In recent weeks and months I have written about water issues in Austin and Central Texas, and about the Water Forum next week at the Texas Capitol in Austin. As preparations continue, I believe this Forum will be a real success, and will help to move the Legislature to fund the State Water Plan over the next 130 days while they’re still in town.
There is risk, though: RAIN. First, the fact that we have seen some badly needed rain recently may lead some to conclude that the drought is over and there’s no need to act on the Water Plan. That is absolutely not true. We remain in a significant and long-lasting drought condition, and a couple of rain events won’t fix that. But there is a more direct, and immediate issue that may result directly from the rain:
The Board of the Lower Colorado River Authority recently approved an emergency drought relief resolution that requires the release a large amount of water for downstream agricultural needs. I completely understand the needs of Texas rice farmers, but I am also well aware of millions of people upstream who rely on water from the Highland Lakes for residential and commercial survival. At the time of that resolution Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan held a combined 824,000 acre-feet of water. The 850,000 acre-feet trigger point, to be measured as of March 1, 2013, was far away at that time. But just since last week’s rain the lakes have gained about 13,000 acre-feet. That’s halfway to the trigger point to release 121,000 acre-feet for downstream agriculture. A gain of 26,000 acre-feet forcing the release of almost 5x that amount would reduce lake levels to their lowest levels in about 50 years!
As of January 1 — before the rain — the lakes were approaching levels last seen in the mid-1960s:
There are undoubtedly those who argue that a couple of good rains can make dramatic changes in lake levels, and that’s true. Here’s the difference between then and now, though: According to the 1970 census the population of Travis County was 390,600. The census bureau’s estimate for 2011 was 1,063,130 — almost 3x growth. Over the same period the 5-county area has grown from 398,938 people to 1,783,521 — 4.5x! Moreover, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, we’re on our way to 2.3 million people in just 8 years and 3.1 million by 2030!
I know for certain that there are Austinites who believe, “Well, Austin has grown enough,” and sometimes I think the same thing. But even if you agree with that, running out of water is the wrong way to stop it. For more on that, please refer to Water — it’s a non-partisan issue.
This Water Forum, and the legislative work that must follow, it are important. The Texas legislature only meets for 140 days every two years. With two years or less of our water in storage at this point, this Legislative session is the time for action. Please attend the Forum if you can, and help to spread the word on this issue and this Forum. Visit www.ABOR.com/WaterForum2013 for details and registration.