The Colorado river is under the regulatory management of the Lower Colorado River Authority’s (LCRA). The LCRA operates the river under its Water Management Plan (WMP) that is approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Operation of the river impacts the river itself, the Highland Lakes, and Matagorda Bay.
Our current concern is that the LCRA has, in the past, request emergency relief from the TCEQ to cut off environmental flows to Matagorda Bay under to the LCRA’s Water Management Plan thereby impacting flow of the river (instream flows). At the same time Groundwater Management Area 12 and Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District are establishing desired future conditions for the Simsboro Aquifer and permitting pumping of the aquifer that will likely take away groundwater flow into the river during drought conditions causing the river to potentially dry up.
LCRA Water Management Plan
The LCRA is required to have a Water Management Plan that directs the LCRA in managing the water resources of the lower Colorado River, including the Highland Lakes. The water management plan is approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and is an extension of the water rights owned by the LCRA. The most recent water management plan was approved by the TCEQ in 2020.
Under the water management plan the LCRA has obligations to met environmental flow standards that have been adopted by TCEQ and are intended to protect the health of the Colorado River and Matagorda Bay in times of drought, and to promote an “ecological sound environment” during times of normal dry, and wet climatological conditions.
LCRA request for emergency relief from Matagorda Bay environmental flow requirements.
The LCRA Board instructed staff during the most recent drought to seek emergency relief from its requirement to provide environmental flows (freshwater inflows) to Matagorda Bay. Under the water management plan and TCEQ environmental flow standards, the LCRA is required to supplement flows to Matagorda Bay during times of drought to ensure that it receives “critical flows” of 14,260 acre-feet of fresh water per month to maintain moderated bay salinity and health of the bay so that it will have the biological life to re-populate the bay once we are out of drought conditions.
Because we are rapidly approaching the Drought Worse than Drought of Record (DWDR) designation in the Colorado River basin, the Board is looking at ways to reduce use of the approximately 660,000 acre-feet of combined storage in lakes Buchanan and Travis. When these lakes reach a combined storage of 600,000 acre-feet a Drought Worse than Drought of Record will be declared and all firm customers will be required to reduce water use by 20%. Unfortunately, the LCRA Board action seeks to put 100% of the burden of delaying the DWDR determination on Matagorda Bay, the fishermen and residents of the region that depend on the bay for their economic survival. Finally, the emergency order will place the ecological health of the bay in severe jeopardy after having been on “live support” for the past three years. This action also has long-term implications for the river and bay during future droughts.