You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

LCRA water plan needs more study with drought in mind, state says

Texas’ environmental agency is putting the brakes on a long-term plan for managing Central Texas’ main water supply, saying Monday that the managers of the Highland Lakes may not be adequately accounting for the kind of drought now affecting the region.

The Lower Colorado River Authority, which manages the lakes, must “take into account information raised in … public comments, such as recent streamflow,” according to a Monday letter to the river authority from Zak Covar, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Covar wrote that the environmental agency plans to spend four months more gathering information about the drought’s effect on the lakes before passing the new plan along to the commission board for a final vote.

Lakes Travis and Buchanan, used as reservoirs for Austin and much of the region, are now 39 percent full, with this year’s inflows “on pace with record-low 2011,” according to the river authority’s website.

“We welcome the further review, and LCRA stands ready to assist TCEQ as needed,” Becky Motal, the river authority’s general manager, said in a statement.

The environmental commission’s decision is a small victory for officials from several Central Texas cities, lakefront business owners and politicians who contend the river authority has been too willing to release lake water downstream to coastal rice farmers.

The drought has exacerbated the tension. Earlier this year, under pressure from key state lawmakers, the river authority’s board of directors decided against a springtime release to the rice farmers, the second year in a row the farmers were cut off.

Those were situation-specific decisions, however, and the river authority also drafted a long-term plan its critics say set standards that are too generous to the rice farmers.

“We need to take the drought into account in coming up with a long-term plan. We spend all of our time, it seems, bumping from emergency order to emergency order,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who along with state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, have called for a plan that gives greater emphasis to the needs of Central Texas cities and power plants.

Rice farmer Ronald Gertson said the river authority’s proposed plan does contemplate severe drought but said he does not object to a closer level of scrutiny.

“There’s no question the water management plan properly takes into account the drought of record,” said Gertson, who leads the Colorado Water Issues Committee, which works on behalf of rice producers. “The question is whether we’re in a new drought of record. The ramifications of this plan are so great, particularly in the midst of this drought, that additional study and input is appropriate.”

One of the issues is whether cities and other customers who pay a premium to have “firm” contracts should receive preferential treatment over the rice farmers, who have “interruptable” contracts under a decades-old arrangement. Watson and Fraser want to require the river authority to cut off the rice farmers entirely before asking cities to curtail their water consumption, as the river authority has done for conservation’s sake.

In 2011, Austin officials were quietly furious when the river authority released water for two harvests despite the dry years of 2008, 2009 and what turned out to be one of the driest periods on record in 2011. That year, in keeping with its water management plan, LCRA released 433,000 acre-feet to the farmers, roughly what Austin uses in a year.

Watson said that absent significant rainfall, another such release would effectively push the region into a new drought of record.

Motal, the river authority general manager, said in her statement that if the drought does not break the rice farmers could be cut off again.

“There is no more important issue facing this region now than the drought,” Motal said, “and having a plan that protects the water supply for our firm customers is critical.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Lawsuit: Fort Hood soldier’s offenses not reported before shootings
Lawsuit: Fort Hood soldier’s offenses not reported before shootings

The surviving family members of people shot and killed by a Fort Hood soldier two years ago are accusing his supervisors of not reporting that the soldier had violated a no-contact restraining order, which they say would have made it harder for him to buy the gun he used in the shooting. The details are contained in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal...
Jack Pope, iconic Texas judge, dies at 103
Jack Pope, iconic Texas judge, dies at 103

Jack Pope, 1913-2017 Jack Pope, an indefatigable legal legend who spent 38 years as a Texas judge — including a politics-defying two-year stint as the Texas Supreme Court’s chief justice — died Saturday at age 103 in Austin. Pope served on the state’s highest civil court from 1964-85, making a lasting impression on the law by...
Police: Foul play not suspected in death of man found in Barton Creek
Police: Foul play not suspected in death of man found in Barton Creek

12:25 p.m. update: Police said early Saturday afternoon that they do not suspect foul play in the death of a man found shortly after 10 a.m. submerged in Barton Creek in Zilker Park. Officials did not provide the man’s identity, only that he was a Hispanic man in his 30s. Earlier: Austin-Travis County officials say a man in his 30s has been found...
Two killed in Leander when Kia hits tree
Two killed in Leander when Kia hits tree

Two peope were killed in a one-vehicle wreck in Leander early Saturday, police said. A woman and a man were found dead inside a Kia passenger car that had hit a tree in the 2900 block of Hero Way, Leander police said on their Facebook page. According to investigators, the car was headed west on Hero Way when it left the two-lane road and went into...
A tough legislative session for the UT System and Chancellor McRaven
A tough legislative session for the UT System and Chancellor McRaven

One state lawmaker says the University of Texas System Board of Regents is building “a monument” to itself in the form of a $130 million headquarters in downtown Austin. Another lawmaker wants to transfer 141 acres of UT System-owned land in West Austin to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department without compensating the university. Still...
More Stories