AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Lower Colorado River Authority announced Thursday morning that Highland Lakes water will not be available in 2023 for most of its agricultural customers in Colorado, Wharton and Matagorda counties.

The determination came as the Texas Hill Country continues experiencing severe drought conditions, which are impacting inflows and levels in the region’s water supply reservoirs at Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis.

LCRA’s state-approved water management plan required it to cut off Highland Lakes water to agricultural customers in the Gulf Coast, Lakeside and Pierce Ranch operations this year based on the intensity and duration of the drought and amount of water in Lakes Buchanan and Travis on March 1.

The combined storage in Lakes Buchanan and Travis on March 1 was 1.037 million acre-feet, or about 52% of capacity, according to LCRA.

“The Water Management Plan takes into account drought situations like the one we’re in now,” said John Hofmann, LCRA executive vice president of Water, said in a statement. “Extremely low inflows combined with evaporation and water use by LCRA customers have led to the decline in storage in lakes Buchanan and Travis. During hot, dry times like these, the plan requires the curtailment of water to interruptible customers so LCRA can continue meeting the needs of cities, businesses and industries.”

LCRA has two categories of water customers: firm and interruptible.

LCRA described firm customers as primarily municipalities, water districts and industries that purchase water that will be available even during a repeat of the worst drought this region has seen, the drought from 2008-2015.

Interruptible customers are agricultural customers near the coast that purchase water at a lesser rate because the supply from the Highland Lakes can be curtailed or cut off during droughts, according to LCRA. 

Due to drought conditions, LCRA also curtailed water from Lakes Buchanan and Travis for most interruptible agricultural customers in summer 2022 for the second growing season. The next time Highland Lakes water could be available for those interruptible customers in the lower basin will be spring 2024.

LCRA remains in Stage 1 of its Drought Contingency Plan for Firm Water Customers, which it entered in July 2022. It reached that stage because the combined storage in Lakes Buchanan and Travis was 1.2 million acre-feet, below the trigger of 1.4 million acre-feet, and interruptible supplies were curtailed. At that time, LCRA requested its firm customers voluntarily reduce their water use by 5%.

If the combined storage in Lakes Buchanan and Travis falls below 900,000 acre-feet, or about 45% of capacity, and interruptible supplies have been curtailed, LCRA will move to Stage 2 of the drought contingency plan and will ask firm customers to reduce water use by 10% to 20%.

Each firm customer has its own drought contingency plan to determine when and how to cut back water use.

LCRA estimated that without improved inflows, combined storage could reach 900,000 acre-feet this summer.

“This is a serious drought, and we all play a role in protecting our water supply,” Hofmann said. “We have plenty of drinking water, but everyone in our region needs to be mindful of water use. We don’t know when this drought will end, and we all need to do our part to conserve.