By Timothy Timmerman
Chair, LCRA Board of Directors
When the directors of the Lower Colorado River Authority voted on Aug. 15 to pursue three new, sizeable projects to increase our basin’s water supply, it was the most significant vote this Board has undertaken in many years. If these three projects – two off-channel reservoirs and acquisition of the massive Alcoa, Inc. property near Rockdale – prove out as we hope, it will radically change our basin from San Saba to Matagorda Bay. If this undertaking is a success, it will represent the largest water supply effort since the Highland Lakes were created. The benefits will be felt statewide.
The vote itself was low-key, almost unremarkable. There was no dissension, little discussion, and a smattering of praise for General Manager Becky Motal and her staff, who worked so diligently to get these projects ready for a vote. It’s not always obvious when something historic is occurring. It happens in the moment, and its significance can be overshadowed by more immediate concerns. But if these projects proceed as we hope, they will unquestionably be an LCRA highlight for decades to come.
While the drought has been an ongoing daily reminder of the need for increasing our water supply, these projects offer a far longer-term solution. Our hope is that 20 years from now, Texans will look at the reservoirs and the additional water from the Alcoa site and give LCRA an approving nod for providing much needed water for a fast-growing region. Texas needs more water, and we at LCRA believe this is the quickest, surest way to get it. We think in the near future Texans will view these projects as they do Mansfield Dam today and say, “What a good idea that was.”
Although the two proposed reservoirs are downstream, the Board took these actions to benefit everyone in the basin, up and down the Colorado River. Off-channel reservoirs and the positive experiment with downstream gravel pits as holding ponds could provide all the water needs for agriculture, industry and the environment of the river and Matagorda Bay. That would mean far less water released from the Highland Lakes for downstream uses. Nothing would please me more than for LCRA to be able to ease the conflict between the lake interests and agricultural interests over water.
When there isn’t enough water to supply all our customers’ needs – as has been the case during this extended drought – everyone loses. Communities and businesses along the lakes have suffered as the water levels receded. Municipalities and industries throughout the basin have had to enact serious conservation measures. And most rice farmers didn’t have a crop this year because the reservoirs were too low for agricultural releases. If these new projects can alleviate all or most of those negative drought effects, it will be a shining success. As my Board colleague Kathleen Hartnett White noted, this might help our basin not just weather an extended drought, but avoid its harshest consequences.
Of course, authorizing the general manager to proceed on these projects is just the beginning. There is a significant amount of due diligence her staff must undertake. We have to be certain this effort will be feasible, cost-effective and wise. We have much work still to do. But as a first step, this is a bold one, and I applaud the directors, Becky Motal and her staff for pushing ahead on it. Like the turtle, we can’t make progress without sticking our necks out some. And we need to make progress on increasing our water supplies. The health of our region and all of Texas depends on it.
Timmerman has been an LCRA Board member since February 2008 and was appointed chairman by Gov. Rick Perry in January 2011.