LCRA’s Plans for the Hill Country

What follows here is an LCRA Board Meeting report from the website noted below. The site is devoted to the Hamilton Pool Road Scenic Corridor Coalition folks to our north and reflects their concerns. Please read on and visit their site, if you have the time. Thank you


Wednesday, September 15th, the LCRA Board met at their Buchanan Dam facility. There, they received reports from Manager Joe Beal and Water & Wastewater Director Randy Goss on staff recommendations for expansion in Western Travis County. They also did have some discussion, most of which seemed to be dialogues between individual Board members and Beal, who dominated and, to a large extent, manipulated the meeting with a deft touch. While waiting for the meeting to begin, (left to right) Mara Eurich, Randy Goss, Pam and Mike Reese, Gene Lowenthal, Christy Muse and I met informally outside. It was a good opportunity to question Randy about some of our burning issues. Here, he is on the phone getting an answer to Mike’s question about a proposed development upstream from his place. It seems that developer Mike Ridley is planning a “conservation development” upstream of Pedernales Falls State Park and wants to draw 30 acre-feet of water from the Pedernales River for “recreational use”. LCRA lawyer Madison Jechow informed us that the developer is going to have to get a permit from both the LCRA and TCEQ before he can do that. Christy knew about that development and said she had heard that they planned to use rainwater for household purposes there – something good, anyway. Madison also filled us in on water rights along Texas rivers and streams. According to Section 11 of the Texas Water Code, the state owns all surface water with this exception: Individual landowners with waterway frontage may draw up to 200 acre-feet af water from that waterway per year for personal use, including watering livestock. Wow! Try to imagine all the landowners along the Pedernales drawing that much water out for stock tanks – slurp, no river.

Inside, the meeting began with a presentation by Joe Beal and discussion of Board members’ feelings about the staff’s projections and recommendations for LCRA’s future. Beal talked about plans for “strategic investment” in infrastructure. This means creating systems that have more capacity than is currently needed, expecting payback in 20 to 30 years. An example Beal gave of strategic investment was “If we need a 24″ water line now, we would build a 60″ line” to accomodate future growth in the area. He said that the LCRA currently has “$300 million in facilities in the ground” and he hopes to get that up to a billion dollars worth by 2035 by adding on to existing systems and building new systems. He expects about $200 million of that investment to be with “no readily apparent way to pay for it now.”

Board members were asked to express their opinions on this and such essential policy issues as should the LCRA be in the retail water business and should they be developing and expanding systems in environmentally sensitive areas?

Among the members’ comments were: “We should be in retail only to preserve and protect resources”, “…no strategic investment until we are in the black” and “We should be cheaper, more environmentally sensitive and more customer-oriented than anybody else.”

Board member Charles Moser, of Brenham, said that the LCRA’s infrastructure installations “shouldn’t be ahead of growth” and “should not create economic opportunities” for developers to exploit the land (go Mr. Moser). Joe Beal responded that “any utility is causing money to be made off the land.”

Chairman Ray Wilkerson who, for the most part seemed in perfect sync with Beal, said that the organization should not do ‘”quiltwork” development but should also not be “entrepreneurial and creating cities.”

Rosemary Rust wanted LCRA expansion to be first to the south and east of Austin where “installation is easier and there is denser growth”. She felt that the planned western expansion was in an area that is too environmentally sensitive. Beal responded that “There is no reason to assume that environmentally sensitive development is money losing.” He said that “it can break even.” Throughout the discussion, Beal offered more than half the dialogue, responding to many of the Board members’ comments then, often saying something like “I’m just going to say this then shut up” or “one comment then I’ll stop” but he never did.

F. Scott LaGrone suggested a “freeze” on new systems until the board thinks that “the financial system is under control.” Beal challenged that idea vigorously (as he did with just about all the other comments that disagreed with his plans). Somewhere in there Beal also made the comment that the LCRA had only 6,000 retail customers and that the way to improve service to those people is “by getting a lot more customers.” This and other comments he made seemed to be at odds with opinions of several board members. When someone said simply “no mas”, Beal argued some more. He said that a moratorium would be “a draconian measure.”

Ms. Rust chimed in that the moratorium should be only on “strategic investment, or what I call water welfare.”

