Studies Continue To Show Viability Of Lower Colorado River Basin Water Project

An innovative project designed to produce more water for both the lower Colorado River basin and San Antonio, Texas, region is on schedule and within budget, officials report. They also stated that refinement of their river water model will provide the opportunity to develop more efficient and less costly facilities.

The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and San Antonio Water System (SAWS) are partners in an effort to conserve and develop up to 330,000 acre-feet of water a year. The project is currently in the second year of an intensive six-year study phase.

Officials reported on Oct. 18 that no fatal flaws have been identified to date. As a result, project managers report that they have increased confidence in the project's feasibility.

"We are encouraged by the assessment's findings because they continue to show promising prospects for the project," said Joseph J. Beal, P.E, general manager of LCRA. "Although the final conclusions won't be reached until 2010, this is another important step in our ongoing technical studies and we continue to be optimistic about the project's overall feasibility."

"SAWS is committed to developing new non-Edwards (Aquifer) water supplies that will meet our community's needs while remaining affordable," said Dave Chardavoyne, president and CEO of SAWS. "These annual assessments will continue to help us make informed choices about which projects we will continue to pursue -- projects that will provide the best combination of quality and value for the people we serve."

The LCRA-SAWS Water Project is designed to conserve agricultural water, capture and store water from the Colorado River and Highland Lakes, and pump groundwater in limited amounts. The project uses an integrated, basinwide approach to water management, officials said.

Up to 150,000 acre-feet of water a year (134 million gallons a day) would be provided to the San Antonio area for up to 70 years. In the lower Colorado River basin, water supplies for agriculture would be more reliable, more water would be available to rural communities upstream of the Highland Lakes and the Highland Lakes would have higher water levels during drought than would be the case without the project.

While the latest viability assessment continues to be encouraging for the project, some risks were identified and they will continue to be evaluated during the six-year study period. Those risks include future requirements for environmental flows for the river and bay resources, and availability of return flows for use by downstream water rights holders.

The project viability assessment also found that:

  • The project would supply a long-term, reliable firm water source for SAWS in a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable manner.
  • Yield from ground and river water will be sufficient to more reliably meet agricultural needs in the lower Colorado River basin, with surface water supplying up to 150,000 acre-feet of water a year to the San Antonio area.
  • Results of the environmental studies (water quality, river habitat and bay health) have not revealed any "show stoppers" for the project. It is expected that the ongoing studies will identify methods for designing and operating the project to meet environmental needs as determined by legislative requirements, agency guidance and/or permit conditions.
  • Significant strides were made during 2005 in developing an appropriate framework for measuring bay health with and without the project.

The assessment can be viewed online at http://www.lcra.org/lswp/pva.html or at http://www.saws.org.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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