Sustainable Water Resources and Regional Cooperation: The LCRA-SAWS Water Project

The lower Colorado River basin in Texas and the San Antonio region both face long-term water shortages. Cities, farmers, businesses, recreation and the environment are competing for water supplies as never before. As part of the regional water supply planning process in Texas, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) both realized the need to increase water supplies and decided to control their water destiny together. These two neighboring regions have jointly developed an innovative plan to provide ample and reliable water for the long term while protecting the environment.

The LCRA-SAWS Water Project (LSWP) would conserve water, develop groundwater and capture excess and unused river flows to make available as much as 330,000 acre-feet of water a year (295 million gallons a day) for two key regions in Texas. Of that, approximately 180,000 acre-feet of agricultural and other rural water needs would be met in the lower Colorado basin through water use efficiency, stored surface water and supplemental groundwater while up to 150,000 acre-feet of surface water would be transferred to the San Antonio area. Groundwater would not be transferred to San Antonio as part of the project. The general project area is shown in Figure 1.

The LSWP would conserve and develop water in three ways:

  • Conserve irrigation water.
  • Capture excess and unused river flows.
  • Use groundwater for agriculture when surface water is lacking.

The integrated approach to water management – using conservation, river flows and groundwater as a single system – increases efficiency. This collaborative project, which provides a model for trans-basin projects that are environmentally sustainable and protect both rural and urban economies, is now in its second year of detailed studies. A schematic diagram of the proposed project is shown in Figure 2. A summary schedule is shown in Figure 3.

The Study Period (including environmental and yield studies, preliminary engineering and permitting) is budgeted for $41.6 million. The total project cost is estimated at over $1 billion.Specific legislative criteria (Texas Water Code, § 222.030) must be met before any water is transferred from the Colorado basin. These include the following requirements:

  • Colorado River basin interests must benefit and be protected.
  • Freshwater inflows into Matagorda Bay must be adequate to maintain its health and productivity.
  • Colorado River instream-flow protection must be provided.
  • A broad public and scientific review process must take place.
  • San Antonio must continue to practice stringent conservation measures.
  • Water levels in Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan must benefit.
  • The Project must be consistent with Texas’ regional water plans.

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