Why this is important to the lower Colorado River basin

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. 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?

2022 (March) Freshwater Inflows into the Highland Lakes compared to Average 1942-2020 and the most recent drought of record Average 2008-2015.

Click here for link to the most recent update to the 2022 graph (above)

 

2021 Freshwater Inflows into the Highland Lakes compared to Average 1942-2020 and the most recent drought of record Average 2008-2015.