Dams and hydroelectric power

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​LCRA's six dams, once the major source of LCRA's electric generation capacity, now provide power at times of peak demand as water levels allow. When fully operational, the dams' generating stations can supply as much as 295.1 megawatts of electric power per year, which represents about 2 percent of our customer's annual energy requirements. However, hydroelectric generation now is primarily a byproduct of other river operations activities.

The dams — Buchanan, Inks, Wirtz, Starcke, Mansfield and Tom Miller — form lakes that store 713 billion gallons of water. All are owned by LCRA, except for Tom Miller Dam, which is operated by LCRA and leased from the City of Austin until December 2020.

In the 1930s, hydroelectric power generated by LCRA's first dam, Buchanan Dam, brought electricity to the Texas Hill Country. The glow of electric lights and hum of electric appliances soon replaced dirty burning kerosene lamps and back-breaking hand-operated washing machines.

With the growth of Central Texas also came increasing demand for electrical power that outstripped the capability of LCRA's hydroelectric operations. Over time, natural gas- and coal-fired power plants have provided most of LCRA's power generation.

Key role for hydroelectric power

The dams, however, still play an important role in generating energy — particularly during extreme weather when demand spikes — because they can produce electricity relatively quickly.

LCRA is in the midst of a multi-year rehabilitation program to increase the useful life, generating capacity and production efficiency of the dams. So far, LCRA has spent $26.7 million and will spend another $41 million in the next decade on the rehabilitation of the dams.