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LCRA’s recent history

An era of changes and challenges

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The 1970s and 1980s posed formidable challenges to LCRA.

During the energy crisis of the 1970s, the cost of natural gas — the fuel source for many of the power plants owned by Texas electric utilities — spiraled upward. Prices continued to climb throughout the decade, sharply driving up the cost of electricity.

LCRA and its customers were hit hard by the rising prices, because more than 80 percent of LCRA's generating capacity was fueled by natural gas. At the same time gas prices were rising, LCRA needed to add capacity to meet a continually increasing demand for electricity. LCRA's solution was to build power plants fueled by coal, which at the time was more economical and reliable than gas.

In 1975, LCRA began construction of the Fayette Power Project in Fayette County. By 1988, it had built three coal-fired units at that site, which generated enough electricity to meet most of LCRA customers' needs. (The city of Austin co-owns Units 1 and 2; LCRA owns Unit 3.) LCRA's other power plants provided the remaining power.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the sleepy city of Austin emerged onto the national scene as one of the most desirable places to live. National media took note, and the attention ushered in an unprecedented boom for the region, transforming Austin into a major metropolitan center by the mid-1980s.

The population boom had devastating effects on the water quality of the Colorado River, as poor construction practices and runoff washed dirt, debris and chemicals from yards, streets and rural lands into the river, threatening the pristine quality of the Highland Lakes. Downstream, poorly treated sewage from Austin's overwhelmed wastewater treatment plants turned the river into a mass of greenish slime.

Residents and public officials pressured LCRA to do something. Although LCRA had come to regard itself as primarily an electric utility, it reclaimed its charter responsibilities for taking care of the river.

As the City of Austin upgraded and expanded its treatment system, LCRA worked with Austin to set new treatment standards to remove most of the pollution from effluent. LCRA also established nonpoint-source pollution ordinances designed to lessen the pollution and erosion that storms were washing into the Highland Lakes. By 1993, LCRA could declare that the Colorado River between Austin and Bastrop, which had suffered serious pollution problems, was once again safe for public recreation.

Responding to change
In recent years, LCRA has responded to the needs of Texans by providing energy, water and community services.

Electricity continues to be LCRA's primary revenue source. LCRA serves cities and electric cooperatives that, in turn, serve one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.

In 1995, LCRA pioneered the commercial development of wind-generated electricity, purchasing power from West Texas wind plants.

In 1999, the Texas Legislature authorized LCRA to expand its transmission services outside its traditional service area. LCRA has teamed with other utilities to provide much-needed transmission services in South and West Texas to improve the flow of electricity throughout the state.

The 1990s saw LCRA expand into operating retail water and wastewater utilities. In the ensuing years, LCRA owned and operated as many as three dozen such utilities to help basin communities bring aging and overburdened utilities into compliance with state and federal clean-water standards. In November 2010, the LCRA Board voted to sell the utilities to enable LCRA to focus on its core responsibilities of providing public power and transmission services, managing the river, promoting conservation and planning to meet the basin's future water needs. LCRA over the next few years sold almost all of the utilities.

LCRA has responded to growing demand on the basin's limited water supplies. A Water Management Plan, developed by LCRA in consultation with key stakeholders and approved by the state, determines how LCRA operates the Highland Lakes and the lower Colorado River. By the late 1990s, LCRA had purchased additional irrigation operations in Colorado and Wharton counties, acquiring the last large blocks of privately held water rights on the Colorado River to ensure their beneficial use for the basin.

LCRA successfully managed major floods in 1991, 1997, 2002 and 2007. In recent years, LCRA has been managing its reservoirs in the face of severe drought conditions and working to update its state-approved Water Management Plan.

To provide public access to the lakes and river, LCRA greatly expanded its network of parks. LCRA has more than 40 parks, natural science centers and access points throughout the basin. LCRA's commitment to environmental leadership not only includes protecting the river's water quality but also setting high environmental standards in the way it operates its plants, dams and other facilities.

