August Commodore’s Report
Back in June I was contacted by Augusto Villalon, a former AYC member, about scheduling a meeting and presentation by David Wheelock, a water engineer with the LCRA, about their proposed Water Management Plan.
On August 11 we had that meeting in the AYC and it was attended by 50 or so AYC members as well as local marina operators. This was the first opportunity Mr. Wheelock had had to make his presentation and our club made a very informed and inquisitive venue. The questions asked by the members showed him our interest and how much attention they have been giving to the actions of the LCRA. His 25 minute presentation stretched to over an hour with questions answered.
Much of the time was taken by him presenting the history of the water rights and past operations of the water stored in Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis. These are the two lakes that provide and determine the water available for all users during a calendar year. The current plans operation is determined by the combined storage in the two lakes as of January 1 of each year.
Our most recent drop in lake levels was begun in January 2011 when the combined storage was of the level that the rice farmers could draw the maximum water for the entire year. This usage and the total lack of inflow during that year resulted in the drastic loss of water that took the lake down 40 feet. The lake eventually reached a near historic low of 618 feet in 2013.
As a result of this extreme loss of storage the LCRA has been operating under an emergency action declared by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). This order has prevented the release of water since then for downstream agricultural use. One of the more interesting items that was revealed during the meeting was that the Texas rice industry has had record yields that past two years due to the use of water in the Colorado that came from rains to the east of Lake Buchanan and Travis as well as wells that they have drilled in the past few years.
Since the lakes have refilled in the past few months, they are now at a level that the emergency action order will no longer be in effect. Unless there is a change in the Water Management Plan the level of the lakes in January 2016 will allow the usual almost limitless use of water for agriculture (rice farming) and will undoubtedly drastically lower Lake Travis unless we have near normal rainfall.
The plan that the LCRA has proposed will measure the storage of the two lakes on March 1st and July 1st each year. Unless the lake storage is above the trigger level at those dates, there will not be release of water for agricultural purposes. This plan would put the measurement of storage on a much more reasonable date structure with two times that storage capacity must be met, both of which are more reasonable than the January 1 date currently used. The LCRA management and its engineers have developed a plan that takes into consideration the needs of both the city and agricultural communities. This should result in maintaining the lake level at a more reasonable level in the case of less than normal rainfall.
The bottom line is that the new plan would improve the chances of having our lakes stay at a better level. The big problem is that this plan needs to be approved before the end of the year if it is to take effect in January 2016. The truth is that this plan is being contested by some of the parties involved, meaning the agricultural interests. If these objections are not met by the deadline, which is likely later this year, the existing plan which measures the lake level on January 1st of each year will be in effect for 2016 and we will see a drastic drop again in our lake unless we have near to above normal rainfall in the coming months.
Having a representative from the LCRA present to our club was most appreciated, even if they are not totally in control of the outcome of the recommended new water management plan. It was good to hear that the LCRA does recognize the interest of the municipal and recreational needs that need to be met prior to purely agricultural use. This is particularly a problem since the majority of Texas rainfall occurs in the areas east of Austin and downstream from the lakes that store that water.
Let’s all hope that an agreement can be reached before the end of the year that will establish a much more reasonable and fair method of deciding how much water can be released to keep the weeds out of the rice crop.
It is certainly nice to have Lake Travis back to a full level that is more enjoyable, but it is also comforting to know that we can continue our sailing activities in the absence of all of the water we currently enjoy. The actions of the past few AYC Board of Directors have ensured us a workable harbor arrangement in spite of what the bureaucracy brings us. Keep Sailing. Have Fun.
More information is available at LCRA.org and search for Water Management Plan.