On April 15, 2013, the executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, recommended approval of LCRA’s proposed Water Management Plan for lakes Travis and Buchanan, the lower Colorado River basin’s major reservoirs.
The new plan, adopted by LCRA’s Board of Directors on Feb. 22, 2012, gives LCRA more flexibility to respond to severe droughts by adding more trigger points during the year to determine how much water is available for agriculture. It also limits the overall amount of water available to agriculture in any year.
LCRA is publishing notice in newspapers throughout the lower Colorado River basin that TCEQ's executive director is recommending approval. Once the notice is published, the public and interested parties have 30 days to comment, protest or ask for a public meeting on the plan. If the plan is not protested, the earliest the TCEQ could approve proposed WMP amendments is likely 60 to 90 days.
TCEQ declared the plan administratively complete on April 19, 2012, and began conducting technical review. Technical review gives TCEQ an opportunity to review the plan and request additional information or clarifications. During that process:
- On May 31, 2012, LCRA submitted an amended plan and technical information to the TCEQ to address questions from the state agency;
- In August 2012, the TCEQ requested more information from LCRA, and LCRA responded on Sept. 10, 2012; and
- In November 2012, TCEQ sent a draft final order to LCRA for review and comment. LCRA commented on the draft final order on March 15, 2013.
The proposed plan, as originally submitted to TCEQ on March 12, 2012, as well as the written public comments and the exhibits, are available here.
To assist with the update submitted to TCEQ in 2012, as in previous updates, LCRA assembled an advisory committee to represent the diverse interests that rely on Highland Lakes water. The advisory committee included representatives from cities, industry, lake area businesses and residents, the environment and farmers. The committee began its work in July 2010 and spent more than a year investigating and discussing how to best balance the demands on the Highland Lakes.
The committee came to a consensus and near consensus on many of the recommended changes in the proposed Water Management Plan. LCRA accepted public comment on the plan and reviewed about 450 written comments before approving it. If the new plan is approved by TCEQ, it will replace the current version of the Water Management Plan the TCEQ approved Jan. 27, 2010.
LCRA's Water Management Plan is the only one of its kind in the state. It was required by the 1989 court settlement that determined the water rights for the Highland Lakes. The state approved the first Water Management Plan in 1989. Updates were approved in 1992, 1999 and 2010.
The Water Management Plan governs LCRA's operation of the Highland Lakes to meet the needs of major water users throughout the lower Colorado River basin. Specifically, the Water Management Plan prescribes how to allocate water during water supply shortages. During severe drought, the plan requires the curtailment or cutback of Highland Lakes water for downstream agriculture so that water will be available for the basic needs of cities, businesses and industries. Under the plan, LCRA and its customers are required to take specific actions at designated points, known as "trigger points," as water storage levels drop. The plan also prescribes how LCRA must provide water from the lakes to help meet the environmental needs of the lower Colorado River and Matagorda Bay at these various trigger points.
In 2012, LCRA managed the lakes under an emergency drought relief order approved by the TCEQ. Under that order, which acts as a temporary amendment to the current Water Management Plan, LCRA did not provide any water from the Highland Lakes to most downstream farmers in 2012. LCRA sent 8,896 acre-feet of water from the Highland Lakes to farmers in the Garwood irrigation operation in 2012. Farmers in the Garwood Irrigation Division were entitled to up to about 20,000 acre-feet of Highland Lakes water in 2012 based on the purchase agreement of the Garwood water right. For comparison, downstream farmers from all four operations served by LCRA used about 368,000 acre-feet of Highland Lakes water for first and second crops in 2011.
Because of the ongoing drought, LCRA will not deliver Highland Lakes water to most downstream farmers in 2013 for the second consecutive year. The cutoff of Highland Lakes water became official at 11:59 p.m. on March 1, 2013, when the combined storage of lakes Travis and Buchanan was less than 850,000 acre-feet. That is the trigger point in an emergency drought relief order requested by LCRA and approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Feb. 13, 2013. Combined storage on March 1 at 11:59 p.m. was 822,782 acre-feet, or 40.9 percent full. Like the 2012 order, the 2013 emergency order is a temporary amendment to the Water Management Plan. The order expires June 18, 2013. On May 6, 2013, LCRA filed an application with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to extend the emergency drought order until Oct. 15, 2013, to cover the end of the growing season.