The Water Management Plan approved in February by the Lower Colorado River Authority board is a far-reaching set of proposals borne of compromise.
Though nobody at the table got everything personally desired, the plan should work well enough to ensure that cities and utilities in the Highland Lakes will always have adequate water during a drought, even though the compromise will sometimes require curtailing or restricting supplies to downstream rice farmers.
Now it’s up to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to approve the plan, though the signs indicate it will sail through with little trouble.
But the work doesn’t stop there.
The LCRA board must pledge to carry out the provisions of the plan, which passed in a 10-5 vote split between the upstream communities of Central Texas and downstream agricultural interests.
The temptation in years ahead to cave in to certain parties at the expense of average consumers, especially if the historic drought continues, must be avoided.
Water has become the most precious resource in Texas, and future board members — who are appointed by the governor — must refrain from revising the plan without first seeking plenty of community input from stakeholders.
The 1 million residents who rely on the waters of the Lower Colorado River Basin must hold LCRA accountable. Even though the Water Management Plan is now close to becoming a reality, the various parties with vested interest in the basin must continue working together to keep the water flowing.
A 16-member advisory committee hammered out the plan during an 18-month period, literally spending thousands of hours working to ensure there’s enough water to go around in the future.
Their work is to be applauded, and the same goes for the LCRA board, which has two members from the Highland Lakes.
The plan, which takes into account extreme drought conditions, uses two trigger points — Jan. 1 and June 1— instead of just Jan. 1 to determine if enough water is available in storage reservoirs Buchanan and Travis to release to downstream rice farmers.
It also does away with the concept of “open supply” to the farmers.
The authority devised the new plan to meet an expected 48 percent increase in demand from its water users, chiefly cities and electric generators, by 2020.
Will the Water Management Plan go far enough? One can only hope, especially as the population is growing and demands are increasing.
Now it’s time for the LCRA to look at the next stage in planning. The rice farmers say too much water flows past their fields that is never captured. Perhaps the river authority should create an off-channel reservoir to capture and hold an extra 100,000 acre-feet for the farmers, thus lessening the demands on lakes Travis and Buchanan.
In addition, LCRA must pay closer attention to smaller communities such as Silver Creek and Windemere Oaks, which are about to run out of water. The disaster that left Spicewood Beach dry when the LCRA well located there stopped pumping should serve as a cautionary tale.
The river authority must become more efficient. Still, the water management plan is definitely a step in the right direction.