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LCRA moves ahead with downriver reservoir

LCRA moves ahead with downriver reservoir

Posted: 3:32 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015

By Asher Price – American-Statesman Staff

When record rains raked Central Texas in October, they chiefly fell to the southeast of Austin — meaning the water didn’t flow into lakes Travis and Buchanan, the chief reservoirs in the region.

Instead, much of the water that whirled its way into the Colorado River eventually got flushed into the Gulf of Mexico.

With water in ever-increasing demand, the Lower Colorado River Authority, the utility charged with doling water out of the river and lakes, hopes to change that.

This month, the LCRA awarded a $174 million contract to Tennessee-based Phillips & Jordan Inc. for the construction of a reservoir in Wharton County, about 150 miles downriver of Austin. The idea is to capture some of the water that otherwise would be lost to the Gulf and make it available to farmers and industry, easing demand on the Austin-area reservoirs.

If the Wharton County reservoir had been operational in 2015, it could have captured 7,500 acre-feet of water in October alone from the Colorado River, LCRA spokeswoman Stefanie Scott said. That’s the same amount of water used for bathing, lawn-watering, washing and drinking by about 30,000 Austin homes for a year.

The river authority calculates that, for the entire year so far, it potentially could have captured 189,100 acre-feet – enough to fill the planned 40,000-acre-foot reservoir more than four and a half times.

“The Lane City Reservoir will be the first significant new water supply reservoir in the lower Colorado River basin since the Highland Lakes were built back in the 1930s and 1940s,” LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson said. “The reservoir’s capacity will equal roughly the amount of water in lakes Lady Bird, Austin and Marble Falls combined. It will help meet our customers’ needs for generations to come, and we are committed to building it as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.”

The river authority broke ground on the 1,100-acre project last December with some preliminary site preparation work.

Most of the money will come in the form of a low-interest loan financed by the Texas Water Development Board.

On Tuesday, the Texas Water Development Board announced it had closed on a $255 million bond issue to help pay for the project. Beyond covering the construction costs of the reservoir, the balance of the bond proceeds will pay for the reservoir site acquisition, permitting, engineering and design, relocation of utilities, easements and other related costs. Because of the low-interest terms, the board says the LCRA will save more than $18 million on the project.

The LCRA will repay that loan from its resource development fund, which receives money from fees attached to its electricity generation and transmission services and its water services.

The agency expects the reservoir to be operational by 2018.

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