Joe Beal ended the morning session with his “summary” of what he claimed the board members had agreed upon. Buried within his litany of points was the untrue claim that the board “does not have a preference about expansion location even if it is over an environmentally sensitive area so long as it is good business.” One board member almost fell out of his chair at this statement but nothing was said to contradict it until, when Beal finally finished his “summary” (which actually seemed to be his own wish list), Charles Moser expressed some weak disagreement along with a desire to discuss the issue further. My observation was that there was substantial disagreement with that statement but board members were too polite, overwhelmed or hungry (hopefully not too wimpy) to make an issue of it at that time. The session was then adjourned for lunch.

After lunch, Randy Goss took the stage. His presentationt consisted mainly of projections into the future of western Travis County. He outlined the LCRA’s plan for destruction of our neighborhood in the name of protecting the environment. Joe Beal, of course, had his say during Randy’s pitch as well.

The dynamic duo referred to the plan to apply to the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) for a CCN (Certificate of Convenience and Necessity) that would allow (in fact, require) the LCRA to be the sole water provider for the entire region. They made the case that they are the only organization that can properly protect the Hill Country environment and that the CCN would permit them to do that. How enabling 125,000 more people to live here would be protecting the environment is beyond this author’s wildest imagination but hey, they are the experts.

One of Beal’s notable (but hopefully not prophetic) quotes was “167,000 people are getting service from the LCRA and they are as happy as pigs in slop.”

But the spinmeister’s scariest pronouncement was his final word. In addressing the board about the planning processes going on, he talked about how the people will get the opportunity to decide their own fate, then contradicted that, saying “…so we’re gonna take this to the public and then bring it back to you and, hopefully, you will tell us to go for the CCN.” See, he thinks it’s a done deal. Ahhhrrrggghhh!

For a good report on some more of the details, here is what Pam Reese wrote about it: PAM REESE’S REPORT

The master plan for W. Travis County was presented to the LCRA Board today by Randy Goss. The news is worse than I was expecting.

There were 2 maps shown, one done by a consulting firm in 2001 and one just completed by LCRA with projected growth areas added. The maps- as far as where the pipe lines, plants, holding tanks, etc are located- are very similar. I requested copies of the maps from Randy, but did not get them. The LCRA is going to make this master plan available to the public in mid-October and we may not be able to get copies until then.

There are 4 phases to the plan to be completed in 20-25 years. Phase 1 includes extending the line out Hwy. 71 to the Pedernales and out HPR to Madrone Ranch. It will also go out both Crumley Ranch Rd. and Hwy.12 to 290. Later phases include a line from 71 through Ted Stuart’s property over to HPR. (This is past Hammett’s Crossing.) There will be a line from 71 through John Hatchett’s new tract to HPR. Eventually, the line will make a loop up through the Marble F alls/Burnet area. There are 3 new plants and multiple holding tanks planned.(John, you get a holding tank.) That is my best recollection of the maps. Ric and Mara, do you have anything to add?

Now, for the bad news. With this plan comes 45,000 LUE’s. At 2 1/2 people per LUE, this equates to 125,000 people in 30 years.They estimate there will be one LUE per 3 acres. The cost to the LCRA for building the master plan will be $225 million. (Note: During this 30 year period, they project a total of $355 million will be spent on new systems throughout the basin. A full 63% of their budget for new sytems will be spent on developing Western Travis County!)

Another point of interest is that although the Hudson development requires only a 12″ pipe, they will be putting in a 16-20″ pipe. Joe Beal calls this a “strategic investment”, meaning they are absorbing the expense of the larger pipe to allow for future growth. With this kind of thinking, I expect the number of people will be much greater than 125,000.

I have already begun my letter to the LCRA Board members. This Board meeting was unusual in that Board members had much more discussion. Several of them expressed concerns about the amount of money being spent on water and waste water operations. Apparently, they are losing money here and making up for it on the electric side. One board member (Rosemary Rust) wanted to know why they didn’t concentrate on the less environmentally sensitive areas south and east of Austin. Scott LaGrone questioned whether they should be in the retail water business at all- too much risk. This is an opportune time to write to the Board (here are their addresses). They are already questioning.

Sorry for all the bad news, but there was some good information that came out of the meetings: the LCRA has only a few systems with radioactive content in the water!