U.S. Water News Online
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas -- The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) has approved the first phase of a plan that gives the city of Corpus Christi permission to pump water via a $130 million pipeline to the city from Lake Texana, located 100 miles southeast of Austin.
Corpus Christi officials say they will now ask the commission to approve the second phase of the project: pumping water from the Colorado River into Lake Texana.
The city has already agreed to buy the water from the Garwood Irrigation Co., located about 90 miles downstream from Austin. Garwood has the rights to pump from the river. If Corpus Christi wins approval for its Garwood plan, it would be the first major city other than Austin to take water from the lower portions of the Colorado River.
Without the water transfer, Corpus Christi officials say the city will run short of needed water supplies within two years. But Austin Mayor Bruce Todd opposes the plan. "My feeling is that taking any water out of our basin is detrimental to us," he said.
However, Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) officials say the amount of water Corpus Christi plans to buy from Garwood would have virtually no impact on the Highland Lakes, a reservoir and recreational area near Austin.
According to Bruce Moulton of the TNRCC, some taxpayers in Corpus Christi also oppose the plan. New supplies of water, they say, are not needed for residential use, but for industry expansion. Moulton said they fear taxpayers may foot the bill for an expensive water project that will mainly benefit industry.
However, some Central Texas officials fear it would set a precedent for other water-strapped cities, such as San Antonio, to tap into the Colorado.
"The domino effect is going to be there because of the lack of water supplies across the state," said LCRA general manager Mark Rose. "This would be the first major transfer out of our basin, and we'll have all of the questions out there...Where is this taking us? Right now, we don't know."
Corpus Christi's effort to siphon the Colorado would take about 35,000 acre feet of water each year from Garwood and about 42,000 acre feet from Lake Texana. But according to TNRCC's Bruce Moulton, this interbasin transfer is not without precedent.
"This is only one of 80 interbasin transfer permits already issued in Texas," he said. "We have to look at optimal use of water for the region. Our hydrologists have determined that the amount of water to be transferred is not needed -- in terms of a planning framework of the next 50 years -- in the basin of origin. When we found there would be no negative impact on the area, we decided to grant the permit."
Moulton added that the recent drought in the Southwest has contributed to the general anxiety about water supplies here. Planners, he said, are faced with difficult choices.
"If you don't maximize existing supplies, you must develop new supplies," he said, "but then you must deal with the consequences of that decision -- building new dams and reservoirs, for example, which often lead to environmental problems. There's always a trade-off. I'm sorry, but there just are no easy answers."
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