LCRA: Lots of water for sale
Presentation to officials in Hays County signals drought’s turnabout.
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.”