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September 8th, 2013 Posted in Uncategorized

Along the shores of Lake Austin, well-heeled and influential residents are organizing to fight a possible plan to help deal with the region’s drought by lowering the lake.

Two weeks after word leaked to the American-Statesman about the Lower Colorado River Authority’s idea, lakeside residents have launched a Facebook page complete with email-blast-ready talking points, helped move a state senator to act on their behalf and are pressuring Austin’s mayor and council members to step in as well.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, sent a letter to the LCRA, which manages the lake, warning that even an epic drought won’t convince residents that lowering the lake is worthwhile unless the agency produces a bulletproof plan and engages in robust public outreach.

“The people of Central Texas will not simply be told that your agency will get back with us at a more convenient time once you’ve decided what you want to do,” Watson wrote on Sept. 5, after growing frustrated about what he considered slow responses from the LCRA to his questions.

LCRA executives have made several attempts to calm the “near hysteria,” as the organization’s chief administrator put it, and assure the public that no decisions are imminent.

The crux of the idea is that by lowering Lake Austin by 2 to 4 feet, the LCRA could use the lake as a catch basin to store water during heavy rains that might otherwise simply wash downstream. The agency says the captured water could satisfy perhaps nine days’ of demand in Austin, which taps the lake for water at two points.

Each such capture could in turn allow another nine days’ worth of water to remain in the region’s two upstream reservoirs, lakes Buchanan and Travis. If the idea works, that is.

LCRA officials are still chewing on that question, which is really a series of questions, some of them technical matters and some political considerations. LCRA officials also said any change in the level of Lake Austin would be only a temporary measure to deal with the drought.

“The possibility of lowering Lake Austin is just one of many that our staff is continuing to work through,” LCRA General Manager Becky Motal wrote in response to Watson’s letter. She added that the LCRA board of directors isn’t scheduled to take up the matter at its monthly meeting, “if ever.”

The uncertainty about when something might happen is feeding the frustration of residents already upset at the thought that one of Austin’s prime attractions — and property-value drivers — could be altered.

David Chamberlain, a lawyer who lives along Lake Austin and who owns two other lots and a rental house along the lake, wrote to both Watson and the LCRA saying that the proposal “would basically destroy my investments.”

He wrote that his home, valued at $1.9 million by the Travis Central Appraisal District, and the rental property, valued at $545,150, sit along a canal off the lake that is three to four feet deep and muddy along the bottom. “If the lake is lowered, (the canal) will become unusable and a dangerous, unsanitary ditch,” Chamberlain wrote in a copy of the letter posted to the Facebook page Save Lake Austin. “Needless to say, if the proposal is adopted, you can expect a lot of well-funded lawsuits from lakeside residents and businesses.”

Other residents created the website constantlevel.org to marshal arguments against lowering the lake, contending primarily that most docks cannot be moved to accommodate differing lake levels and that the amount of additional water to be gained by the proposal is trivial when measured against the region’s needs.

Lowering Lake Austin by 4 feet would allow it to capture about 7,200 acre-feet of water, according to LCRA calculations. The six Highland Lakes — which include Austin, Buchanan and Travis — lost 145,000 acre-feet to evaporation alone in 2012. An acre-foot of water is roughly equal to the amount three average Austin households use in a year.

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said that although dealing with drought requires creative thinking, his initial take on lowering Lake Austin is that “there is very little to be gained and a lot to be lost.”

Leffingwell said if the idea goes further, the LCRA should consider not only general public opinion but also an outside scientific study of the merits.

With most of Austin’s important civic matters decided only after every conceivable angle has been talked through — the city’s comprehensive plan was adopted last year after hundreds of stakeholder gatherings, informal outreach sessions, forums, committee meetings and public hearings — it’s perhaps not surprising that lakeside residents are demanding significant public vetting.

“There are thousands of voices around Austin that need to be heard on this issue,” said lakeside resident Doug Fierro, a software engineer.

LCRA spokeswoman Clara Tuma said no public forums are planned because the idea isn’t specific enough to present. She noted that the organization has posted a primer on the general concept on its website, www.lcra.org, has done media outreach and is governed by a board that meets publicly.

Since the Highland Lakes were created in the 1930s and 1940s, Lake Austin has stayed at a more or less steady level, along with the three other relatively small lakes in the Lower Colorado chain — Inks, LBJ and Marble Falls. Water passes through them on the way to the Gulf Coast.

