Water Use Summary | LCRA Water Use Summary | LCRA


Water Use Summary

​LCRA compiles water use information for the lower Colorado River basin in the annual Water Use Summary.

In 2019, the Highland Lakes watershed cycled from a wet first half of the year to much drier conditions in late summer through the end of the year.

Rainfall was above average for the first half of the year, and the amount of water flowing into the Highland Lakes ranked as the 25th highest inflows on record for January-July. The region experienced flooding in May, when LCRA had flood operations underway at every Highland Lakes dam to pass floodwater downstream.

July marked the start of a much drier weather pattern, and the basin began to dry out. Inflows to the Highland Lakes for August through December ranked 10th lowest on record for that five-month period.

Due largely to the wetter first half of the year, municipal water use from the Highland Lakes decreased by 16% from 2018 to 2019, and the amount of water released from the Highland Lakes for downstream agriculture decreased by 80%.

Water Rights

2019 Use (in acre-feet)

LCRA Garwood 81,604
LCRA South Texas Project 24,028
LCRA Lakeside 46,398
LCRA Gulf Coast 70,456
LCRA Pierce Ranch 11,749
LCRA Lakes Buchanan and Travis  217,897
SUBTOTAL – LCRA 452,132
City of Austin Water Rights 127,800
Bastrop Energy Partners, LP 180
TOTAL 580,112

Water use by source – LCRA uses two basic sources of water to meet customer and environmental needs: water stored in lakes Buchanan and Travis and water naturally flowing in the Colorado River. When the natural flow into the Highland Lakes is greater than the customer and environmental needs, LCRA stores the excess in lakes Buchanan and Travis for later use.

Highland Lakes water use – Contracts for water stored in lakes Buchanan and Travis can be for firm or interruptible supply. LCRA also supplies water from the Highland Lakes to help maintain environmental flows, as required by the state-approved Water Management Plan. In 2019, the Highland Lakes supplied 217,897 acre-feet of water for all uses.

Firm water contracts – These contracts supply cities, businesses and industries that need a reliable long-term water supply. Firm supply is expected to be available through a repeat of the driest conditions the region has experienced. Firm customers accounted for 128,624 acre-feet, including 496 acre-feet to meet emergency needs for electricity, or about 59% of all water used from the Highland Lakes, in 2019.

Interruptible water contracts – These contracts supply agricultural customers. Interruptible water is subject to cutbacks during drought conditions. Interruptible customers used 27,319 acre-feet, or about 13% of all water used from the Highland Lakes, in 2019.

Environmental – From time to time, LCRA releases water from the Highland Lakes to meet environmental flow requirements for the Colorado River downstream of Austin and for Matagorda Bay. In 2019, LCRA released 61,954 acre-feet, or about 28% of water released from the Highland Lakes, for environmental flows.

Colorado River water use – In addition to the rights to water from the Highland Lakes, LCRA owns and manages other rights to the natural flow of the Colorado River. In 2019, a total of 234,235 acre-feet of water was supplied from the Colorado River for agricultural, municipal, industrial, recreation and firm irrigation uses under these water rights.

How does 2019 compare?

Type of water use* 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Municipal (firm) 198,738 210,376 221,037 225,861 234,648
Water from the Highland Lakes 98,920 97,134 115,416 133,517 112,701
Water from the Colorado River 99,818 113,242 105,621 92,344 121,947
Industrial (firm) 92,623 39,018 91,188 80,580 57,030
Water from the Highland Lakes 8,956 13,404 23,000 24,433 9,157
Water from the Colorado River 83,667 25,614 68,188 56,147 47,873
Recreational and Irrigation (firm) 5,620 5,123 7,362 6,760 7,013
Water from the Highland Lakes 5,346 4,870 7,225 6,667 6,766
Water from the Colorado River 274 253 137 93 247
Agricultural (interruptible)† 74,723 254,085 235,255 289,665 219,467
Water from the Highland Lakes 0 7,656 59,266 136,490 27,319
Water from the Colorado River 74,723 246,429 175,989 153,175 192,148
Environmental‡
(from the Highland Lakes)
0 54,641 67,762 55,923 61,954
TOTAL WATER USE 371,704 563,243 622,604 658,789 580,112

*Water use is in acre-feet.
Releases from the Highland Lakes for downstream agriculture in the Gulf Coast, Lakeside and Pierce Ranch irrigation operations were suspended from 2012 through 2015 because of the severe drought.
Dedicated environmental releases are the water released solely for the purpose of satisfying environmental needs. In addition, releases for downstream customers and runoff flowing into the river and bays help satisfy environmental needs.