I use this space to keep the citizens of Bastrop County informed on big issues facing us, such as ground water and surface water. Recently we’ve seen significant developments in the latter.
The Lower Colorado River Authority Board, at their September 18th meeting, took two important actions. First, they voted to move forward with construction of an off-channel storage reservoir in Wharton County, about 100 miles below Bastrop. This lake, called Lane City Reservoir, will hold about 40,000 ac. ft. of water when full and can be refilled multiple times each year with storm flows from the river. It will provide much needed assurances for the rice industry on the Coastal Plains. It will also spread out the flows of storm water into Matagorda Bay and estuaries, benefiting the flora and fauna there. Finally, it should ease demands on the Highland Lakes in times of drought.
I applaud this forward thinking action by the LCRA Board and management. The cost of Lane City, estimated at around $215 Million for construction, will be repaid by water customers up and down the river. A loan for a quarter of a billion dollars to complete the project has already been approved by the Texas Water Development Board. This reservoir will be the first significant new water in the lower basin in almost 75 years, since LCRA began. LCRA reports that the annual firm yield of this reservoir will be significant, about 90K ac.ft.
The second big LCRA Board decision was to submit a revised Water Management Plan (WMP) to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). A plan has been discussed for several months. We got deeply involved when it looked like trigger levels for releases were going to be raised so high that the downstream rice industry and environment would be threatened and all of us might be put at greater risk.
The Lower Colorado River Basin Coalition was formed this year to give a diverse group of downriver interests a stronger voice in the discussions. I believe it has been worth the work. The LCRA Board listened to our request for more time to understand and respond to a complicated framework proposed by TCEQ. It requires looking at several elements, including lake storage, meteorological data and historic flows, to determine trigger points for releases of interruptible water downstream. Progress was made on the WMP during this review.
I appreciate Bastrop County’s representative on the LCRA Board, Dr. Robert Lewis of Elgin, for voting to give us an extra month to understand and try to improve the draft plan. During that time, some very smart people got together to find adjustments that benefit agricultural and environmental interests, without impacting lake storage. Our own Steve Box, executive director of Environmental Stewardship, was particularly helpful, suggesting ways to keep fresh water flowing in our river.
My conclusion is that the revised plan is better. It will allow interruptible releases a little more often and set trigger levels for releases from the Highland Lakes at more reasonable levels. However, I remain concerned that the WMP does not call for mandatory water restrictions by firm customers even when record low levels are approached. There can be years when agriculture and the environment suffer while firm users waste water. The other concern I have is that the 5000 ac. ft. of ground water LCRA has permits to harvest from the Simsboro Aquifer here in Bastrop County may only mean that minimum storage levels in Lake Travis will be increased instead of that water being shared downstream. We are still working on that with LCRA management.
The Coalition is doing its job and is making a difference. Our work is not over. We must continue to be watchful for threats to the beautiful Texas Colorado River. At the same time, let’s find ways to make this river all that it can be – an asset for our citizens and others to enjoy. Wendell Phillips once said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” It’s also the price of a clear, clean Colorado River.