LCRA filed an application with the state on Sept. 26 seeking relief from environmental requirements to send Highland Lakes water to Matagorda Bay.
On Oct. 16, LCRA sent the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality a letter asking it to delay consideration of the issue until Nov. 27 at the earliest. Thatís because recent rainstorms generated enough flow in the river to meets the bayís freshwater needs in October.
LCRA’s state-approved Water Management Plan requires Highland Lakes water be sent under
certain conditions for the environmental health of the bay. LCRA released 8,684 acre-feet from lakes Travis and Buchanan in September to meet some of the requirements from earlier in the year. After the water arrived, salinity levels in the Bay’s delta dropped from 33 parts per thousand (ppt) to less than 28 ppt. Scientific studies have determined that levels greater than 30 ppt may not be suitable for oysters, juvenile fish and other species in the bay. Additional freshwater flowing into the bay from rain in September and October is expected to help maintain lower salinity levels.
The higher flows caused by the release and recent rains also scoured some of the aquatic vegetation from the lower Colorado River and raised dissolved oxygen levels in the river’s water, benefitting fish and other aquatic life.
LCRA could be required to release up to an additional 5,834 acre-feet by the end of the year unless the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) grants LCRA’s request to waive the requirement.
LCRA asked for the relief because Central Texas is experiencing one of the worst droughts in history and lakes Travis and Buchanan are nearing all-time lows. The recent rain helped by adding roughly 22,000 acre-feet to the lakes, but the combined storage of the lakes is still only 33 percent of capacity and it would take more than 1.3 million acre-feet to fill the lakes.
Lakes Travis and Buchanan provide water for more than 1 million Central Texans and industries, businesses, agriculture and the environment throughout the lower Colorado River basin. LCRA has asked the state to waive the environmental requirements for 120 days or until enough rain falls to increase the combined storage of lakes Travis and Buchanan to 900,000 acre-feet (about 45 percent of capacity).
The Matagorda Bay system is the second largest estuary on the Texas Gulf Coast. It provides an excellent nursery and feeding area for many species of fish, shrimp, shellfish and other marine life. Because of the serious, prolonged drought, the amount of freshwater flowing into the bay is at historically low levels, and the salinity level, or salt content, is higher than is generally considered suitable for many of the juvenile marine organisms that use the estuary to grow and develop.
LCRA’s Board of Directors voted 9-6 Sept. 18 to seek the emergency drought relief from TCEQ. Read the application for emergency relief.
TCEQ approves emergency drought relief
February 13, 2013 04:00 PM
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.