“We have been studying and talking about ways to be creative with making more water available to rice growers, and one day we stumbled on the idea of catching water in temporary ponds. The pilot grew out of those brainstorming sessions, and we went to work trying to identify areas that could provide what we were looking for.

“We needed existing pits that were strategically located on existing canals, and we needed to see if landowners would come onboard with the idea,” he added. “It is a cooperative effort between LCRA and property owners, and we are hoping it proves to be a successful model.”

While the project will provide much needed water for irrigation, LCRA officials say they realize it is not an answer into itself.

“It's not 'the' solution, but it's clearly a step in the right direction and has the potential to be very beneficial,” Tuma added.

LCRA hopes that water stored in the pits will provide several thousand per acre feet, per year for all affected districts. Pilot testing will continue through the summer to check how well the gravel pits hold water and to develop efficient pumping methods.

Goal for 2017

The project was approved at a special LCRA Board meeting on April 10. Officials say the project is part of LCRA’s commitment to obtain 100,000 acre-feet of new water supply by 2017.

LCRA plans to fill the pits several times over the course of the irrigation season. The water will be pumped from the pits to the irrigation canals to determine if the pits can make the irrigation system more efficient. LCRA won’t know if the gravel pits can achieve that goal until the testing is complete in mid October.

Because of the drought, LCRA will not send Highland Lakes water to farmers in the Lakeside, Gulf Coast and Pierce Ranch irrigation operations this year. LCRA officials say if this pilot project works, it is possible that similar projects could be conducted at other downstream gravel pits.