you been plagued by paranoid suspicions that the LCRA has
designs on the Hill Country? Have you lost sleep worrying
that the LCRA's
for expansion of their water delivery system might contribute
the suburbanization of our precious Hamilton Pool Road corridor?
Well don't put down that crying towel, bunky, it's worse
than you think.
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.
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
waiting for the meeting to begin, (left to right) Mara Eurich,
Randy Goss, Pam and Mike Reese, Gene Lowenthal, Christy Muse
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
LCRA lawyer Madison Jechow informed us that the developer
[*Here's more sorta good news on that proposed
development that just came in from a reliable source: Apparently,
of means (Gary Hendrix, founder of Symantec) who wants to build his
own house there and then protect it from encroaching development
investment by doing limited development around it. They have
an "entitlement" to
28 lots of 25 acres in size under the terms of Blanco County rules,
but I have heard that Ridley
only about 10 homes will be built. They do indeed plan to rainwater
harvest, and are considering using reuse-focused designs for their
systems. The idea for the river water permit is that it will be pumped
into ponds which will provide water for wildlife, aquatic habitat,
a fire-fighting supply source, and perhaps emergency backup for home
water supply. It is that last thing, "emergency backup for home
water supply" that scares me. Does that mean they can downsize
their cistern sizes since they have those ponds for additional storage?
like the idea of them putting additional strain on our beautiful
and not always full river that way. I have recently learned that
the plan is to recycle much of the water back into the river. This
may or may not be a good thing. For example, will the water being
put back into the river be cleaner or dirtier than that sucked out?
And who will be responsible for monitoring this intrusion into the
river's flow? The LCRA and TCEQ have both proven themselves to be
mighty sloppy when it comes to monitoring and enforcement. Clearly,
we the people need to keep a couple of eyes on this project. However,
from all I've
type of responsible developer that many of us in the Hill Country
appreciate. Knowing that, my main fear with this development is
the potential precedent that may be set, prompting a flood (so to
for permits to pump water out of our waterways. And the next developer
might not be as responsible as Mr. Ridley.]
Meanwhile, back at the informal meeting - Madison also filled us
in on water rights along Texas rivers and streams.
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.
the meeting began with a presentation by Joe Beal and discussion
of Board members' feelings about the staff's projections
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
that up to a billion dollars worth by 2035 by adding on to
existing systems and building
systems. He expects about $200 million of that
investment to be with "no readily apparent way to
pay for it now."
members were asked to express their opinions on this and
such essential policy issues as should the LCRA be in the retail
business and should they
be developing and expanding systems in environmentally
the members' comments were: "We should be in retail only to
preserve and protect resources", "...no
investment until we are in the black" and "We should be cheaper,
more environmentally sensitive and more customer-oriented than
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."
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
Rust wanted LCRA expansion to be first to the south and east
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
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.
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."
Rust chimed in that the moratorium should be only on "strategic
investment, or what I call water welfare."
Beal ended the morning session with his "summary" of
what he claimed the board members had agreed upon. Buried within
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, Randy Goss took the stage. His presentationt consisted
mainly of projections into the future of western Travis County.
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.
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
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."
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
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!
a good report on some more of the details, here is what Pam
master plan for W. Travis County was presented to the LCRA
Board today by Randy Goss. The news is worse than I was
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 Falls/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,
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
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
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
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