Lake Buchanan stayed below full, despite area flooding

AUSTIN (KXAN) — While Lake Travis floods, its sister reservoir to the north, Lake Buchanan, remains just below full, and it will stay that way for years, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority.

LCRA officials said repairs on Lake Buchanan’s floodgates would take three more years. For safety reasons, an agreement with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), restricts the LCRA from raising Lake Buchanan’s level over 1,018 feet above sea level, which is the lake’s conservation pool elevation.

There is “still three years left of welding on those gates to get them up to speed,” said Ryan Rowney, vice president of LCRA water operations, at a June 15 board meeting. “FEMA will not let LCRA take Buchanan above 1,018 because of hurricane season.”

LCRA board member Franklin Spears said, “we still don’t feel comfortable with the safety factor,” regarding the possibility of raising Lake Buchanan above 1,018 feet above sea level.

Buchanan floodgate repairs

  • Adding remote operating capability to six hoists and 26 new automated hoists
  • Strengthen all 37 floodgates
  • Upgrade electrical system
  • Remove, inspect all hinges
  • Add remote capabilities on all floodgates
  • Upgrade security features throughout
  • Provide stop log system, to allow for dry work space

KXAN received messages of concern from viewers about the management of the lakes. Residents asked, why isn’t Lake Buchanan filling up completely, while other lakes below it flooded?

At 1,020 feet above sea level, there are only a few inches left before water flows in an “uncontrolled fashion” over Lake Buchanan’s spillway, according to the LCRA.

Normally, Lake Buchanan’s flood level is adjusted seasonally. During flood-prone months between May and November the conservation pool level is adjusted downward. FEMA is concerned Buchanan Dam’s floodgates can’t open fast enough. So, the lake is being kept at 1,018 year round, while upgrades to the floodgates are finished. The repairs are estimated to cost $50 million. The project began in 2009 and is expected to finish in 2019 or 2020, the LCRA says.

Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis are the main reservoirs of Central Texas. Dams on the Colorado River form both lakes. The LCRA manages the water and generates electricity from the dams. Historic flooding in May put heavy pressure on the lakes. Lake Travis flooded several feet, causing damage to homes and businesses.

Correction: This article has been corrected to eliminate the reference to a Lake Buchanan flood pool. The lake does not have a flood pool.

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