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LCRA’s early years

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In 1937, LCRA broke ground on what would become Mansfield Dam, the only flood-control structure in the Highland Lakes. In 1938, LCRA completed construction of Buchanan and Inks dams upstream of Mansfield Dam.

Buchanan Dam was named in honor of U.S. Rep. James Buchanan, a longtime supporter of projects on the Colorado River. When Buchanan died in February 1937, he was succeeded by Lyndon Johnson, a protégé of Alvin Wirtz. Johnson realized the potential LCRA and its dams offered the region. He persuaded LCRA to use the electric power from its dams to benefit Central Texas communities and rural areas, and he forged a close partnership between LCRA and the two electric cooperatives he helped form, Pedernales Electric Cooperative and what is today known as Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative.

In 1938, LCRA faced its first critical test when heavy flooding swept the basin. Critics charged LCRA had worsened the flood by the way it operated Buchanan Dam, prompting an investigation by the Texas Senate. The investigation exonerated LCRA and also determined LCRA needed to extend the height of Mansfield Dam by an additional 78 feet to its current height of 278 feet to provide more protection to Austin and downstream communities.

In September 1939, LCRA began acquiring an electric service area surrounding Austin from private utilities. LCRA encouraged communities to purchase their local distribution systems and buy power from LCRA. Almost all communities did — and saw retail electric bills drop almost by half from what private utilities had charged. LCRA also sponsored "electric fairs" with local merchants to introduce residents to the benefits of electric appliances.

In 1940, LCRA completed reconstruction of Tom Miller Dam, owned by the City of Austin. The dam had twice been destroyed by floods. LCRA completed Mansfield Dam in early 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II.

Post-World War II boom
The Central Texas area saw unprecedented growth in the years following World War II, and LCRA struggled to keep up with the demand for electricity. In 1947, LCRA leased a power plant in New Braunfels, its first non-hydroelectric generation source.

LCRA also built two smaller dams between Inks Dam and Lake Travis to increase LCRA's hydroelectric capacity. LCRA in 1951 completed the dams now known as Wirtz and Starcke dams. The chain of lakes created by LCRA's six dams became known as the Highland Lakes.

In the late 1940s, the region encountered what is known as its "Drought of Record" — the worst drought in the region's recorded history. It was a decade-long period infrequently interrupted by significant rains. A flood in 1957 finally broke the drought.

As LCRA dealt with electric and drought issues, then-U.S. Rep. Lyndon Johnson challenged the organization to fulfill one of its charter responsibilities. At his urging, LCRA launched an aggressive basinwide soil-conservation program in 1947. LCRA conducted education programs, loaned farming equipment and established "example farms" to demonstrate effective techniques. It phased out the program in the mid-1950s.

In December 1959, LCRA purchased the Gulf Coast Water Company, which provided irrigation water to farmers in Matagorda County near the Gulf Coast. The acquisition of Gulf Coast provided LCRA with additional Colorado River water rights.

By the early 1960s, demand for electricity had grown, and LCRA needed additional generating capacity. There were no suitable sites on the river for LCRA to build more hydroelectric dams, so it turned to natural gas, which was at the time one of the cheapest, most abundant fuels available. LCRA built three units at the Sim Gideon Power Plant site in Bastrop County by 1971. LCRA began planning a similar complex at what would become the Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant in Llano County in the early 1970s.

More information

Review 10 quick facts about LCRA's history.

Read more about LCRA's creation and recent history.

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

1930s

1937 — U.S. Rep. James Buchanan dies and is succeeded by Lyndon Baines Johnson in a special election. LCRA begins construction of Marshall Ford Dam (now known as Mansfield Dam), designed to form a massive reservoir that can contain Hill Country floodwaters.

1938 — Buchanan and Inks dams begin operations. LCRA begins reconstruction of the Austin Dam (in the place where Tom Miller Dam is located today).

July 1938 — A massive flood forces LCRA to open 22 of Buchanan Dam's 37 floodgates – a record for that dam.

August 1938 — In response to Rep. Johnson's urgings, LCRA begins a public power program to benefit Central Texas communities. It hires Seguin Mayor Max Starcke to run the program.

September 1938 — The July 1938 flood points to the need for a "higher" Marshall Ford Dam to hold floodwaters – and better monitoring of river and weather conditions. LCRA approves installation of 50 rain gauges – the first comprehensive watershed reporting system in Texas.

1940s

February 1940 — LCRA completes reconstruction of Austin Dam, which is renamed for Austin Mayor Tom Miller.

May 1940 — LCRA Operations Manager Max Starcke becomes LCRA's second general manager.

1941 — More than half of LCRA's current electric customers have signed up to buy LCRA power.

1941 — Marshall Ford Dam is renamed in honor of U.S. Rep. Joseph J. Mansfield. The dam, which forms Lake Travis, is completed the following year.

1941 — LCRA adopts the name "Highland Lakes" for the reservoirs formed by its dams as part of efforts to promote recreation in the region.

1945 — Sam K. Seymour Jr., a Columbus businessman, is appointed to the LCRA Board of Directors. He will serve 36 years, longer than any other LCRA director.

Aug. 6, 1945 — LCRA lowers Lake Austin for the first time to control the growth of nuisance aquatic plants, popularly known as "duckweed."

April 1947 — LCRA begins operating the Comal Power Plant in New Braunfels to meet growing electric load demands. The plant is LCRA's first non-hydroelectric unit, using natural gas for fuel.

April 1948 — At the strong urging of Rep. Johnson, LCRA adopts a soil conservation program. LCRA and the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority start the first locally sponsored program in the United States.

December 1949 — "Operation Waterlift" arrives in New York City with 3,000 gallons of water from the Highland Lakes for drought-stricken residents. The publicity stunt garners national attention for the Highland Lakes.

1950s

1951 — LCRA finishes construction of Granite Shoals and Marble Falls dams, completing the Highland Lakes chain. The LCRA Board is expanded to 12 directors. (The Granite Shoals dam is later renamed Wirtz Dam. The Marble Falls dam now is known as Starcke Dam.)

August 1951 — Lake Travis drops to its all-time low elevation of 614.18 feet above mean sea level, almost 67 feet below full elevation.

October 1951 — Alvin Wirtz, known as the "Father of LCRA," dies. LCRA renames Granite Shoals Dam in his memory.

September 1952 — Lake Travis rises 57 feet in 14 hours following rains of up to 15 inches – still a record for the highest, fastest rise on the lake.

January 1956 — LCRA General Counsel Sim Gideon becomes LCRA's third general manager.

1957 — A decade-long "Drought of Record" ends in Central Texas following spring thunderstorms that dump more than 3 million acre-feet of water in the Colorado River. LCRA operates Mansfield Dam for flood-management purposes for the first time, opening six gates (still a record).

December 1959 — LCRA purchases the Gulf Coast Water Company in Bay City and begins management of irrigation operations in Matagorda and Wharton counties.

1960s

October 1962 — LCRA renames Marble Falls Dam in honor of former General Manager Max Starcke.

April 1965 — Lake Granite Shoals, created by Wirtz Dam, is renamed in honor of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

1965 — The first unit of the Sim Gideon Power Plant – the first non-hydroelectric plant to be built by LCRA – is placed in operation. LCRA adds units in 1968 and 1971. All three units use natural gas for fuel.

1970s

1971 — The Texas Legislature gives LCRA power to control water pollution in both surface and groundwater, operate and own wastewater and waste disposal services, develop and manage parks and promote fish preservation.

June 1973 — State Sen. Charles Herring becomes LCRA's fourth general manager. LCRA shuts down the Comal Power Plant when rising fuel costs make the plant no longer economical.