Travis and Buchanan, which hold the region’s water supply, were built to rise and fall. During a big storm, Travis and Buchanan catch water until they’re full. They are lowered as necessary as demand from downstream users and evaporation draw down Lake Austin. The system also helps control the floods that periodically ravaged Austin prior to the dams’ construction.

Lakes Travis and Buchanan are now 33 percent full and are expected to drop in October below 30 percent, which would be the lowest mark in their history.

LCRA Plan Flawed

September 5th, 2013 Posted in Uncategorized
CLAIM: The LCRA states that lowering Lake Austin 4 feet will create 7200 acre feet of additional storage capacity for the Highland Lakes.

TRUTH: 7200 acre feet! Wow, if you’re not a trained hydrologist it sounds like a lot, right? In reality, the LCRA uses the technical term “acre foot” to hide the fact that the total gain is less than .4% of the total storage capacity of Travis and Buchanan. Each foot they lower Lake Austin equates to less than ONE INCH of depth in Lake Travis. Lake Travis is down 43 FEET, and LCRA wants to ruin Lake Austin to save a FEW INCHES of water in Lake Travis. 7200 acre feet of water is less than what the LCRA typically passes through Lake Austin to sell to others, and for money-making hydroelectric generation in 5-7 days. This is why the Statesman recently called the LCRA plan a “water accounting gimmick.”

THE BOTTOM LINE: Destroying all the amazing benefits of Lake Austin is not worth the possibility of mere inches in possible savings to Lake Travis. The LCRA has already destroyed Lake Travis; don’t let them break their promises and destroy Lake Austin.

Share the LAKE AUSTIN BLOG and SAVE LAKE AUSTIN Facebook pages with your friends; Like them. Respond on the Austin American Statesman site to the LCRA editorial by telling them the real facts:


Fall Rainfall Predicted; But Will It Help Lake Levels?

August 31st, 2013 Posted in Uncategorized

As lakes Travis and Buchanan — Austin’s main reservoirs — continue to lose close to 1 billion gallons of water a day, forecasters are hopeful there is some relief on the way.
Going into the second-wettest season of the year, forecasters expect normal or above-normal rainfall, said Bob Rose, the chief meteorologist for the Lower Colorado River Authority, which manages the lakes.

“As we get more toward … October, we’ll begin to see more periods of rain, and I think this will continue into the winter,” Rose said. “This is not a drought-breaker or anything, but compared to the summer and last fall, I think we’ll be seeing more rain in the region.”
Austin typically sees more than 3 inches of rain in September and October, and Rose said projections call for at least that amount as the peak of the hurricane season approaches.

Still, Rose said, it would take “successive and significant rains” to pull Central Texas out of the drought, ideally upstream of Austin to refill lakes Travis and Buchanan. That would mean in excess of 15 inches, a rough number that can vary widely depending on where the rains falls, Rose said.

The area has seen three straight years of low rainfall, and the water flowing into the lakes is about a quarter of the expected amount. LCRA officials are trying to find new ways — including planning new reservoirs downstream of Austin — to deal with what could become the worst local drought on record.

Lake Travis is so low that some areas are almost completely dry. Sometimes Island, its mere presence a marker of a dry spell, has become a full peninsula jutting out into the lake, and every boat ramp on Lake Travis has been closed this year. Marinas are reaching far beyond their normal anchoring spots to find some water to sit on. A water treatment plant supplying a portion of the water for Cedar Park and Leander was shut down in mid-August because the lake dropped too low. For each of the past two years, the LCRA has taken the unprecedented steps of cutting off water to most downstream rice farmers.

“The drought continues to be persistent, and it continues to be intense,” said Ryan Rowney, the LCRA’s executive manager of water operations.

Lake Travis was last full in spring 2010, and Buchanan was full in fall 2007. Today, they are about 34 percent full, with 676,000 acre-feet of water total. (An acre-foot of water is enough for three average Central Texas households a year.) Lake Travis is about 7 feet above its record low set during the 1950s drought, the worst recorded in the area.

The two lakes have been losing about 3,000 acre-feet of water a day — 9 to 11 inches a week at Travis and about 5 inches a week at Buchanan. Some of the water is drawn out by cities and power plants. Some is released downstream to maintain the health of the river. And a good chunk is lost to evaporation; the six Highland Lakes lost 145,000 acre-feet to evaporation in 2012, for instance, almost as much as the city of Austin and its power plants used that year.

