LCRA moves toward building new reservoir in Wharton

Jan. 16, 2013 at 8:05 p.m.
Updated Jan. 16, 2013 at 7:17 p.m.

The Lower Colorado River Authority took a step Wednesday toward building a new downstream reservoir and meeting its goal of adding 100,000 acre-feet to the region's water supply by 2017.

LCRA's board of directors unanimously approved $18 million for the first phase of the project, which entails buying property in Wharton County near Lane City and beginning the engineering and permitting for a new reservoir capable of providing 90,000 acre-feet of water a year.

The move comes as the region is caught in the grips of one of the worst droughts in history and on the heels of a board decision that could cut off Highland Lakes water to most rice farmers for the second year in a row, according to a news release.

LG Raun, a rice farmer in Wharton County and chairman of the Texas Rice Producers Legislative Group, said the board made a good decision.

"I am elated, I am very happy ... We will be able to use that rainfall and release water more efficiently and obviously using water more efficiently benefits everyone," Raun said.

Raun said the reservoir won't completely solve the problem, but it is a step in the right direction.

"This ongoing drought has highlighted the need for bold and decisive action to ensure that LCRA's customers have a reliable supply of water in the future," said Tim Timmerman, board chairman. "This new reservoir would help serve the entire basin's needs for generations."

On Wednesday, the board also approved $15 million to install new groundwater wells in Bastrop County if the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District approves the project. LCRA has applied for a permit with the groundwater district to pump up to 10,000 acre-feet a year to serve the Lost Pines Power Park in Bastrop County. When coupled with the Lane City reservoir, the projects would meet the board's goal to add 100,000 acre-feet of new water supply by 2017.

The preliminary cost estimate for the Lane City reservoir is $206 million. LCRA will seek grants, loans and other outside funding sources to help pay for the rest of the project, according to the release. This reservoir would be the first major water supply infrastructure built in the lower Colorado River basin since the 1970s.

"This is a historic project on many levels," LCRA General Manager Becky Motal said. "Not only would it be the first major reservoir built in the basin in four decades, but it's the first project in our history that would allow us to store significant amounts of water downstream that could be used by multiple customers. That's vitally important to serving the needs of our downstream industrial and agricultural customers, meeting environmental flow requirements and taking pressure off the Highland Lakes."

Currently, most of the water that enters the river downstream of the Highland Lakes flows to Matagorda Bay unless customers withdraw it from the river for immediate use. There is no way to capture and store those flows for future use, so during dry periods, downstream customers often need to call on water from the Highland Lakes. Last year, for instance, more than 800,000 acre-feet of water flowed down the river into Matagorda Bay.

"The announcement today of beginning to build a reservoir is some of the first good news that we have heard in the last two years, with the water curtailments we have had the last two years and we will probably have again this year," Raun said.



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