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Stakeholders Pass Water Plan to LCRA

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News
As Texas faces one of the driest years on record, a team of people with a stake in water from the Highland Lakes have agreed on a plan for Lower Colorado River Authority's water management over the next 10 years.

Farmers, business owners, environmentalists, power plant developers and homeowners have agreed on a set of changes for the next Lower Colorado River Authority Water Management Plan.

The committee finalized its suggested plan Tuesday. The LCRA board will vote on it at their August 24 meeting. Their approval would send it to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a final decision.

In the Water Fight series that KUT and the Texas Tribune produced in June, different stakeholders shared their perspectives on how use of the water levels in the Highland Lakes, including Lakes Travis and Buchanan, impact them.

Rice farmers use millions of gallons of water each year to produce their crops. One told KUT they’ve been worried that, no matter what the final plan is, it could limit their farming capacity.

“I’m not going to say it’s going to devastate us,” said Paul Sliva, a rice farmer in Matagorda County. “But it’s going to put a hurt on us.”

Donna Williams owns Thunderbird Resort on Lake Buchanan. She and other business owners are worried about the impact as well.

“Basically, what you begin to pray every day and worry about every day is, ‘How are we going to be able to do this?,’” Williams says. “How are we going to be able to keep doing this without water?’”

The plan the stakeholders developed over the last year include:

·         Raising the minimum level required before cutting off water supplies for downstream agriculture to 600,000 acre-feet from 200,000.

·         Using two trigger points – January 1 and June 1 – instead of only the January 1 point to determine how much water can be used for agriculture and to set instream flow releases to meet the needs of wildlife.

·         Asking firm water customers like cities and industries to inact drought plans only after water for agriculture is restricted. Firm customers pay more for water and can’t have their flow stopped the way “interruptible” customers like farmers can.

In a news release, LCRA officials said the input of various parties was critical to producing a plan that would meet everyone's needs.

 “The hard work of these committee members to help LCRA balance those interests so we can meet critical needs throughout the basin, even in severe drought, is invaluable,” said LCRA General Manager Becky Motal.

LCRA officials are optimistic that the plan will help assuage challenges that groups face during droughts.

Audrey White is a news intern at KUT. She is currently studying at the University of Texas at Austin.