AUSTIN (KXAN) — March 1 was the Lower Colorado River Authority’s deadline to determine if water from Highland Lakes would be cut off for its interruptible customers. The agency elected to interrupt service for those agriculture customers amid ongoing drought conditions.
In a press release about the cutoff, the LCRA said in alignment with its Water Management Plan, interruptible customers in Colorado, Wharton and Matagorda Counties will be without that water until at least the spring of 2024.
John Hofmann, LCRA executive vice president of water, said the agency evaluates conditions every spring and summer, with those hard-cutoffs dates being March 1 and July 1.
He says all leaders and customers know the strain the drought has caused.
“It’s not a surprise to anybody that’s involved that when the first rolls around and those extraordinary drought conditions exist, that we’re either going to have to greatly limit or completely cut off that water supply,” Hofmann said.
Why cut off water for farmers?
There are two types of customers the LCRA supplies water to – firm and interruptible.
Firm customers are mostly cities and water districts that are guaranteed water services.
Interruptible customers are agricultural customers that purchase water at a lesser rate and can have water access curtailed or cut off in times of drought.
This same cutoff happened last year for customers in the lower basin. The LCRA curtailed water from lakes Buchanan and Travis for most interruptible agriculture customers for the second growing season of 2022.
The water is curtailed or cut off to ensure enough is available in the LCRA’s reservoirs for its firm customers.
Drying times for agriculturists
This latest cut-off is another blow in an already tough year for farmers.
Jay Bragg, associate director of commodity and regulatory affairs for the Texas Farm Bureau, says the ongoing drought and rising operations costs continue to make the farm life harder to lead.
He says changes to the LCRA’s Water Management Plan in 2016 also made it easier for a water cutoffs to be triggered.
“The decision was made to raise those levels, and, you know, to maintain a higher margin of safety for the farm customers of the Highland Lakes water. So I mean, that just kind of is what it is, you know, from a, I guess, from a management standpoint,” Bragg said.
The demand for water has grown alongside the of Central Texas, said Bragg.
With more firm customers entering the region, the demand for water grows – and with it water supplier’s responsibility to secure it.
“When the reservoirs were built in the 1920s, Austin was much smaller than it is now, maybe just a few 100,000 people. Where it is today, it’s, you know, probably closing approaching 2 million. There’s a lot more demand, and with that demand becomes the need to maintain higher lake levels,” Bragg said.
How you can help
Hofmann said the LCRA’s biggest driver of high usage in hotter months is water used for landscapes and yards.
He encouraged customers to consider planting flora that is native to the region and may not require as much water as tropical plants from other regions.
“I would encourage people to be really deliberate in the plants that they choose and the choices that they make,” Hofmann said.