The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has approved an updated Water Management Plan that governs how the Lower Colorado River Authority manages lakes Buchanan and Travis.
LCRA submitted the revised plan for approval in 2019 after extensive meetings with interested groups throughout the lower Colorado River basin.
“This plan has greater protections for ‘firm’ customers such as cities and industries, while at the same time providing interruptible water for downstream agricultural operations,’’ said Phil Wilson, LCRA general manager. “The plan also continues to provide water to help protect the health of the river and Matagorda Bay.”
The revised plan reduces the maximum amount of “interruptible” stored water available for most downstream agricultural use to 178,000 acre-feet for the first growing season and an additional 66,000 acre-feet for the second season.
The prior plan limited availability to 202,000 acre-feet for first crop and 76,500 acre-feet for second crop. (One acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.)
LCRA provides two categories of water from lakes Buchanan and Travis. “Firm” water can be relied upon during a repeat of the worst drought this region has seen; cities and industries purchase “firm” water.
“Interruptible’’ water is cut back or cut off during drought; agricultural customers in Colorado, Wharton and Matagorda counties purchase “interruptible” water.
The updated plan keeps the same general framework of the 2015 plan, which created three sets of drought conditions – normal, less severe drought and extraordinary drought – that determine how much water from lakes Buchanan and Travis is available for interruptible customers in the downstream agricultural operations.
The revised plan also:
Maintains storage in lakes Travis and Buchanan above 600,000 acre-feet through a repeat of the worst drought this region has seen.
Includes the latest available hydrology.
Uses projected water demands through 2025.
Continues to require releases from the lakes to help meet specific flow conditions in the river downstream of Austin and for the health of Matagorda Bay.
For the first time, sets a maximum limit on the amount of stored water that can be released from the lakes for interruptible customers.
The 2015 plan includes limits on the amount of water that can be diverted. The 2020 plan updates those limits, and also includes a new limit on the amount that can be released from the lakes for interruptible users.
This accounts for water that may be lost in transit along the more than 180 river miles from the Highland Lakes downstream to Colorado, Wharton and Matagorda counties, and water that is ordered but not needed by the time it arrives several days later.
The state approved LCRA’s first Water Management Plan in 1989, and approved updates in 1991, 1992, 1999, 2010, 2015 and 2020.