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LCRA to move forward on water supply projects

Aug. 16, 2012 at 3:16 a.m.


LCRA’s Board of Directors Wednesday authorized General Manager Becky Motal to move forward on three projects aimed at helping the Lower Colorado River Authority increase the state’s water supply.

Two of the projects involve agricultural land in Wharton and Colorado counties, close to the Colorado River. The parcels could be the site for new off-channel water reservoirs built with earthen embankments excavated from the sites. In times of abundant river flow, which can happen during floods or after a heavy rain downstream of Austin, water from the Colorado River could be diverted to the reservoirs and held until needed by municipal, industrial and agricultural water customers. Today, there is no way to capture that water. Each of the reservoirs could be filled several times a year, depending on river flows and water use, thereby reducing water demands on the Highland Lakes.

The third project involves pursuing an agreement to purchase the 34,000-acre Alcoa Inc., property near Rockdale, northeast of Austin. The Alcoa property has significant surface water rights and is situated atop a prolific groundwater aquifer.

“The LCRA Board and General Manager Becky Motal earlier this year set a goal of expanding the water supply in our basin by 100,000 acre-feet in the next five years,” said LCRA Board Chair Tim Timmerman. “It’s an ambitious goal and these projects are important steps toward achieving it. These projects could benefit the entire basin for decades to come -- from the lakes interests in the upper basin to municipal and industrial water customers to farmers and the river environment.”

The first downstream project is in three parcels totaling about 1,700 acres in Colorado County. The second is in two parcels totaling approximately 2,400 acres in Wharton County.

In both projects, LCRA posted earnest money to hold the property while the feasibility of reservoirs is determined. That process could take up to a year.

The Alcoa Inc. project could include all surface and groundwater rights, certain facilities and equipment, and an Alcoa power contract. The purchase does not include the Alcoa aluminum smelter or aluminum powder plant.

“These projects are an exciting opportunity to roll back the effects the ongoing drought has had on our basin,” said Director J. Scott Arbuckle, of Wharton County. “These reservoirs could prevent the need for LCRA to restrict water for rice farming in the future.”

“Everyone in the lower basin realizes how important it is to have a secure source of water in extremely dry times. These off-channel reservoirs are a positive development that could make a huge difference in our portion of the Colorado River basin, said Director Steve K. Balas, of Eagle Lake in Colorado County.”

Matagorda County Board Member John C. Dickerson III said, “I am pleased that LCRA’s is moving so quickly to develop new supplies of water. New reservoirs not only can supply water to the lower counties, but keep more water in the Highland Lakes, as well. This is a very promising development.”

“This is a rapid response from LCRA to make good on our promise to increase the basin’s water supply. These reservoirs could make that promise happen much sooner than anticipated,” said Director Lori A. Berger, of Fayette County.

In Wednesday’s action, the Board authorized Motal to pursue a purchase agreement that is contingent on the completion of an environmental inspection and assessment. That process is likely to take at least six months.

Motal said the Alcoa property could add as much as 45,000 acre-feet per year in surface and groundwater, which could serve LCRA’s customers and preserve more water in the Highland Lakes.

“The ongoing drought has reminded all of us in Texas about the importance of increasing our water supply,” Motal said. “LCRA has committed to looking at a variety of options to do that and these three projects could prove to be plausible options. We owe it to the state to explore them.”

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