TRAVIS COUNTY -- The Lower Colorado River Authority is launching a new initiative Friday to find people who illegally take water from the Highland Lakes chain. LCRA staff will go by boat, by land and by air to make sure homeowners have a contract and pay to use lake water.

On the shores of a shrinking Lake Travis, long, thin, white pipes pull water from the lake and deliver it to homeowners who often use it to water their lawns.

"We really have to do a lot of due diligence, to make sure they are watering with water diverting from the lake," said LCRA water use representative Arthur Sayre.

Sayre says homeowners must have a contract, pay to use lake water and only water their lawns once a week.

LCRA says it's hard to quantify how much water is stolen.

The agency estimates 3,700 residents have contracts among the 6,000 pumps and pipes along the Highland Lakes chain that includes Lakes Travis, Buchanan and LBJ, among others.

Beyond patrolling the lake every day, LCRA is also taking its water crackdown to the sky.

"GPS technology helps a whole lot," said John Hoffman, LCRA vice president of water.

Helicopters will fly along the Colorado River from Bastrop to the coast, searching for pumps, mainly used for farmland irrigation and industrial use.

"Every drop does count when you are in a seventh year of a drought like we are here," said Hoffman. "It's not only fair, but it's also the right thing to do, and it's the law."

Once LCRA investigators feel they have enough evidence on a violation, they turn the information over to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. TCEQ can fine residents $350 dollars per violation.

LCRA is asking the public to possible violations to; by filling out a violation form; or by calling the domestic use hotline at 800-776-5272, Ext. 1535.

To secure a domestic use contract, property owners should email, or call 800-776-5272, Ext. 1535.

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