A Central Texas Water War

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We've been expecting it for a long time, and now a Great Water War has come to Central Texas.

The Lower Colorado River Authority has abandoned its water agreement with San Antonio, scrapped millions in feasibility studies, and admitted that both lakes Travis and Buchanan will be drained in drought times.

Why? To focus on the water needs of a controversial coal-powered plant near environmentally sensitive Matagorda Bay. It's called White Stallion. It's more like a dirty pig.

Let me repeat something:  Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan will be drained during periods of drought. It's in the LCRA board minutes. The lakes will be drained because the LCRA has decided not to move forward with a plan that would have required San Antonio to invest as much as $2 billion in conservation infrastructure. San Antonio Water Service would have had to build new reservoirs to capture surface water, for instance.

Without that investment, there is not enough water to go around. So, the Highland Lakes will be drained and San Antonio will be left high and dry. All so some politically connected industrial developers in Matagorda can have enough water for the planned White Stallion coal plant.

What's enough water? Apparently, the lower Colorado will have to have enough water so barges of coal can be floated up river and through a newly extended canal. And then there are the plant's other water needs for cooling, etc.

A key player in this fast-developing water war is LCRA board member John Dickerson from Matagorda. An appointee of Gov. Rick Perry, Dickerson is a strong backer of the coal plant and an opponent of the San Antonio plan.

The dispute between San Antonio and LCRA appears to be headed to mediation. Austin lawyer Jim George represents SAWS, and he asked for mediation a month ago.

The LCRA called for mediation a few days later.

The LCRA has already begun simultaneously releasing water from Buchanan and Travis, something it hasn't had to do in years. The lakes are being drained to provide water to industrial and agricultural users downstream.

The striking thing is, had the LCRA already proceeded with the San Antonio plan lake levels could be maintained and sufficient water provided downstream users.

If you've been out to the lakes lately you've seen how low the levels are. They are already dangerous, and they are about to be lower. The Central Texas economy will be severely damaged when low lake levels destroy the lucrative recreation and tourism businesses along the lakes.

This is just the beginning. Too often, the LCRA operates in the dark. The future water resources of San Antonio and Central Texas are at stake. While some environmentalists are skeptical of inter-basin transfers – that is, the transfer of Colorado River Water to San Antonio – the agreement with San Antonio included guarantees that SA's conservation infrastructure would keep Lake Buchanan six feet above average and Lake Travis 18 feet above average.

If you haven't looked, both lakes are way below average today. The political implications of this Great Water War are enormous. Stay tuned. And don't forget to drink plenty of water. There may not be much around tomorrow.

(As a note, those pictures are an artistic rendering of Lake Travis and Lake Buchcanan before and after they are drained.)

Update from Facebook reader: This is why I love social networking.  A reader on facebook sent me this story from the San Antonio Business Journal:

The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) is releasing water from both Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis at the same time to provide water to downstream rice farmers and electric utilities. The LCRA says this unusual action is reducing both lakes to dangerously low levels, with dry islands popping up in both lakes.

To prevent this from being necessary again in the future, San Antonio Water System (SAWS) officials say they want to pursue a joint project with the LCRA. Under the proposal, SAWS would invest $2 billion in conservation infrastructure and downstream reservoirs to create more than 180,000 new acre-feet of water for the Colorado River basin.

“This is exactly what the project was designed to help the Highland Lakes avoid,” says Chuck Ahrens, vice president of water resources at SAWS. “The studies show that with conservation investments, reservoirs and other efforts, lake levels would be protected and sufficient water provided for users up and down the Colorado River.”

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  1. Is anybody looking at the science here?
    If the the IPCC models are even remotely in the ballpark (and I would certainly put more faith in them than in the claims of  the political partisans on either side of this issue) there will not be enough water in the Colorado basin for either purpose a few decades from now.   The downstream coal-fired plant is just greed and folly, but the claim on the other side that San Antonio could somehow “guarantee” that the highland lakes would be full in the face of the most likely negative result of climate change in this area (drought)  is magical thinking.  Possibly not greed, but certainly folly.

  2. And, BOR Darlings Kirk Watson and Lee Leffingwell Will Do What Now?
    Democrats outside the “bubble” want to know!

    Austin Energy — The City of Austin — is a “farm team” for the LCRA, cross-subsidized by TXU, through ERCOT — a little bit of Soviet economics (indirect taxation and monopoly rent-sharing) right here in Texas.

    The electricity price-rigging in Texas and, soon, gutting of the Waxman-Markey bill by Democrats make coal-fired power-plants wildly profitable, especially if the price paid to base-load “merchant generators” is set by high-cost peak-load gas turbines or wind-mills with no other purpose than making nuclear reactors and coal-fired power-plants profitable.

    Austin Energy and the Austin Mayor — while engaging in all manner of decoratively “Green” gestures — pointedly refused to join Bill White and other Texas Democrats in blocking the construction of coal-fired power plants being “dumped” in Texas by German firms who cannot build them in their own country.

    So, perhaps, TDP/LSP/LSG darlings Kirk Watson or Tom Schieffer would care to explain why they also support “dumping” Japanese nuclear reactors in Texas that cannot be built in Japan.

    The term “dumping” is international trade jargon. So, will Ron Kirk can explaining what is going on with that? Probably not! All of this is “too technical” for organs like the BOR.

    Which is why this marvelous post by Matt Glazer is so very good. Watch the water levels in these two reservoirs. They really are nearly perfect measures of what happens when Texas Democrats abandon the common carriage principles of regulation that once made us popular and reputable in favor of …

    Well, terms like “hustle and flow” probably describe how the “soft center” of Texas politics — the Democratic Party of Greater Austin — works today.

    Hell, they do not even know what “I've been working on the railroad” was all about.

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