LCRA makes change to how firm water contracts are approved

BY LEW COHN/ BURNET BULLETIN MANAGING EDITOR

 

Because heavy rains in June, August and September have taken the Colorado River basin and its associated tributaries out of drought, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) staff will now have the ability to approve contracts for “firm water” up to a certain amount without needing board approval.

The LCRA Board of Directors approved the changes at their Sept. 21 meeting, held at Canyon of the Eagles Lodge at Lake Buchanan.

Firm water is water that is available to be committed to another entity by contract, even during drought conditions, as opposed to interruptible water, which is used for agriculture primarily and can be cut off or reduced during a drought.

Prior to April 2014, it was standard board practice to allow LCRA staff to approve contracts for less than 500 acre-feet of water per year without needing board approval.

However, drought conditions that year made the board approve a resolution that required board approval for firm water contracts if the authority's water inventory dropped by more than 10 percent, which is did in February of last year, when the firm water inventory was an estimated 500,00 acre-feet due to drought.

Since that time, every contract of any size has been brought to the board as it reflected an increased demand on the LCRA water supply.

Entities contracting with LCRA for firm water use pay a rate of $145 an acre-foot per year, while if LCRA contracts for firm water reserved for future use, it charges the entity $72.50 per acre-foot per year.

The single biggest user of firm water is the LCRA itself for hydroelectric generation, with 22 percent of firm water under contract committed to that purpose. Next is the city of Cedar Park, which takes 10 percent of the available firm water under contract, while the city of Leander takes nine percent.

With the replenishing of the Highland Lakes due to heavy rain, the inventory in Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan is back up to 98 percent of capacity, or about 1,973,579 acre-feet of water, compared to a “full” capacity of 2.01 million acre-feet. In early June, after heavy rainfalls, the lake had reached a capacity of 2.2 million acre-feet.

As of Monday, Oct. 3, Lake Buchanan had a water level of 1017.98 feet, just below the spillway height of 1,020.76, while Inks Lake had a level of 887.23 feet, which is just below the spillway height of 888.63.

Lake LBJ had a level of 824.67 feet, while the top of the normal operating pool is 825.66 feet, and Lake Marble Falls has a level of 736.33 feet, while the top of the normal operating pool is 737.69.

LCRA staff say based on current commitments, the authority has approximately 3,903 acre-feet of water per year available for contracting. This does not include an estimated 50,000 acre-feet the LCRA Board of Directors has reserved for future water needs.

The staff will once again be able to enter into contracts less than 500 acre-feet per year of water without board approval. For example, the city of Cottonwood Shores currently has a contract with LCRA for 495 acre-feet of water.

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