The people who created LCRA envisioned an organization that would not only provide water supplies, flood management and electricity, but also would enrich the basin through environmental and community services. LCRA works to carry out that vision, ensuring the lower Colorado River continues to be a treasured asset for the people of Texas.

More information

Review 10 quick facts about LCRA's history.

Read more about LCRA's creation and early years.

Watch a video and view a timeline featuring milestones in LCRA history.

For more information on historical LCRA photographs, documents and other materials, email Corporate Archives or call 512–473–3296.

Timeline

1970s

August 1974 — The original natural gas-fired Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant begins operation at Lake LBJ in Llano County. The plant was named for one of the original LCRA Board members. (The plant was replaced by a newer, combined cycle plant, also called the Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant, in 2014.)

1974 — Faced with climbing natural gas prices, LCRA and the City of Austin agree to build the Fayette Power Project in Fayette County. The plant will use coal instead of natural gas to fire its boilers.

1975 — Amendments to its enabling legislation allow LCRA to preserve wildlife and jointly own property and electric facilities. The LCRA Board is expanded to its present size of 15 directors.

1978 — Pedernales and Bluebonnet electric cooperatives end long-running agreements under which LCRA managed their daily operations.

1979 — LCRA places Unit 1 of the Fayette Power Project into operation. Unit 2 follows a year later; Unit 3 in 1988.

1980s

November 1981 — LCRA Chief Engineer Elof Soderberg is named LCRA's fifth general manager.

1982 — LCRA begins monitoring water quality throughout the lower Colorado River basin.

January 1983 — LCRA purchases the Lakeside Irrigation Company and begins managing irrigation canals in Colorado and Wharton counties.

1985 — LCRA announces plans to sell its retail electric operations in San Marcos, Kerrville and San Saba. By the end of the decade, the three cities will have purchased their local operations.

January 1986 — S. David Freeman, former chair of the Tennessee Valley Authority, becomes LCRA's sixth general manager.

1989 — LCRA implements a state-approved Water Management Plan that governs LCRA's operation of the Highland Lakes to meet the needs of major water users throughout the lower Colorado River basin. The plan is the only one of its kind for any river basin in Texas.

1990s

August 1990 — LCRA Deputy General Manager Mark Rose is named LCRA's seventh general manager.

1991 — The Colorado River Trail, a system of parks designed to increase the public's access to the Colorado River, opens at Beason's Park on the Colorado in Columbus.

December 1991 — The "Christmas Flood" raises Lake Travis to its all-time peak elevation of 710.44 feet above mean sea level, less than 4 feet below the Mansfield Dam spillway.

April 1993 — LCRA announces the Colorado River downstream of Austin is once again safe for people to use and enjoy, following a coordinated effort by LCRA, communities, environmental groups and individuals to reverse the effects of pollution caused by population growth.

1995 — LCRA begins purchasing power from the Texas Wind Power Project. The wind plant, the first of its kind in the state, is a joint effort among LCRA, Kenetech Corp. and the Texas General Land Office.

May 1995 — The Memorial Day Flood along Sandy Creek points to a need for more local emergency information. LCRA and the National Weather Service partner to install transmitters that broadcast regional versions of NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards throughout the basin.

June 1997 — The Summer Flood of 1997 rivals the 1991 Christmas Flood in severity, but LCRA contains flooding within the floodplains. Floodwaters from Wirtz Dam create a gaping hole in the bedrock of Lake Marble Falls, requiring $4 million to repair.

September 1998 — LCRA opens the first of three premier outdoor facilities: McKinney Roughs Nature Park, an ecological paradise between Austin and Bastrop. The following summer, Canyon of the Eagles opens on Lake Buchanan. The third, Matagorda Bay Nature Park, opens in 2006.

October 1998 — Rains of up to 16 inches produce flooding downstream of Austin that is worse in some locations than during the Christmas Flood of 1991.

January 1999 — LCRA purchases the Garwood Irrigation Company, which holds the largest privately held block of water rights on the Colorado River.

October 1999 — LCRA and City of Austin officials sign an agreement to ensure adequate water supplies for the city for at least 50 years.

