LCRA took a major step Wednesday toward building a new downstream reservoir and meeting its historic goal of adding 100,000 acre-feet to the region’s water supply by 2017.
LCRA’s Board of Directors unanimously approved $18 million for the first phase of the project, which entails buying property in Wharton County near Lane City and beginning the engineering and permitting for a new reservoir capable of providing 90,000 acre-feet of water a year. The move comes as the region is caught in the grips of one of the worst droughts in history and on the heels of a Board decision that could cut off Highland Lakes water to most rice farmers for the second year in a row.
“This ongoing drought has highlighted the need for bold and decisive action to ensure that LCRA’s customers have a reliable supply of water in the future,” said Board Chairman Tim Timmerman. “This new reservoir would help serve the entire basin’s needs for generations. I’m honored to be part of the Board that is working to make it a reality.”
On Wednesday, the Board also approved $15 million to install new groundwater wells in Bastrop County if the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District approves the project. LCRA has applied for a permit with the groundwater district to pump up to 10,000 acre-feet a year to serve the Lost Pines Power Park in Bastrop County. When coupled with the Lane City reservoir, the projects would meet the Board’s goal to add 100,000 acre-feet of new water supply by 2017.
The preliminary cost estimate for the Lane City reservoir is $206 million. LCRA will seek grants, loans and other outside funding sources to help pay for the rest of the project. This reservoir would be the first major water supply infrastructure built in the lower Colorado River basin since the 1970s.
“This is a historic project on many levels,” LCRA General Manager Becky Motal said. “Not only would it be the first major reservoir built in the basin in four decades, but it’s the first project in our history that would allow us to store significant amounts of water downstream that could be used by multiple customers. That’s vitally important to serving the needs of our downstream industrial and agricultural customers, meeting environmental flow requirements and taking pressure off the Highland Lakes.”
Currently, most of the water that enters the river downstream of the Highland Lakes flows to Matagorda Bay unless customers withdraw it from the river for immediate use. There is no way to capture and store those flows for future use, so during dry periods downstream customers often need to call on water from the Highland Lakes. Last year, for instance, more than 800,000 acre-feet of water flowed down the river into Matagorda Bay.
The reservoir would be built to hold about 40,000 acre-feet of water, but could be filled multiple times over a year by capturing water flowing in the river, making it capable of adding 90,000 acre-feet of firm water to the region’s supply. Firm water is water that can be counted on during a repeat of the conditions during the worst drought on record, the decade-long drought from 1947-1957.
LCRA studied several potential sites and other options before recommending the Lane City site for the first of three possible downstream reservoirs. All the sites studied are suitable, but the Lane City site requires the least amount of infrastructure relocations and is the most cost effective. The other sites studied are in Colorado and Matagorda counties.