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 2020, the Highland Lakes watershed saw near- to above-average rainfall through September, before a drier fall and winter. Much of the rain in the early part of the year was sporadic and soaked into parched soil, resulting in little runoff to the Highland Lakes. The lower-than-average amount of water flowing into the Highland Lakes continued a pattern that began in the summer of 2019.

Inflows were below the historical monthly averages every month but March, and 2020 inflows to the Highland Lakes ranked as the sixth lowest on record since 1942.

In 2020, reduced river flows contributed to decreases in water use from the Colorado River and increases in water use from the Highland Lakes across all water use types.

Water Rights

2020 Use (in acre-feet)

LCRA Garwood 78,819
LCRA South Texas Project 12,795
LCRA Lakeside 36,016
LCRA Gulf Coast 53,378
LCRA Pierce Ranch 8,388
LCRA Lakes Buchanan and Travis 370,595
SUBTOTAL – LCRA 559,991
City of Austin Water Rights 112,869
Bastrop Energy Partners, LP 180
TOTAL 673,040

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 customer needs and environmental obligations, 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 2020, the Highland Lakes supplied 370,595 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 170,537 acre-feet, including 175 acre-feet to meet emergency needs for electricity, or about 46% of all water used from the Highland Lakes, in 2020.

Interruptible water contracts – These contracts supply agricultural customers. Interruptible water is subject to cutbacks during drought conditions. Interruptible customers used 84,472 acre-feet, or about 23% of all water used from the Highland Lakes, in 2020.

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 2020, LCRA released 115,586 acre-feet, or about 31% 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 2020, a total of 189,396 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 2020 compare?

Type of water use* 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Municipal (firm) 210,376 221,037 225,861 234,648 251,970
Water from the Highland Lakes 97,134 115,416 133,517 112,701 144,531
Water from the Colorado River† 113,242 105,621 92,344 121,947 107,439
Industrial (firm) 39,018 91,188 80,580 57,030 50,343
Water from the Highland Lakes 13,404 23,000 24,433 9,157 18,593
Water from the Colorado River† 25,614 68,188 56,147 47,873 31,750
Recreational and Irrigation (firm) 5,123 7,362 6,760 7,013 7,568
Water from the Highland Lakes 4,870 7,225 6,667 6,766 7,413
Water from the Colorado River 253 137 93 247 155
Agricultural (interruptible) 254,085 235,255 289,665 219,467 247,573
Water from the Highland Lakes 7,656 59,266 136,490 27,319 84,472
Water from the Colorado River 246,429 175,989 153,175 192,148 163,101
Environmental‡
(from the Highland Lakes)
54,641 67,762 55,923 61,954 115,586
TOTAL WATER USE 563,243 622,604 658,789 580,112 673,040

*Water use is in acre-feet.
Reported use includes water under water rights held by the City of Austin and Bastrop Energy Partners, LP.
Environmental releases are made to meet environmental requirements set out in the LCRA Water Management Plan. Releases for downstream customers and runoff flowing into the river and bay also help satisfy environmental needs.