Even with normal rainfall, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center said the drought will persist in Central Texas through at least November. If conditions continue, record low lake levels are likely for late October or early November, Rowney said.

“That’s the worst-case scenario, but the worst case is what we’ve been tracking on for the past year or so,” Rowney said.

The river authority continues to look into temporarily lowering Lake Austin, long held at a fairly constant level even in times of drought, by 2 to 4 feet to take some stress off of the reservoir lakes.

The American-Statesman first reported the possibility of lowering Lake Austin last week, spurring considerable consternation from lakeside businesses and residents. LCRA general manager Becky Motal said Friday: “In a severe drought, there’s no guarantee for anybody on the lakes. It’s all a matter of rain and inflows.”

By lowering Lake Austin, the LCRA leaves room for it to capture between 4,500 and 7,000 acre-feet of water in a major rainstorm. The prime example of how this could work is September 2010’s Tropical Storm Hermine: The storm dumped about a foot of rain in Austin but considerably less over lakes Travis and Buchanan, just off the storm’s track. The heavy rains forced the river authority to open the floodgates at Tom Miller Dam, letting rainwater flow downstream.

“By not filling Lake Austin from Lake Travis, we might be able to catch a rain storm here,” Motal said. “We’ve seen in the past couple months that sometimes it’s raining on Lake Austin and not on Lake Travis.”

It’s also a water accounting gimmick of sorts: As long as lakes Travis and Buchanan hold above 600,000 acre-feet, the LCRA won’t have to impose mandatory water cutbacks.

Motal said she is not expecting board members to vote on such a move in their Sept. 17 and 18 meetings. Staffers are still weighing the idea.

What is the drought of record?
The LCRA uses three measures to indicate that a drought is worse than the 1950s drought of record. Ultimately, the river authority’s board must approve such a declaration, which still needs to be backed up by significant checking of calculations and measurements, but soon after the three conditions are met, mandatory cutbacks in water use kick in. Customers, like the city of Austin, the LCRA’s single largest, must then cut back their water use by up to 20 percent.

1. The lakes must have been below full for at least two years. This has been met.

2. The amount of water flowing into the lakes must be less than it was during the drought of record for six months. This has been met.

3. Lakes Travis and Buchanan must hold less than 600,000 acre-feet of water. (The record-low storage is actually 621,221 acre-feet.) This has not been met.

Looking to Capture Rain, LCRA Considers Lowering Lake Austin

August 24th, 2013 Posted in Uncategorized

Perhaps the most common question local officials have gotten lately about the drought goes something like this: “If it’s been raining, why aren’t the lakes filling up?”

The short answer is that the rain isn’t falling in the right places, and there hasn’t been enough of it in recent years to make a noticeable difference in lakes Travis and Buchanan. But rain has been falling this year — and officials with the Lower Colorado River Authority are contemplating an unusual step to start capturing more of that rain.

The LCRA could lower Lake Austin, which is kept at a constant level, by three or four feet and allow it to rise during rains, catching that additional water for use as a new source in a parched region.

The idea, though in the embryonic stages, would change Lake Austin in several ways. People with docks along Lake Austin would see water levels regularly rise and fall. And the recreational uses of Lake Austin could become secondary to its importance, though limited, as a reservoir.

That local officials are entertaining the idea shows just how concerned they have been become about the drought, which, barring significant rainfall, is expected to be classified in October as the worst on record.

“This is a time of serious drought, and it’s appropriate to treat it that way and entertain ideas we wouldn’t otherwise think about,” state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, told the American-Statesman.

Watson, who first heard about the idea on Monday, said he had the same confused reaction many residents are sure to have: You can add more water to the region’s supply by lowering one of its lakes? After hearing more about it, “I think it makes sense,” Watson said. But the idea needs thorough scrutiny, he said, and, if it passes muster, “there is a need to make sure this is explained, really explained, to the public.”

LCRA spokeswoman Clara Tuma said that no decision has been made, that any decision would be preceded by significant public vetting, and that the idea is one of many under consideration that could help the region weather the drought.

“Before taking action such as that, LCRA would first hold conversations with stakeholders, and any decision about lowering (Lake Austin) would be made by the LCRA board,” according to a statement from the organization.

