More illegal “straw” users found after KXAN investigation

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Because of a KXAN Investigation, the Lower Colorado River Authority is finding more people potentially stealing water from our lakes. They do it using long pipes, called “straws” to keep their lawns green during this severe drought.

The LCRA estimates at least 2,300 people don’t have contracts and aren’t paying for that water. It’s happening across all six lakes in the Highland Lakes chain in Central Texas. Prior to August 1st, LCRA had only one employee looking for violators on the lakes.

In response to our investigation LCRA has added more staff to patrol by water, land, and soon by helicopter in an effort to get people to pay an annual flat fee for the water straw users draw from the lakes.

“What we have to identify is whether or not they have a pump in the water, whether or not that pump is powered, and whether or not it has a pipe actually (sort of) in the lake, pulling from the lake,” said Arthur Sayre, LCRA’s then lone water resource officer.

Since our investigation aired, LCRA says it has received 32 calls from people requesting contract applications.

“We’ve been real pleased with the response we’ve received so far,” said LCRA Vice President John Hoffman.

LCRA also says it has identified 45 potential violators and is investigating each case before forwarding them to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality which can fine straw users without contracts up to $5,000 per day. Prior to our investigation, LCRA told KXAN it had not forwarded any cases to TCEQ.

“There’s a certain amount of documentation that the TCEQ will require from us and we will be in close conversation with TCEQ to try and determine what level of documentation, what type of evidence they will need to be able to feel comfortable looking at the violation,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman says it will be several weeks before the violations are ready to turn over to TCEQ. We’ll let you know when that happens and what action TCEQ takes.

During our investigation we also discovered that even after LCRA catches people stealing water and makes them start paying for it, the agency doesn’t meter how much water those people are using.

While it has no specific plans right now, LCRA tells us it might look into a pilot program for metering sometime in the future.

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