Environmental Protection

Low Lake Levels 'Not a Problem' in Future, SAWS Says

The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) revealed recently that it is releasing water from both Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis at the same time. It is the first time in seven years such action has been necessary for downstream use, according to a June 25 press release.

According to news reports, LCRA is taking such dramatic action to provide water to downstream rice farmers and electric utilities. Both lakes are already at dangerously low levels. Dry islands are popping up in both lakes as the levels are reduced.

Under the regional water project that has recently come into dispute between LCRA and San Antonio Water System (SAWS), this action would not be necessary in the future.

The LCRA/SAWS project would guarantee that lake levels remained well above average conditions and would create abundant additional water for downstream users, negating the need to release additional water from the Highland Lakes.

Under the proposal, SAWS would have invested more than $2 billion in conservation infrastructure, downstream reservoirs, and other efforts, creating more than 180,000 new acre-feet of water exclusively for the Colorado River basin, before any water was sent to San Antonio.

According to LCRA’s own internal reports, lake levels in both Buchanan and Travis will be lower during drought conditions without the LCRA/SAWS regional water project.

“This is exactly what the project was designed to help the Highland Lakes avoid,” said Chuck Ahrens, vice president of water resources at SAWS. “The studies show that with conservation investments, reservoirs, and other efforts, lake levels would be protected and sufficient water provided for users up and down the Colorado River.”

Instead, water from the Highland Lakes is being released for downstream power plants. Future coal-fired plants include White Stallion, a highly controversial plant proposed near Matagorda Bay.

Under the LCRA/SAWS project, the city of San Antonio would receive water from LCRA only after conservation infrastructure was already in place to protect lake levels – levels six feet higher on Lake Buchanan and 18 feet higher on Lake Travis.

“The LCRA/SAWS regional water project is good for the city of Austin, the Highland Lakes, the entire Colorado River basin, and the city of San Antonio,” said Ahrens. “The Highland Lakes do not need to be drained to meet downstream demand because the scientific studies show that the LCRA/SAWS regional water project will work.”

Since 1992, San Antonio Water System has provided leadership in managing and developing water resources in the San Antonio region. Water and wastewater services are provided to more than 1 million consumers in the San Antonio area.

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