2000s

January 2000 — Joseph J. Beal, executive manager of LCRA's Water Services, becomes LCRA's eighth general manager.

May 2000 — LCRA completes its purchase of the Pierce Ranch water rights, the last remaining block of privately held water rights in the basin.

May 2001 — Lost Pines Unit 1 Power Project begins operation, adding more than 500 megawatts of capacity to LCRA's generating system. The unit is the first built and managed by an LCRA affiliate, GenTex Power Corporation, and the first owned jointly with a private company, the Calpine Corporation. GenTex later purchases Calpine's share of the plant.

January 2002 — LCRA creates LCRA Transmission Services Corporation as a nonprofit corporation for transmission operations, in keeping with state legislation requiring electric utilities to separate their generation and transmission businesses.

April 2002 — LCRA ends its role as a retail electric provider with the transfer of its last remaining retail customer to Austin Energy.

September 2004 — LCRA completes a $50 million upgrade of four of the six Highland Lakes dams to increase their ability to withstand a "probable maximum flood."

June 2007 — Mansfield Dam contains floodwaters from a 19-inch "rain bomb" in the Marble Falls area, protecting Austin and downstream residents.

November 2007 — LCRA General Counsel Thomas G. Mason is named LCRA's ninth general manager.

2010s

February 2010 — State regulators approve an updated LCRA Water Management Plan that provides greater restrictions on the use of "interruptible" water supplies for irrigation. Also, LCRA notes its 75th anniversary on Feb. 19.

October 2010 — The LCRA Board approves a Water Supply Resource Plan to help LCRA plan for and secure water supplies to meet the basin's future needs to the year 2100.

November 2010 — The LCRA Board votes to sell its 32 rural and suburban water and wastewater utilities. Also, LCRA more than doubles its wind-power capacity by purchasing 200 megawatts from the Papalote Creek II wind power facility.

April 2011 — LCRA wins state approval of a permit to capture floodwaters and other high flows in the Colorado River downstream of Austin.

July 2011 — Becky Motal, LCRA's executive manager of External Affairs, becomes LCRA's 10th general manager and the organization's first female chief executive.

January 2012 — The LCRA Board of Directors sets a goal to implement projects within the next five years to expand LCRA's water supply by at least 100,000 acre-feet.

March 2012 — With state approval, LCRA for the first time curtails irrigation water for most coastal farming operations, in accordance with drought relief measures developed with input from LCRA stakeholders. State regulators approve similar curtailments in 2013 and 2014 as drought conditions continue.

April 2012 — LCRA breaks ground on a new generating unit to replace the Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant in Horseshoe Bay.

May 2012 — LCRA holds the grand opening of the San Saba River Nature Park, completing a key goal of having an LCRA park in each of LCRA's 10 statutory counties.

July 2012 — LCRA transfers operation of most of its water and wastewater utilities to various operators. LCRA in July 2014 closes on the sale of 18 of the systems to Corix Utilities (Texas).

January 2013 — The LCRA Board of Directors approves the first phase of a downstream water supply reservoir capable of adding 90,000 acre-feet of water a year to the region's supply.

August 2013 — LCRA completes construction of $600 million in Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) transmission line projects, which move wind power from West Texas and the Panhandle to more densely populated areas of the state.

September 2013 — LCRA retires the original Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant as construction on a new plant next door continues.

February 2014 — Phil Wilson, former executive director at the Texas Department of Transportation, becomes LCRA's 11th general manager.

September 2014 — The LCRA Board of Directors gives final approval to the Lane City Reservoir Project in Wharton County, the first significant new water supply reservoir in the lower Colorado River basin in decades. The Board also agrees to revise LCRA's 2012 proposed amendments to the Water Management Plan, which sets out how water from lakes Travis and Buchanan is managed. LCRA in October 2014 sends an amended and restated Water Management Plan application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for action.

October 2014 — LCRA dedicates the new Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant. The new 540-megawatt combined-cycle power plant produces power for the state's electric grid as one of the newest, most efficient and reliable electric generating facilities in Texas.