WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT TO THE LOWER COLORADO RIVER BASIN

Updated August 1, 2022
The instream environmental flows that are released to the lower Colorado River basin — passed-through releases from Lake Travis — are regulated by the LCRA based on the amount of inflows received into the Highland Lakes. Without adequate inflows, release of water down-stream for interuptable (irrigation) or environmental flow purposes are restricted. Without these releases, minimum flows in the lower basin are dependent on return flows from the city of Austin and Travis county wastewater treatment plants, and groundwater inflows from the aquifers.

All too often we are told that during times of drought the LCRA will not let the river go dry and will simply release water from the Highland Lakes. However, this is not true for two reasons.

  • First, since the last drought of record caught the LCRA off guard by starting right after they had released a huge volume of water for irrigation into the lower basin, the rules for maintaining the water levels in the highland lakes have changed. Lead by the Central Texas Water Coalition, who keeps a watchful eye on the water levels in the Highland Lakes, and other stakeholders like the City of Austin, and environmental interests like Texas Parks and Wildlife and Environmental Stewardship, the LCRA’s Highland Lakes Management Plan was updated to put better planning safeguards in place so that the lake levels are better managed.
  • Second, as with the recent drought-of-record, the LCRA can, and has, requested that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) provide an emergency exemption to the LCRA, thereby releasing them from the obligation to release water into the lower basin for environmental and irrigation purposes.

Environmental Stewardship called this to the LCRA’s attention during its review of the Highland Lakes Water Management Plan in 2018 (See below).  Get more details on LCRA’s Water Management Plan.

 

STATUS OF FRESHWATER INFLOWS INTO THE HIGHLAND LAKES

Focus on the PURPLE bars!

Compare 2021 to 2022.  Do you see a trend that concerns you?

Figure 1.  Recent 2022 inflows to the Highland Lakes. Link for update.

Figure 2. 2021 Freshwater Inflows into the Highland Lakes compared to Average 1942-2020

and the most recent drought of record Average 2008-2015.

Figure 3.  Stream flow in Colorado River Basin for 14 day period ending August 1, 2022.  

Link to Hydromet

ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP STARTED SOUNDING THE ALARM  

A as early as 2014 with comments to the LCRA Board prior to the 2015 WMP being adopted by TCEQ, and in 2018 during stakeholder participation in Water Management Plan revisions prior to the plan being adopted in 2020.

ES Comments and LCRA’s Responses (July 31, 2018):  Evaluation of RAINFALL/RUNOFF PATTERNS IN THE UPPER COLORADO RIVER BASIN (“Patterns”)

In the interim (2017-2019), Environmental Stewardship, working through the Colorado-Lavaca Basin and Bay Area Stakeholder Group,  enabled funding of two work-plan studies on the causes of Rainfall-Runoff declining, thereby  initiating investigations into this developing problem.  Unfortunately, the concern and report information seems to have fallen on deaf ears.   We have no confirmation of actions by either the LCRA or TCEQ to address this problem.

STEPS BEING TAKEN TO INITIATE ACTIONS TO UNDERSTAND AND REMEDY!

The Central Texas Water Coalition (CTWC) kicked off the effort to get the LCRA to revisit the Water Management Plan with comments to the LCRA Operations Committee on May 17, 2022.  At CTWC’s urging Travis County Commissioners Court passed a resolution on June 19, 2022, requesting that LCRA revisit the  Water Management Plan using more current hydrology that reflects the decreasing inflows to the Highland Lakes (news article). Other organizations are following their lead and submitting resolutions or letters to LCRA in support of Travis County’s request (click for template).

The resolution requests:

  1. That the LCRA work with local leaders and stakeholders to accelerate the update of its Water Management Plan to implement a more protective and real time adaptable approach to managing the Highland Lakes in 2022;
  2. That updates to the Water Management Plan reflect current scientific research and data, take into account the significant decline in water flowing into the Highland Lakes, include provisions that encourage conservation by all water users, and prepare for greatly increased water demands in Central Texas;
  3. That the LCRA obtain information on the causes for, and consequences of, the dramatic declines in inflows to the Highland Lakes, to assure that this phenomenon is accounted for in the updated Water Management Plan;
  4. That the LCRA facilitate smart water distribution and usage, including the implementation of modern and efficient water use practices in large irrigation settings suitable to an arid climate; and
  5. That the LCRA expand its public outreach and input opportunities and establish advisory committees of local officials, business leaders, stakeholder organizations, and area residents to foster an increased opportunity for open discussion and collaboration on issues that affect the water supply and economy for almost 2 million Central Texans.

Letters, comments, and resolutions from other government entities and organizations:

Central Texas Water Coalition, Comments to the LCRA Water Operations Committee, May 17, 2022

Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund (SAWDF), Region K Comment, July 27, 2022

Environmental Stewardship, Letter and fact sheet, August 1, 2022