LCRA’s drought plan lacks specifics
August 22, 2013, 9:00 pm by James Walker
When does a declaration of a Drought Worse Than the Drought of Record mean we’re not really in a drought that is worse than the Drought of Record?
Long-time Highland Lakes residents and business owners likely won’t be surprised at the answer: When the Lower Colorado River Authority says it is.
LCRA Executive Manager of Water Resources Karen Bondy’s puzzling answer and explanation Tuesday to a question regarding a drought contingency plan was emblematic of the uncertainties looming for the water utility and its customers.
The discussion came during a meeting of LCRA’s Water Operations Committee in Austin.
With a record-breaking drought stubbornly persisting and theLake Buchananand Lake Travis reservoirs continuing a steady march toward historically low levels, a drought contingency plan for how to manage the water in the lakes has belatedly taken on more of a sense of urgency among the LCRA directors and staff.
LCRA has something resembling a plan for how to proceed in the event the Colorado River basin reaches Drought Worse Than the Drought of Record status, but Tuesday’s discussion laid bare the reality that many questions and specific rules and requirements remain regarding how to proceed if and when it happens.
LCRA is responsible for managing the water in the Highland Lakes and if the reservoirs drop below the 600,000 acre-feet storage level, a drought of record declaration could be issued and a 20 percent curtailment in water use would be required of all firm water customers, including cities and industrial users.
The storage level in the two reservoirs Thursday morning was 689,000 acre-feet, 34 percent of capacity.
The 10-year drought of the 1940s and 50s is known as the Drought of Record and the record low level of stored water in the Buchanan and Travis reservoirs was 621,221 acre- feet on Sept. 9, 1952.
If the current drought conditions continue the Buchanan and Travis reservoirs would likely drop below 600,000 acre-feet of combined storage in late October or early November, Ryan Rowney, LCRA’s executive manager of water operations, told the board.
LCRA’s drought contingency plan is lacking in specific answers in many areas including how to enforce its provisions, what happens if the drought persists and water in the LakeBuchanan and Lake Travisreservoirs continues to diminish and how to proceed when they begin to fill up again.
"We will be bringing several issues before you in the coming months and I’m sure you are going to be hearing a lot of feedback from our customers,” Rowney said. ”The board ultimately will have to make some tough decisions.”
One of the most interesting questions to be decided is the one Bondy referenced when she was asked about the timing of a drought of record declaration and when curtailment and other restrictions would go into effect.
"A declaration of a drought of record is not a determination that we are in a drought of record," Bondy said.
For the full story, see the weekend edition of The Highlander.
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