So how would the idea work? That requires some explanation about how the lakes function.

The biggest of the six Highland Lakes, Travis and Buchanan, primarily are intended to hold the region’s water supply. They were built to rise and fall. During a big storm Travis and Buchanan catch water until they’re full. This also helps control the floods that periodically ravaged Austin prior to the dams’ construction.

Those two lakes are now 34 percent full and are expected to drop below 30 percent in October.

The other four Highland Lakes — Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls and Austin — are generally kept at a steady level. Water passes through them on the way to the Gulf Coast.

The “pass-through lakes” are much smaller than Travis and Buchanan, and it’s not clear how much additional water Lake Austin would provide (it would depend partly on how much rain it catches and what’s done with that water). Lake Austin has a surface area of 1,599 acres and a maximum depth of 75 feet; Lake Travis has a surface area of 18,930 acres when full and a maximum depth of 210 feet.

If Lake Austin were lowered, it could catch and store rainwater that falls below Travis and Buchanan. Austin could pull out that water via the city’s two treatment plants.

The LCRA, which manages all Highland Lakes, would have to justify dropping the level of Lake Austin to lakefront property owners. The LCRA catches endless grief from property owners along Travis and Buchanan for the fact that they rise and drop. Many residents say the LCRA’s water-management plan is partly to blame for the low lake levels, and some say enough people live, work and play along the lakes that they should be kept at a constant level (an idea LCRA officials say would put Austin at significant flood risk).

Lake Austin property owners have seen that lake drop on at least a few occasions. The lake is lowered every few years, Tuma said; in January 2011, the LCRA lowered it 12 feet at Austin’s request to kill off hydrilla, an invasive weed, and to allow dock repairs.


July 16th, 2013 Posted in Uncategorized

A reported 3 to 7 inches of rain since Monday have replenished some stock ponds and ushered in humid conditions but failed to ease drought conditions, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority.
“It hasn’t done too much for our lakes in the larger sense. It’s a maybe a 10th of what we need to get us fully out of the drought,” said LCRA river operations manager David Walker. “We need a whole season of storms — a continuous rainstorm system.”
Shortly after midnight July 15, a thunderstorm swept into the Highland Lakes with the heaviest rainfall dumping onto East Lake Buchanan, Burnet and Kingsland.
“A lot of the water soaked into the ground, so we didn’t see too much runoff,” Walker said. “This rain primes the pump. We would love to see a lot of repeated storms that bring rain falling into the area that drains into the lakes.”
In the next 24 to 48 hours, a couple of thunderstorms are expected with highs near 90 and lows around 70, according to the extended weather forecast from AccuWeather.com. Thunderstorm chances diminish by the end of the week with a possible stray evening thunderstorm.
“The heavier rainstorms are exiting to the north and east,” Walker said.
As a result of the runoff, Lake Buchanan rose about 7 inches, LCRA reported. Lake Travis came up almost 7½ inches.
The combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis is 725,000 acre-feet of water, or 36 percent full, Walker said.
To help the Highland Lakes, thunderstorms need to drench areas such as Brady, Burnet, Junction, Llano and San Saba.
“We’re preparing for the worst but hoping for the best,” he said. “It will flood again one of these days. When we begin to get flash floods coming into those lakes, it can create dangerous situations as we come out of this drought.”

Read more: http://www.dailytrib.com/2013/07/16/lcra-drought-not-eased-by-3-7-inches-of-rainfall-in-highland-lakes/#ixzz2ZGQg2lFi


July 5th, 2013 Posted in Uncategorized

Austin police arrested 33 on charges of driving or boating while intoxicated under the “no-refusal” initiative on the Fourth of July — almost double the number from last year’s holiday.

The initiative began 9 p.m. Wednesday, when police made 13 DWI arrests, and ends 5 a.m. Sunday. About 61 percent of those arrested so far have given a blood sample.

Last year’s period was shorter, starting on the Fourth and ending the following morning. There were 17 arrests.

Austin police also instated the annual ban of personal watercraft on Lake Austin, which ended today at sunrise.

“No-refusal,” which started in 2010 to deter DWI crimes, allows police to obtain a search warrant to test the blood of those suspected of driving or boating while intoxicated if they refuse to give a breath or blood sample.