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LCRA responds to concerns amid drought: Water Management Plan working as intended

Advocates want LCRA to update its Water Management Plan before 2025 because of the current drought and increased demand on water supply.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) approved the Lower Colorado River Authority's (LCRA) 2020 Water Management Plan after nearly two years of negotiations. According to that agreement, the LCRA will revisit and update the plan in 2025. Advocates say that's not soon enough.

John Hofmann, the executive vice president of Water at LCRA, said on Monday that the Management Plan works, even with the current drought conditions and growing demand on the Highland Lakes.

"What we do now is we begin to use the plans that we have in place," Hofmann said. "What you saw this summer in July, where we curtailed water for second season irrigation in our lower basin farming regions, that was one of the first steps. We also put in effect our drought contingency plan. Our customers are also putting in to play their drought contingency plans. And almost everybody in our region is in the either in Stage 1 or Stage 2 of the drought contingency plan. Some also have gone to Stage 3."

Hofmann explained the 2020 Management Plan won't be revisited until 2025 unless certain conditions – triggers – happen.

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"If you hit your average 2025 demands two years in a row, then you'd begin an early update. Also, if you hit 90% of your maximum 2025 demands, you would begin an update as well," Hofmann explained.

He added that his agency and stakeholders came up with the 2025 estimates using water usage data, weather forecasting and demand and growth forecasting in the area. After the drought of 2011, stakeholders across Central Texas started changing their conservation habits.

"Generally speaking, what we have seen is lower per-capita water usage, especially in the Austin metro region, than what we saw back at that time," Hofmann said. "Just because you have an increase in population doesn't necessarily mean that you have the proportionate increase in demands. So we don't necessarily use a whole lot more water because we have more people. Austin is a great example of that, where Austin's population has grown immensely in the last 10 years, but Austin's water usage is just now getting to the same level that it was in 2011."

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As the drought continues, Hofmann said Lake Travis and Lake Buchannan are working as intended despite low water levels.

"We still have over half of our of our total storage in place," Hofmann responded. "Our drought contingency plans are kicking in even as our Water Management Plan does its job of cutting off that interruptible water supply for the lower basins."

Both Hofmann and Central Texas Water Coalition note that Central Texas deals with droughts and floods, but rarely weather conditions in between. 

"Particularly in an arid part of the world, like the one that we live in now, you bank water when you have those wet periods so that you have water through drought periods," Hofmann explained. "If you look at our basin, we don't come out of droughts gently. We come out of droughts with big floods. So the same is true during flood cycles where people are concerned about flooding during the middle of a flood event. We understand that we're replenishing water supplies that are going to need to sustain us through the next drought, and so we have to act in both instances accordingly."

Unless the current drought or continuing demand forces those triggers, LCRA will wait until 2025 to change the Water Management Plan. Any changes need to be approved by TCEQ. According to Hofmann, negotiating a new plan may take about a year or so before sending it to the state agency for approval.

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