 that led to most downstream farmers going without Highland Lakes water in 2012. If approved, the new drought relief would cut off Highland Lakes water to most farmers unless the combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis is at or above 850,000 acre-feet at 11:59 p.m. on March 1, 2013. The requested relief works as follows:
- Provide no stored water to farmers in Gulf Coast and Lakeside irrigation divisions if the combined storage is below 850,000 acre-feet;
- Provide up to 121,500 acre-feet of stored water for irrigation if the combined storage is between 850,000 acre-feet and 920,000 acre-feet on March 1; or
- Provide stored water in accordance with the current Water Management Plan if the combined storage is at or above 920,000 acre-feet on March 1.
If combined storage on March 1 is at or above 920,000 acre-feet, any stored water that is made available for first crop under the current Water Management Plan and is unused could be available for second crop. If combined storage on March 1 is between 850,000 acre-feet and 920,000 acre-feet, a limited amount of water would be provided for second crop only if storage on July 1 is at or above 950,000 acre-feet.
In November, the Board asked TCEQ to allow LCRA to provide less water to downstream farmers in 2013 than called for in its Water Management Plan. That request was submitted to TCEQ on Nov. 21. But after a historically dry November and extremely low inflows to the lakes in December, Motal asked TCEQ to delay ruling on LCRA’s November request for emergency drought relief until after the special LCRA Board meeting on Jan. 8.
On Dec. 10, 2012, LCRA sent a second request to TCEQ asking it to renew temporary amendments to LCRA's downstream water rights authorizing municipal and industrial customers to use water from the river when it is not being used by agriculture. This could reduce the amount of water downstream customers need from the Highland Lakes.
If the state approves LCRA’s request, 2013 would be the second year in a row that LCRA instituted emergency drought relief.
In 2011, LCRA submitted two applications to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and received permission to significantly cut back water to farmers and to take other drought relief measures in 2012. As a result, most downstream farmers did not receive Highland Lakes water in 2012. You can read more about the Board's decision here.