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If Drought Worsens, Austin Could Be Forced To Cut Water Use By 20 Percent

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Reshma Kirpalani for KUT News
Lake Travis water levels are approaching historic lows.

Austin would have to reduce its water consumption by a whopping 20 percent if the current drought surpasses the ten-year drought of record that occurred during the 1940's and 50's, something that could happen as soon as this spring.  The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) board decided today that it would go into “pro rata curtailment” if Lakes Travis and Buchanan drop below 600,000 acre feet.

“Pro rata curtailment” would mean all LCRA customers would have to reduce their draw by 20 percent. Austin gets all of its water from the Colorado River, so that would leave little wiggle room for the city.

The Austin Water Utility has already declared Stage 2 Watering Restrictions, and could move to Stage 3 Watering Restrictions for the first time ever if the drought persists, according to a piece in this morning’s Austin American-Statesman.

The next stage of water restrictions, as currently written, could come with potentially far-reaching consequences, including the demise of countless trees, risks to the foundations of buildings and even higher electric bills, city water officials said Tuesday in a presentation to the City Council.

Today's decision by the LCRA board was expected, because it’s part of its current Water Management Plan. But if enacted, the 20 percent reduction would mark a first for the LCRA.

“If this happens, it would be the first time in our [77 year] history that there had been mandatory cutbacks to what we call ‘firm water customers’ such as cities and industry,” LCRA spokesperson Clara Tuma told KUT News.

It would be up to individual LCRA customers to decide how they scale back their water consumption. Violators would see their water rates increase significantly.

The LCRA board voted last month to ask the state for permission to deviate from its Water Management Plan so that it could cut back or even cut off farmers next year. 

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