LCRA's $10,000 'Stepchildren'
Eager to open the tap for new development, the LCRA wants a premium from the folks who already live out West
By Amy Smith, Fri., Dec. 3, 2004
But for $10,000? No, thanks. That's the value the Lower Colorado River Authority has placed on each tap it would provide to older homes along Hamilton Pool Road, where it wants to build a pipeline to serve three proposed new developments. Whereas the new projects are denser, and would be built with modern plumbing systems, the existing homes were built years ago on 1- to 4-acre lots and would require extensive and costly retrofitting to convert from groundwater, which is depleting in both quality and quantity, to piped-in surface water. What's more, the LCRA is requiring 80% participation from each of the three existing subdivisions roughly 400 households in each community before it commits to provide the service.
Linda Ellis, who has lived in West Cave Estates for 18 years, says the 80% requirement, coupled with the $10,000 out-of-pocket expense, effectively closes the door on modern-day conveniences for existing households. "Once again, we're left feeling like the stepchildren," she said. Ellis has been through this before. In the mid- to late Nineties, she and other neighbors had hoped to hook into the then proposed "290" water line that the LCRA has since built to serve new developments in northern Hays Co. The LCRA argument at the time was that drought conditions warranted building the line to serve existing households on well systems. But that line has primarily served new growth, with more new subdivision projects on the way just as pipeline opponents had predicted.
A more broadly organized opposition group is hoping to head off a similar occurrence on Hamilton Pool Road and in western Travis Co. Last week, Hamilton Pool Road resident and opposition leader Gene Lowenthal sent each LCRA board member a ream of petitions bearing signatures from nearly 1,000 people opposed to the pipeline. He said 64% of the signers live up and down Hamilton Pool Road, and noted that enough petitioners have signed to rule out 80% participation from each of the existing subdivisions along the roadway.
That's precisely why Ellis is trying to negotiate a more attainable participation requirement and a reasonable up-front fee with LCRA officials. "My original phone contact [of homeowners] found that 60 to 70% of them are very interested in getting water," she said. "When I asked [LCRA officials] if they would accept that number, they hedged a little, but they didn't rule it out." She also wants the Authority to rethink the $10,000 each household would need to pay up front, at least two years before they get what they pay for. "You don't buy big-ticket items and then wait two years for it," Ellis said. "This has got to be more doable."
Still, Ellis notes, she doesn't want environmental protection measures to be given short shrift in the process. "I want the water as bad as anybody, but not at any cost," she said. "I would not want it if it meant no regulation." In her view, the LCRA is the right agency to advance a water deal because of its mission to be good stewards of the land. "I don't want to stop what's coming. I just want it to come the right way."
But if what happened in Hays Co. is any indication, Ellis and her neighbors can count on "what's coming" to take pri- ority over their own water needs.
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