70° F Saturday, April 29, 2017

Larry Fox

WTCPUA Board President

On Tap

The water provided by the West Travis County Public Utility Agency and other local water districts is controlled by the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Water is provided to customers by using 40-year firm raw water contracts or long-term interruptible raw water contracts.

The firm water contracts have two pricing tiers. For the part of the water reservation that is used, it costs the water utility approximately $155 per acre-foot of water (325, 851 gallons) or about 48 cents per 1,000 gallons. If the reserved water is not taken, then the cost is one-half the consumed fee, or $77.50 per acre-foot or 24 cents per 1,000 gallons.

The effective interruptible raw water rate for lower Colorado River rice farmers for water released from the Highland Lakes is around $13 per acre-foot or about 4 cents per 1,000 gallons.

The WTCPUA, using LCRA figures, reserved 9,000 acre-feet of water annually when it assumed operational control of the system from LCRA on March 19, 2012. The reservation numbers can be revised at five-year intervals.

During last year’s drought, it was clear that LCRA could not provide the firm water contract needs and the interruptible water contracts without draining the reservoirs along the river.

So LCRA requested an emergency consent from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality to only send one of the two 200,000 acre-foot quantities, i.e. one, not two crops, worth of water. Despite protests from cities and counties up and down the Colorado River, the LCRA recently indicated first that they would not adopt a resolution to request a renewal of their 2011 Emergency Request, then at their Nov. 14 Water Committee Meeting in Fredericksburg decided to adopt a conditional resolution that they would send 120,000 acre-feet of water in a second lot. First, this really means that for 120,000 acre-feet of water to be delivered, about 155,000 acre-feet of water must be drained from the Highland Lakes to account for evaporation and river conveyance losses.

The weather patterns have been awkward to predict. An initial prediction of our finally leaving the dry La Niña conditions for a wet El Niño condition was going to assure further recovering from last year’s record setting drought. However as October came to a close, it was clear that Pacific Ocean water temperatures were driving us back into a dry La Niña pattern.

To release a second lot of water of 155,000 acre-feet means that Highland Lake levels will fall below those of last year. Nearly all of the cities and water districts along the Lower Colorado River are banning together to ask the Legislature and possibly the courts to find a solution.

One solution is to create a position found in other water basins in Texas, a Water Master, who has the authority to make these important decisions on water distribution.

Otherwise, it is likely, especially if the meteorologist at Texas A&M University is correct, we may experience two years of drought worse than the Drought of Record in 1956. That would mean a 20 percent or greater reduction in all water usage plus, at most, once a week water irrigation of lawns and vegetation.
The Grinch stole the water

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