LCRA has the rights to more than 2.1 million acre-feet of water per year. These rights -- based mostly on surface water permits issued by the State of Texas -- include the right to divert and use up to 1.5 million acre-feet per year from lakes Buchanan and Travis and 636,750 acre-feet per year under downstream run-of-river water rights from the Gulf Coast, Lakeside, Garwood and Pierce Ranch irrigation operations.
* Firm vs. interruptible water: Water supplies managed by LCRA are divided into "firm" and "interruptible" water. Firm water is available even during a severe drought. Cities, industries and electric power plants rely on firm water supplies. During water shortages, interruptible water, which is mostly used for agriculture, is cut back or cut off before firm water supplies.
A managed water system
LCRA uses the lakes and river as a system to conserve and convey water supplies according to a plan developed by water supply experts, with input from a diverse group of interests throughout the basin, and approved by the state of Texas. Following this Water Management Plan makes it possible to supply drinking water for more than 1 million people, as well as supply water for industry, energy and recreation; for irrigating rice and other crops; and for preserving a healthy ecosystem along the lower river and in Matagorda Bay.
Water is released from lakes Buchanan and Travis when the springs and tributaries that feed the lower river do not provide enough water to meet downstream needs, including the need for fresh water in the river and Matagorda Bay on the Gulf Coast. The bay and estuaries depend on fresh water from the Colorado River to maintain a healthy habitat for fish and other aquatic life.
The volume of water released from the lakes for this purpose depends on how much water is stored in the Highland Lakes and the amount flowing to replenish the lake and river system. In normal times, the releases are meant to maintain an ideal habitat. If the lakes are low, the releases are intended to keep salinity from reaching critical levels. The latest scientific study on the bay’s freshwater needs can be found here.
Times of drought
When a major drought occurs there may not be enough water for all purposes. During severe dry periods, the lower Colorado River may flow at greatly reduced rates and lakes Travis and Buchanan may drop significantly. Check the Daily River Report or the Water Watch graphic to find out how much water is in storage currently. Check the drought update page for information on the current drought.
The Water Management Plan describes how to allocate water during water supply shortages. It directs LCRA to cut back or cut off interruptible water supplies so that demands for firm water are fully met. LCRA takes action at key points as lake levels drop.
One of the first steps is to ask customers to voluntarily reduce water use through sound conservation measures. If the shortage intensifies, LCRA may call for mandatory conservation measures. Extremely low levels would trigger the cutoff of all stored water releases for agricultural irrigation.
New Water Supply
On Jan. 18, 2012, LCRA’s Board of Directors set the historic goal of increasing LCRA’s water supply 100,000 acre-feet by 2017. LCRA is working on a number of potential new water supply projects to meet the goal. Information about those projects can be found on the new water page.
LCRA has been planning for the long-term water needs of its customers for years. LCRA’s Board approved the Water Supply Resource Plan in October 2010. The plan serves as a road map for meeting the lower Colorado River basin’s water needs to the year 2100. LCRA began its efforts to prepare a long-range water supply plan in 2008 by asking for public input and received valuable ideas and perspectives from the public that helped LCRA create the plan.
In June 2011, the LCRA Board approved an addition to the plan related to increasing reliability of water for its agricultural customers. The Water Supply Resource Plan for Agriculture contains a list of options and preliminary cost estimates.