Are we going to lose our (almost) full Lake Travis this summer?
All the chatter would have you believe so.
The LCRA is opening up the Mansfield Dam flood gates and selling off water.
The rice farmers are demanding water to grow rice — now!
Well, not exactly.
The meeting held on July 1 at TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) was a good place to clear some of the air and listen to representatives from the LCRA, Central Texas Water Coalition, and the Lower Colorado River Basin Coalition.
First off, we can all breathe a sigh of relief because the commissioners approved LCRA’s application for an emergency order. This suspends their obligation to release water to the interruptible water customers downstream.
The emergency order is effective until October 15, 2015 and may be renewed for another 60 days. And that will give us some peace of mind knowing that most of the water in Lake Travis should remain there in 2015. I’ll come back to why I said “most.”
The obligation to release water downstream was set under the 2010 Water Management Plan. This is the plan that allowed the release of nearly 50% of the available water supply in Lake Travis to head downstream for agricultural use in 2011.
The 2010 Water Management Plan is flawed and needs to be fixed
You have to look at the bigger picture and the combined storage of Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan. Lake Travis has risen to an amazing 85% full … but Lake Buchanan didn’t do so well. Most of the heavy rains fell between the two lakes, leaving Lake Buchanan at only 52% full. That’s a total combined storage of 70% … still a long way from full.
The past two months of rain events do not break the drought. This is only an interruption of the drought similar to what happened in 2007 and 2010. Lessons were learned … let’s hope.
Don’t believe all that you hear
A lot of public comments have been made that could lead you to believe the LCRA is requesting to release water. Not true. LCRA requested the suspension of water releases at the meeting.
A lot of public comments have been made about the rice farmers wanting water to be released downstream to grow more rice. Not true.
Here are a few of the points made by Ronald Gertson, a rice farmer and representative of the Lower Colorado River Basin Coalition:
- we are not here to stand against the emergency order.
- we remain neutral.
- it is highly unlikely that we would call on the LCRA for a water release this year.
- the canals are not ready to receive water if you did send it downstream.
- Rice farmers do not want to revert back to the 2010 Water Management Plan.
- the emergency order is too broad and we want this order cleaned up.
The rice farmers are two weeks from completing their first crop of the season and that was grown without any water releases. They’ve had plenty of rain to grow rice … this time around.
Don’t take this the wrong way
The rice farmers are going to want some water … just not this year.
But next year, oh yes. It was clear that they would like to see the water remain in the lakes this year so they can use some next year. The bottom line is at some point they are going to want some water to do what they do. Grow rice. Something that doesn’t make any sense to us upstreamers.
Getting upstream and downstream users to agree on a new Water Management Plan will be a big challenge. Consider this — you have downstream users (interruptible customers) paying $6.50 per acre foot for water. You have upstream users (municipal and business and us) paying $175.00 per acre foot for water. That’s a big spread.
So the question has to be asked
When are we going to be able to make decisions about our water supply that are good for all involved?
These decisions need to be appropriate with the conditions that we are in today.
The Central Texas Water Coalition is working to get LCRA’s revised Water Management Plan approved and in place before the end of 2015.
Should you panic when you see water being released out of Mansfield Dam this summer?
I said “most” of the water should remain in Lake Travis because the commissioners had an exception to the emergency order. It’s to allow releases to interruptible water customers Garwood Irrigation and Pierce Ranch. I’m still reading through the contracts to try and figure out how much water that is exactly.
Lake Austin is at a surprising 85 degrees this summer. You’ll know when that water temperature plummets that water is heading downstream … hopefully not too much to see that island show up again!
Post image via Creative Commons, Jessica Stacey on Flickr.