LIVE: TCEQ public meeting on proposal to build private dam for recreation on South Llano River
JUNCTION, Texas (KXAN) — 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.
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But under extraordinary drought and low river flow conditions, neighbors are worried about the strain this may put on a scarce resource.
Image showing dry, cracked ground in the South Llano River riverbed in Junction.
“It’s too depressing to see it in the condition that it’s in right now,” Linda Fawcett said from the shores of the South Llano River in Junction, the water source for the community of 2,500 residents.
Fawcett has been coming to the South Llano since she was a child, and now serves as the President of the Llano River Watershed Alliance. She told KXAN the identity of many residents is intertwined with the river.
“The common link is how important this river is to their psyche, their very sense of self, their memories, their legacy,” Fawcett said.
But an extraordinarily hot, dry summer has pushed the City of Junction into stage four water restrictions.
“It never rains as much here as it does everywhere else,” Fawcett said.
The South Llano River at Flat Rock is currently flowing at just 25 cubic feet per second, roughly half of its typical August flow rate and the site’s lowest flow since Oct. 6, 2018, according to USGS data.
Water flow data from the US Geological Service, showing the South Llano River at its lowest flow rate since 2018.
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.
Illustration from dam application showing location of the proposed dam (orange line), crossing the entire river channel. The illustration states that the “dam will be 220-260 feet in length” across a 75-foot river channel, with the excess length buried in natural ground to prevent erosion and fortify the dam against floods.
Illustration from Garland’s dam application showing location of the proposed dam (orange line), crossing the entire river channel. The illustration states that the “dam will be 220-260 feet in length” across a 75-foot river channel, with the excess length buried in natural ground to prevent erosion and fortify the dam against floods“.
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.
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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.