October 31, 2014
If you missed RECA’s Ideas Forum Lunch in June, then you missed Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) President Tim Timmerman’s presentation about how inflows into the LCRA’s Highland Lakes have dropped below the horrible “Drought of Record of the 1950’s,” the former baseline for the LCRA Water Management Plan.
State Climatologist John-Neilson Gammon has warned that Texas could be in the midst of a drought worse than that 1950’s “Drought of Record” with an average of just 14.8 inches of rain, 2011 was Texas’ driest year ever, according to Gammon. Add to that the extremely high summer temperatures increasing evaporation and we’ve been left with the pitifully low lake levels you can drive out and clearly see at Lake Travis or Lake Buchanan.
As most of us know, Austin is in the midst of a thriving economy with more than 100 people per day moving into Central Texas. Demographers tell us that historically, the Central Texas population doubles about every 20-25 years. That means that by the time our current class of kindergarteners is leaving college there could be as many as 2.5 million people living in the Austin area. Water, or the lack thereof, could be the death of the goose that has been laying our golden eggs.
LCRA’s webpage covering the current drought conditions stated that the combined capacity of their Highland Lakes is at only 34 percent, having fallen from 766,535 acre-feet in August to 681,750 acre-feet. LCRA projects that this combined storage could drop below 600,000 acre-feet by December, at which time the LCRA Board will issue a “Drought Worse than Drought of Record” declaration. Talk about an alarming statement!
Recognizing the drought, Texas’ 83rd Legislature crafted a referendum item called Proposition 6, taking $2 billion from the State Rainy Day Fund to start a fund for water projects across the state. Proposition 6 passed the November 2013 election with an overwhelming mandate – 73 percent of the vote.
Despite this, recent recommendations following a months-long study by the City of Austin’s Water Resource Planning Task Force make little mention of Austin and Central Texas working on developing any new and alternative water sources. Right now, San Antonio is considering the Vista Ridge Water Project, a 30-year, $3 billion project to diversify San Antonio’s sole-source water supply to a second source of water from the Simsboro Aquifer in the Post Oak Savannah Ground Water Control District.
I think our area should mimic the California State Water System, which efficiently moves huge amounts of water from areas with a large supply to areas that need it through a series of pipes and aqueducts. With the right political will, our area could find a way to move water from East Texas and our neighbor Louisiana, which is the second wettest state in the country with 52 inches of annual rainfall, to our Highland Lakes Chain and to the west beyond. The California State Water plan represents a $400 billion positive annual impact to that state’s economy – imagine what the same infrastructure could do for Texas.
As we move toward a single-member district form of government in 2015, we need to make sure an adequate and diverse water supply is front and center to maintaining a strong economy, a high quality of life and keeping our golden goose alive.
It’s been said that the Senate and House Natural Resource Committees will be known in the upcoming 84th Texas Legislative Session as the “Liquid Gold Committees” as they consider Texas’ water resources. Let’s make sure that as they make these important decisions, that our voices are loud and clear when they consider important decisions regarding water.