A Travis lawmaker has proposed remaking the board of the Lower Colorado River Authority to make it more accountable to local authorities and forcing the utility to submit to periodic “sunset” review by the Legislature.
The proposal “does not assume wrongdoing or obfuscation, but rather seeks to bring the public, elected representatives and trusted professional staff into the discussion,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said Tuesday at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the proposals.
In the background is continued dissatisfaction among the lakeside interests Howard represents about decision-making at the LCRA, which oversees the doling out of water from lakes Travis and Buchanan, Central Texas’ major reservoirs.
The LCRA’s 15-member board is appointed by the governor. Howard proposes making 10 of the board members appointees by county commissioners courts and the remaining five by the governor.
Under the sunset process, an agency is thoroughly vetted by state staffers before lawmakers decide to reauthorize it. (Howard’s proposal, though, guarantees that the river authority would continue operations.)
Though periodic sunset reviews are standard for state agencies and some other quasi-public bodies, at least a half-dozen attempts by lawmakers to bring the LCRA under review have failed.
And, judging by skeptical questions from state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, who represents rural, downstream interests, this one is likely to fail as well.
“From my end of the lower Colorado River, the lake interests seem to always win,” he told Howard. “What’s interesting to me is that folks who represent lake interests always beat up on LCRA because they’re still not satisfied with the results they’re getting.”
Earlier this year, the LCRA board decided to cease water releases for downriver rice farmers for the second straight year.
A separate measure by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who represents lakesiders and has frequently warred with the utility, requires the state auditor to review the LCRA’s books and operations.
The Legislative Budget Board estimates the audit would cost the LCRA $288,000. The measure has passed the Senate.
“LCRA welcomes any oversight and regulation,” General Manager Becky Motal told the committee Tuesday.