Water needs worsen as drought continues

AUSTIN (KXAN) – LCRA General Manager Becky Motal joined KXAN News in studio Sunday to talk about water issues facing Central Texas.

Motal is the first woman to hold the position with LCRA as GM. She came into office during the summer of 2011 – one of the worst droughts Texas has seen – and it continues today. A drought that from an historical standpoint is unprecedented.

“Historically this is probably one of the most intense droughts, especially over the last two to three years. 2011, the lowest inflows were record into Lakes Travis and Buchanan. Those are the lakes we worry about, that’s our water supply,” Motal said.

The LCRA’s job is not an easy one, especially during times of drought.  Different demands for central Texas’ water have proved to be a difficult task for Motal but she is faring well.

“We manage the water supply to the lakes through a water management plan so we have certain environmental interests. We have our firm customers that are very, very important like the City of Austin. We have the downstream agricultural interests, we have the lake interests. Everybody wants the water and we manage to pursue it into the water management plan. But we’ve had to ask for emergency relief from that as well,” said Motal.

Downstream rice farmers were going to get water from the Highland lakes for this year’s crop, but the LCRA recently modified the rules a bit for this year. There is also the possibility of a long-term drought which means this isn’t the last time we’ll face this problem. But the LCRA is being proactive to better-handle drought situations.

“We’ve asked for an emergency relief from TCEQ so that we can deviate from our water management plan, the Executive Director just signed that the other day. What that means is if there is not significantly more rain before March the first, we will not be able to release any water for agricultural, for the most part. So this will be the second year in a row that they have not had water for their crops,” Motal said.

New measures enacted by the LCRA are aimed at easing the drought problem. But as Motal points out, there is no real way to manage Mother Nature.

Motal points out, “One of the things you learn is you can’t manage a drought, you can manage a flood, but you just have to prepare or you’ve got to get ahead of droughts. So one of the things our board has authorized us to do is go out and seek 100,000 acre feet of new supplies of water. So we have an off-channel reservoir site that we are going to be developing where it will hold about 90,000 acre feet of water. And where we’re going to get that water… its water flowing down the river that would go into the bay, so we’re going to capture it. We’ve also got some groundwater permits on our power plant site in Bastrop.”

Motal says the LCRA will eventually have three sites. The first new reservoir will be in Colorado, Texas, that’s in Wharton County.

“Were trying to get proactive in capturing water in other parts of our basins so we can take some of the stress of our highland lakes. This will benefit everybody form the lake interests to firm customers to agricultural as well,” said Motal.