AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Lower Colorado River Authority is taking action to catch more people taking water from the Highland Lakes illegally because of a KXAN Investigation.
The LCRA on Monday announced it is increasing patrols against thousands of people stealing water from the Highland Lakes with private “straws.” The move came after KXAN started asking the LCRA about its enforcement.
The river authority estimates straw users pull about 1.6 billion gallons annually from the six Highland Lakes, including Lakes Travis, Buchanan, and LBJ. The straws are usually plastic pipes run by homeowners from a lake to their property. Many have signed contracts with LCRA to pay for the water they use, but thousands have not and are stealing water, in most cases to water their lawns.
“It’s just a bad use of our resources and that’s what we’re out here trying to prevent,” said Sgt. Chatt Cottle while observing a lakefront homeowner watering outside the restricted times allowed.
The LCRA says it must now figure out if that homeowner’s water is coming from a straw and if they have a contract with the river authority to pay for it.
“What we’re doing is, we’re increasing our presence on the lakes,” said LCRA Vice President John Hoffman. “We’re increasing our presence out there to try and make sure that people understand they need to have a contract with LCRA if they’re going to take water from the reservoirs.”
KXAN Investigator Brian Collister also discovered, even after people sign contracts to draw water, the LCRA doesn’t actually monitor how much they use. So we went straight to the head of LCRA to ask what he’s going to do to make sure this doesn’t become a bigger problem. Join us Tuesday at six, as we continue this investigation into lake straws and LCRA’s enforcement.
Right now the LCRA has about 3,700 contracts with people along the six Highland Lakes, but agency officials estimate another 3,300 are taking water without permission. The river authority has convinced thousands of once-illegal water users over the past several years to sign contracts by threatening to report them to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. But now, in response to KXAN’s investigation, the LCRA says it will forward future cases straight to the TCEQ which has the authority to issue citations and levy fines.
“Now is the time for us to try and put some additional resources out there, to try to make the point that it’s really the right thing for people to do and it’s the law for them to have a contract for the water,” said Hoffman.
The increased lake patrols are set to begin August 1st.