Q & A on environmental leadership

Q. What are the critical environmental concerns in Central Texas today?

A. Central Texas is one of the fastest growing regions in the United States. Population in the 10-county area around Austin has increased by nearly 50 percent in the past 10 years. Most of this growth has been in Austin and neighboring communities, but its effects have spread far beyond these boundaries. More vehicles, new homes and businesses, and greater demands for electricity, drinking water and wastewater services are adversely affecting regional air quality, water quality and natural resources. Unmanaged growth is straining groundwater supplies, creating nonpoint-source pollution, and affecting wildlife, vegetation and endangered species habitat.

Q. What is LCRA's role in addressing these issues?

A. LCRA is a conservation and reclamation district that provides electricity and water and wastewater services, manages public lands and water supplies, protects natural resources, and supports economic and community development. Environmental leadership and protection are key LCRA responsibilities. LCRA has taken the lead in identifying, addressing and building public interest in regional environmental issues. LCRA also strives to set a positive example through its own business practices and actions.

Q. Why is environmental leadership important to LCRA?

A. Environmental leadership is a core element of LCRA's statutory missions and organizational philosophies, policies and practices. As a regional entity LCRA can bring together stakeholders such as state regulators, members of the public, and community, business and industry leaders to address regional and local environmental issues. LCRA employees have a personal interest in protecting the region's natural resources and environmental health because they live and work in Central Texas.

Q. What guides LCRA on environmental matters?

A. LCRA management and staff are directed by LCRA's enabling act, bylaws and Board policies, including an environmental leadership directive. State and federal environmental regulations also apply to many LCRA operations and public services. LCRA also seeks input and guidance from advisory committees, elected officials, community representatives, business leaders, landowners, the general public and other stakeholders.

Q. How does LCRA include others in its environmental activities?

A. LCRA encourages public participation in policies and programs that affect the public, including environmental issues. LCRA operates a water quality pollution complaint ​line (512-730-6843 or 1-800-776-5272, Ext. 6843) in cooperation with state regulators, and it organizes a Texas Clean Rivers steering committee that discusses water quality issues in the lower Colorado River basin. Standing and ad hoc advisory committees provide input on power plant, water supply, water quality and recreation issues. LCRA holds town hall meetings on significant issues such as major utility projects, lake management activities and water supplies. LCRA also supports local environmental initiatives, such as a revegetation effort to improve fish habitat in Lake LBJ.

Q. Does LCRA have regulatory programs to protect the environment?

A. Yes. LCRA has three regulatory programs to protect water quality in five of the six Highland Lakes, which supply drinking water for nearly 1 million people in Central Texas. (Lake Austin is managed by the City of Austin.) LCRA:

  • Sets standards for construction and clearing activities to control nonpoint-source water pollution;
  • Regulates marina and large boat dock construction and expansion to minimize water pollution and improve water recreation safety;
  • Regulates the construction, installatio​n and inspection of on-site sewage facilities. LCRA also reviews all water quality-related permit applications in the basin. LCRA has no legal authority to develop or enforce local ordinances, zoning or land-use controls.

 

Q. How does LCRA handle potential conflicts between its roles as an environmental leader and a regulated utility services provider?

A. LCRA's Board policy addresses this issue directly, recognizing that LCRA's mission to provide electricity and other services must be balanced with its responsibilities to preserve and protect natural resources. LCRA's regulatory programs are funded, managed and operated independently of utility operations. Environmental management systems have been established at each LCRA facility to ensure compliance with state and federal environmental regulations and to minimize environmental impacts. LCRA's Internal Audit staff and Corporate Environmental and Safety division routinely review environmental programs and compliance. Management and staff are committed to preserving LCRA's excellent reputation of environmental responsibility.

 

Q. What is LCRA doing to reduce air emissions from its power plants?

A. LCRA power plants have environmental records that would be the envy of any electric utility. For example:

  • LCRA and Austin Energy have received regulatory approval for an air quality permit that ultimately will make the Fayette Power Project one of the cleanest burning coal-fired power plants in the nation. The plant's co-owners plan to spend more than $130 million during the 10-year permit period to cut emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and other pollutants. Scrubbers will reduce SO2 emissions from two units by about 90 percent. Ongoing improvements will lower NOx emissions plantwide by 50 percent.
  • LCRA recycles most of FPP's coal generation byproducts, such as coal ash, for use in construction materials, making it one of the top coal byproducts recyclers in the United States.
  • LCRA and an energy affiliate, GenTex Power Corporation, developed an innovative air quality plan to reduce existing air emissions while adding new generation capacity. GenTex and Calpine Corporation jointly built a state-of-the-art power plant that uses up to 40 percent less fuel to produce the same amount of electricity as an older natural gas plant.
  • LCRA is reducing emissions from its two older natural gas power plants by upgrading equipment and improving generation processes.

 

Q. What is LCRA doing to increase public awareness of environmental issues?

A. Many LCRA programs and services help connect people to the environment, especially around the Highland Lakes and along the lower Colorado River. LCRA parks and natural science programs enable schoolchildren and adults to understand and appreciate the beauty and value of a healthy environment and a clean river. Lake cleanups, volunteer water quality monitoring, and household hazardous waste collections build a public understanding of the detrimental effects of littering and illegal dumping. Monthly water quality reports, quarterly newsletters, a yearly "state of the river" report and educational programs and public information help communicate the status of the region's water quality.