LCRA: Lots of water for sale

Pre­sen­ta­tion to of­fi­cials in Hays County sig­nals drought’s turn­about.

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Asher Price ash­er­price@states­man.com

Cen­tral Texas river au­thor­ity tells com­mis­sion­ers it has enough water to meet needs of about 230,000 homes.

In the lat­est sign of the drought’s ebbing, two top of­fi­cials with the Lower Colorado River Au­thor­ity met with Hays County com­mis­sion­ers to de­liver a sim­ple mes­sage: They have spare water for sale — lots of it.

The river au­thor­ity, which over­sees the dol­ing out of water from lakes Travis and Buchanan, the chief reservoirs for Cen­tral Texas, has enough un­re­served water to meet the wash­ing, bathing, drink­ing and wa­ter­ing needs of roughly 230,000 house­holds, even dur­ing a re­peat of dire drought con­di­tions.

“LCRA is in the water-sell­ing busi­ness,” LCRA Gen­eral Man­ager Phil Wil­son told Hays County com­mis­sion­ers Tues­day in an open work­shop.

The pre­sen­ta­tion came a day be­fore the river au­thor­ity is­sued a press re­lease ti­tled “Wel­come Rains Not Enough to End Drought Near High­land Lakes.”

If noth­ing else, the Hays County pre­sen­ta­tion’s tim­ing il­lus­trated the cen­tral ten­sion for a non­profit util­ity like LCRA, which both en­cour­ages con­ser­va­tion and pro­vides water to willing buy­ers.

And it il­lus­trated how the wettest recorded May in Cen­tral Texas changed the script from thirst to abun­dance.

Hang­ing over the meet­ing were Hays County pol­i­tics:

Wil­son and his chief water deputy, John Hof­mann, gave their pre­sen­ta­tion at the in­vi­ta­tion of Com­mis­sioner Will Con­ley, who rep­re­sents the western part of Hays.

That very day, Con­ley led a suc­cess­ful charge to back out of a water reser­va­tion con­tract with Forestar, a water mar­ket­ing firm hop­ing to pump as much as 45,000 acrefeet of ground­wa­ter from be­neath ru­ral Lee County and send it to fast-grow­ing Hays.

The 57,331 acre-feet of LCRA water is avail­able at a reser­va­tion rate of $87.5 per acre-foot and $175 per acre-foot ac­tu­ally used. (An acre-foot is roughly the amount of water four Austin house­holds use in the course of a year.)

Hays was pay­ing no more than $22.22 per acre-foot per year of water re­served un­der the Forestar con­tract, or a quar­ter of the LCRA reser­va­tion fee. But it ul­ti­mately suf­fered from un­cer­tainty about whether that water would ever get pumped or trans­ported.

The pre­sen­ta­tion clearly caught the at­ten­tion of the Hays com­mis­sion­ers, who pep­pered the LCRA of­fi­cials with ques­tions about the prospects of send­ing more lake water their way.

The river au­thor­ity has one ma­jor chal­lenge to meet the water needs of fast-grow­ing Hays, Wil­son warned the com­mis­sion­ers: By state law, it can sell water only within its ser­vice area, only through the north­ern part of the county.

The LCRA has had other for­ays into Hays County, with 13,043 acre-feet of reser­voir water cur­rently ear­marked for re­tailer water providers who serve cus­tomers in Hays County.

(The river au­thor­ity does not serve fast-grow­ing Buda; Wil­son and Hof­mann said Buda has not ap­proached the river au­thor­ity in the last year to talk about water.)

The river au­thor­ity fa­mously — no­to­ri­ously, in the eyes of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists — sent pipe­lines a decade or so ago down U.S. 290 to Drip­ping Springs to serve the booming sub­di­vi­sions there.

But on Tues­day, Wil­son im­plied he was not in­ter­ested in a re­peat of that project.

“We don’t do pipe­lines,” he told com­mis­sion­ers. “We’re not in the re­tail part of that.”

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