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.
The dry conditions in place at the end of 2020 continued into 2021, with the basin seeing below-normal rainfall until the spring and summer. A wetter pattern began in late spring and continued through July, but the Highland Lakes saw limited runoff, as the rain fell intermittently and largely soaked into the soil. Dry conditions returned to the Highland Lakes watershed through the fall.

Total water use from the Highland Lakes and lower Colorado River decreased from 2020 to 2021. Water use from the Highland Lakes decreased by 43%, with reductions in all types of use. The increased runoff in the Colorado River downstream of the Highland Lakes in the late spring and early summer helped meet customer and environmental needs downstream. Diversions from the lower Colorado River increased by 18% from 2020 to 2021.

Water Rights

2021 Use (in acre-feet)

LCRA Garwood* 71,454
LCRA and South Texas Project* 79,716
LCRA Lakeside* 22,974
LCRA Gulf Coast* 41,893
LCRA Pierce Ranch* 5,955
LCRA Lakes Buchanan and Travis 211,841
SUBTOTAL – LCRA 433,833
City of Austin Water Rights* 136,013
Bastrop Energy Partners, LP* 180
SUBTOTAL – Other 136,193
TOTAL 570,026
*Water use from the Colorado River was 358,185 acre-feet.

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 2021, the Highland Lakes supplied 211,841 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 135,415 acre-feet, or about 64% of all water used from the Highland Lakes, in 2021. This includes 1,450 acre-feet used in hydroelectric generation to meet emergency needs for electricity, mostly in February during Winter Storm Uri.

Interruptible water contracts – These contracts supply agricultural customers. Interruptible water is subject to cutbacks during drought conditions. Interruptible customers used 45,109 acre-feet, or about 21% of all water used from the Highland Lakes, in 2021.

Environmental – FFrom 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 2021, LCRA released 31,317 acre-feet, or about 15% 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 2021, a total of 221,992 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 2021 compare?

Type of water use* 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Municipal (firm  customers) 221,037 225,861 234,648 251,970 249,011
Water from the Highland Lakes 115,416 133,517 112,701 144,531 118,821
Water from the Colorado River† 105,621 92,344 121,947 107,439 130,190
Industrial (firm  customers) 91,188 80,580 57,030 50,343 113,594
Water from the Highland Lakes 23,000 24,433 9,157 18,593 12,390
Water from the Colorado River† 68,188 56,147 47,873 31,750 101,204
Recreational and Irrigation (firm  customers) 7,362 6,760 7,013 7,568 4,204
Water from the Highland Lakes 7,225 6,667 6,766 7,413 4,204
Water from the Colorado River 137 93 247 155 0
Agricultural (interruptible  customers) 235,255 289,665 219,467 247,573 171,900
Water from the Highland Lakes 59,266 136,490 27,319 84,472 45,109
Water from the Colorado River 175,989 153,175 192,148 163,101 126,791
Environmental‡
(from the Highland Lakes)
67,762 55,923 61,954 115,586 31,317
TOTAL WATER USE 622,604 658,789 580,112 673,040 570,026
*Water use is in acre-feet.
Reported use includes water under water rights held by the City of Austin and Bastrop Energy Partners, LP and jointly by South Texas Project and LCRA
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.