No Highland Lakes water available for most LCRA agricultural customers this year
Severe drought shows little sign of relief in near future
March 2, 2023
LCRA’s state-approved Water Management Plan requires it to cut off Highland Lakes water to agricultural customers in the Gulf Coast, Lakeside and Pierce Ranch operations this year based on the intensity and duration of the drought and the amount of water in lakes Buchanan and Travis on March 1. The combined storage in lakes Buchanan and Travis on March 1 was 1.037 million acre-feet, or about 52% of capacity.
“The Water Management Plan takes into account drought situations like the one we’re in now,” said John Hofmann, LCRA executive vice president of Water. “Extremely low inflows combined with evaporation and water use by LCRA customers have led to the decline in storage in lakes Buchanan and Travis. During hot, dry times like these, the plan requires the curtailment of water to interruptible customers so LCRA can continue meeting the needs of cities, businesses and industries.”
LCRA has two categories of water customers – firm and interruptible. Firm customers are primarily municipalities, water districts and industries that purchase water that will be available even during a repeat of the worst drought this region has seen, the drought from 2008-2015. Interruptible customers are agricultural customers near the coast that purchase water at a lesser rate because the supply from the Highland Lakes can be curtailed or cut off during droughts.
Due to drought conditions, LCRA also curtailed water from lakes Buchanan and Travis for most interruptible agricultural customers in summer 2022 for the second growing season. The next time Highland Lakes water could be available for those interruptible customers in the lower basin will be spring 2024.
“This is a serious drought, and we all play a role in protecting our water supply,” Hofmann said. “We have plenty of drinking water, but everyone in our region needs to be mindful of water use. We don’t know when this drought will end, and we all need to do our part to conserve.
“Evaporation and outdoor watering are two of the biggest consumers of water during the hotter months,” Hofmann said. “We can’t control evaporation, but we can reduce the amount of water we use on our yards.”
LCRA remains in Stage 1 of its Drought Contingency Plan for Firm Water Customers, which it entered in July 2022 because the combined storage in lakes Buchanan and Travis was 1.2 million acre-feet, below the trigger of 1.4 million acre-feet, and interruptible supplies were curtailed. At that time, LCRA requested its firm customers voluntarily reduce their water use by 5%.
If the combined storage in lakes Buchanan and Travis falls below 900,000 acre-feet, or about 45% of capacity, and interruptible supplies have been curtailed, LCRA will move to Stage 2 of the drought contingency plan and will ask firm customers to reduce water use by 10 to 20%. Each firm customer has its own drought contingency plan to determine when and how to cut back water use. LCRA estimates that without improved inflows, combined storage could reach 900,000 acre-feet this summer.
**Oct. 16, 2023: LCRA has updated the headline of this story to clarify that Highland Lakes water was cut off to most agricultural customers in 2023, as noted in the release. Because of the terms of the purchase agreement for the Garwood water rights, up to 18,200 acre-feet of water from the Highland Lakes was available for the Garwood agricultural division in 2023.
The Lower Colorado River Authority serves customers and communities throughout Texas by managing the lower Colorado River; generating and transmitting electric power; providing a clean, reliable water supply; and offering outdoor adventures at more than 40 parks along the Colorado River from the Texas Hill Country to the Gulf Coast. LCRA and its employees are committed to fulfilling our mission to enhance the quality of life of the Texans we serve through water stewardship, energy and community service. LCRA was created by the Texas Legislature in 1934 and receives no state appropriations. For more information, visit lcra.org.