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LCRA Emergency Order

On Jan. 27, 2014, the TCEQ's executive director granted an emergency authorization to the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) to temporarily amend its 2010 Water Management Plan (WMP) based on review and analysis of the facts.

 

 

 

 

 

About the Emergency Order

The emergency order grants the LCRA's requested relief by setting the first trigger for the release of interruptible stored water from lakes Buchanan and Travis at 1.1 million acre feet (AF) based on the lakes combined storage on March 1, 2014. The executive director took such action to ensure that the water supply for all firm customer needs (drinking water, industrial uses, and other firm demands) in Central Texas is conserved during this persistent drought as contemplated under the LCRA's water rights.

Recent drought conditions

On Jan. 1, 2012, the combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis was 737,000 AF. With an emergency suspension in 2012, and inflows at record lows, the lakes only reached 825,000 AF by the end of the year.

In 2013, inflows were the 2nd lowest on record. However, even with an emergency order in place for most of 2013, the lakes are currently at a combined storage of 764,000 AF, approximately 37 percent full. The combined storage fell to the lowest level in the current drought on Sept. 19, 2013, which was 637,123 AF or 31.7 percent full. For context, the lakes are full at 2,010,544 AF.

What the forecasts say

The most recent U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook indicates the persistence of drought conditions above lakes Buchanan and Travis through the end of April 2014. Precipitation forecasts indicate the possibility of near normal rainfall; however, this rainfall will likely not be heavy enough to cause significant drought improvement. Forecasts also indicate that temperatures will trend above normal through the summer, which tends to correlate with higher evaporation rates. Additionally, these conditions tend to result in dry soils which absorb most of the rainfall that does occur and contributes to the low inflows into the lakes. The TCEQ's own meteorologist also confirmed this weather outlook.

What the predictive models say

Given the current drought conditions, following the 2010 WMP would likely result in the lakes dropping to 600,000 AF as early as April 2014. This is an important level under the 2010 WMP because it is the third and only remaining condition to be met before the LCRA Board will declare a drought worse than the drought of record. Such a declaration coupled with the duration of the present drought results in immediate reduction of the LCRA's firm customers and cessation of the interruptible water supply for agricultural purposes.

The LCRA's requested lake storage trigger of 1.1 million AF delays the possibility of lake storage levels falling below 600,000 AF for a period of 12-18 months. A lake storage trigger of 850,000 AF, the level the LCRA obtained in 2013 emergency relief, would increase the possibility of falling below 600,000 AF, and the declaration of a drought worse than the drought of record, much earlier in time.

Based on TCEQ's review of various models, the actual lake levels have tracked similar to the model predictions for persistent drought conditions which confirm the use of the higher exceedance levels used in the modeling.

Conclusions

  • Inflows to the LCRA's Highland Lakes have been extremely low for the past few years and weather forecasts do not show significant improvement.
  • If water to the LCRA's firm customers is reduced before arrangements for alternative supplies can be developed, the LCRA will have difficulty in meeting its firm customers' water needs.
  • Declaration of a drought worse than the drought of record could also limit water available for interruptible customers over the next few years because of the lake recovery provisions in the 2010 WMP. After such a declaration and without further action from the LCRA on the combined storage level, stored water would only be available on an interruptible basis if inflows are high for six consecutive months or the lakes reach a combined storage of 1.4 million AF.
  • The emergency relief the LCRA obtained in 2013 with an emergency order setting forth a trigger of 850,000 AF is not a viable option at this time due to the prolonged and persistent nature of the drought and the fact that the lakes have not recovered. Under such conditions, a trigger of 1.1 million AF is a more reasonable alternative for emergency relief to ensure water for the essential needs of the LCRA's firm customers consistent with the LCRA's water rights.
  • After diligent review by TCEQ senior technical staff, we believe this decision considers the information provided by all parties, is representative of the current conditions, and is scientifically defensible.

The Order

This order only addresses the specific relief requested from the LCRA and is not meant as precedent for pending amendments to the LCRA's WMP or any future emergency relief. The item is posted for consideration by the TCEQ commissioners at the public meeting scheduled on Feb. 12, 2014.

Status as of Feb. 12, 2014

On Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, the TCEQ commissioners considered the emergency order issued by the executive director on Jan. 27, 2014, under Texas Water Code Section 11.139, to the LCRA to amend its 2010 Water Management Plan (WMP), Permit No. 5838. After taking extensive public comment from state and local elected officials and numerous individuals, the commissioners referred the ED's order to the State Office of Administrative Hearings and requested that SOAH issue a Proposal for Decision by Feb. 21, 2014.

An administrative law judge from SOAH reconvened the hearing on the ED's order at the TCEQ on the afternoon of February 12 to name the parties and establish a procedural schedule. The ALJ also required the parties to file their list of witnesses and summary of the witnesses' testimony and conclusions by Feb. 14, 2014. The hearing will reconvene at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, at the TCEQ in Room 201S, Building E. The Commission continued its consideration on whether to affirm, modify, or set aside the ED’s Order to Feb. 26, 2014, at which time it will hear the ALJ's Proposal for Decision.

In the interim, the ED's order of January 27 is still in full force and effect.

Status as of Feb. 26, 2014

On Jan. 27, 2014, the TCEQ's executive director granted an emergency authorization to the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) to temporarily amend its 2010 Water Management Plan (WMP). On February 26, 2014, the Commission affirmed the executive director's order in part and modified it in part. The key modification made by the Commission is the deletion of a specific level for triggering releases of interruptible stored water to downstream irrigators based on combined storage in lakes Buchanan and Travis. Instead, the commissioners' modified emergency order alleviates the LCRA of any obligation to make interruptible releases to downstream farmers within the LCRA's Gulf Coast and Lakeside divisions and Pierce Ranch during the 120-day term of the order, regardless of the lakes’ combined storage level. Additionally, the modified order does not include provisions for a possible 60-day renewal period without further Commission action.

As further background, the executive director's emergency order changed the trigger for releases of interruptible stored water to a combined storage level of 1.1 million acre feet as of March 1, 2014. The SOAH Administrative Law Judges, who conducted further hearing on the matter, proposed modifications to the executive director's order, including changing the 1.1 million acre feet trigger level to 1.4 million acre feet. At the public meeting on the 26th, the commissioners noted that all parties agreed, based on existing conditions, that an emergency order should be issued resulting in no interruptible releases to downstream irrigators. After further discussion, the commissioners then moved forward with a motion which adopted the Administrative Law Judges' Proposed Order (which affirmed the executive director's order in part and modified it in part) and then modified that proposed order in several ways, including replacing the specified trigger levels with full suspension of releases of interruptible stored water to downstream farmers within the LCRA's Gulf Coast and Lakeside divisions and Pierce Ranch for the 120-day duration of the order.