The Lower Colorado River Authority board voted Sept. 18 to suspend sending water to Matagorda Bay until drought conditions improve.
The emergency relief request, which must first be approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, would prevent the LCRA from having to send more water down the Colorado River into Matagorda Bay. Without a consistent supply of freshwater inflows, state-issued studies suggest that wildlife within the Gulf coast bay is adversely affected.
Under current standards, the LCRA would be required to send up to 5,834 acre-feet of fresh water to the bay by year's end—in addition to the 14,686 acre-feet already sent toward Matagorda Bay so far this year, LCRA staff stated during the meeting.
“Every drop [of water] at this point is significant, and the health of the bays and estuaries are very important, and that's why we're grappling with this issue so much,” LCRA board Chairman Tim Timmerman said. “However, I think it's time to act. … On a scale of where we are today, it's going to make a whole lot more difference in [keeping stored water in] the Highland Lakes than the bay and estuaries, in my opinion.”
The board fell short of declaring a drought worse than the drought of record, although three members unsuccessfully voted in favor of pre-emptively making such a request to TCEQ. Had their efforts prevailed, all firm water customers—mostly municipalities such as the city of Austin—would have been required to reduce water usage by 20 percent.
Such a drought declaration will be forced upon LCRA if the Highland Lakes' combined storage dips below 600,000 acre-feet. If lake levels continue to drop at the existing pace—approximately 1,500–2,000 acre-feet per day—lake levels could reach the drought of record by mid- to late October, according to LCRA staff projections.
For now, however, the resolution approved 9-6 by board members will go before TCEQ, which can approve the suggested conditions for emergency relief or recommend its own provisions to addressing critical freshwater flows into the bay.
The LCRA-approved resolution calls on TCEQ to suspend all releases of Highland Lakes inflows, or water that is captured and stored in lakes Travis and Buchanan, until the lakes' combined storage returns to at least 900,000 acre-feet or until state-approved emergency relief expires—typically a period of 120 days, pending TCEQ approval.
TCEQ has two scheduled meetings in October, and the state agency can also call a special meeting to address the relief request.