New frontiers in bad ideas

Private dams. No, seriosuly.

A private dam proposed on the South Llano River, a major tributary to the Highland Lakes, is the center of a debate in the Hill Country this week as a public hearing set for Thursday evening approaches.

It all started in 2018 when then-CEO of Phillips 66, Gregory Garland, filed an application with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ, to dam up the river and create a private pool.

But under extraordinary drought and low river flow conditions, neighbors are worried about the strain this may put on a scarce resource.


The proposed size of Garland’s private recreational pool, filed under Waterstone Creek LLC, is 12 acre-feet of water — roughly 3.9 million gallons. That’s enough water to cover an entire football field with water nine feet deep.

KXAN obtained this satellite image from Garland’s application of the proposed reservoir overlaid on the South Llano River, suggesting a dam wide enough to stretch across the entire channel.

The Lower Colorado River Authority, or LCRA, told KXAN the landowner has a 10-year contract to purchase 16 acre-feet of water per year from the state agency. A hydrologist estimates the landowner is purchasing this quantity of water from the LCRA to keep the impoundment full and offset evaporation losses, even though this water is upstream of the Highland Lakes reservoirs from which the LCRA typically distributes water.

The LCRA contract yields a total of more than 50 million gallons of water over the 10-year period that could otherwise flow into the Highland Lakes. That amount equals enough water to fill Austin’s Deep Eddy Pool 86 times.

TCEQ’s draft permit for the project states the landowner cannot store water during low-flow conditions, as it may prevent water from reaching downstream senior water right holders.

A hydrologist told KXAN when a reservoir is full, the landowner would allow excess water to spill over and travel downstream. But if the reservoir is not full during prolonged drought conditions, any water that flows in is stored in the reservoir even though the water legally belongs to someone downstream with senior rights.

We tried to get answers to how the landowner would navigate this problem, but were unable to reach Mr. Garland after leaving multiple messages.

The whole thing gets shadier from there, if you can believe it. It’s not clear to me from the article what the process is for determining whether this dumb idea should go forward or not – there was a public meeting last week, and there will be at least one more – but hopefully a little attention will help affect it. Go read the rest and if you live in the area by all means call your State Rep and State Senator to let them know how you feel. There was a Bloomberg story on this that appeared in the business section of the Saturday Chron print edition if you want to know more.

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