State senator calls for state audit of LCRA

By Asher Price
American-Statesman Staff
Originally published Friday, Feb. 8, 2013

A state senator whose district includes the Highland Lakes filed legislation Friday that would require the state auditor to review the books and operations of the Lower Colorado River Authority.

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, has frequently warred with the nonprofit, quasi-state utility, which sells water and electricity used in the homes of more than a million Central Texans.

Recently, Fraser threatened the LCRA with stiffer legislative oversight after its board considered easing restrictions on water releases from the Highland Lakes to benefit downriver farmers.

The river authority later adopted stricter restrictions, but some of Fraser’s lakeside constituents remain suspicious of the LCRA, which recently voted to move forward with a $206 million reservoir in its lower basin.

Fraser said in a statement that since becoming a state senator in 1996, “I have constantly battled with the LCRA on how they conduct business.”

“Asking the state auditor to do a thorough review of LCRA’s finances and operations would benefit all the customers in the basin,” said Fraser, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources committee.

The review, which would include an audit of the LCRA’s operations and performance, would have to be completed by Jan. 1, 2015.

The river authority makes no comment on legislation unless it takes an official position, LCRA spokeswoman Clara Tuma said.

“LCRA is already a transparent public agency accountable to numerous other state and federal agencies,” she said.

This year, for the fourth straight time, it won gold certification — the highest available — from the Texas comptroller’s office for its financial transparency, which included making financial documents available online. The LCRA applied for the honor.

“Transparency is extremely important to LCRA because we are a public service organization and accountable to our customers and the people of the lower Colorado River basin,” LCRA General Manager Becky Motal said in a news release.

Under Fraser’s proposal, the LCRA would reimburse the auditor’s office for the cost of performing the audit.

“An independent review of the LCRA’s performance is good for them and for the state,” Fraser said in his statement. “We need to make sure the people we have managing the LCRA have all the information they need to make the best choices for both water and electric customers.”

It is not uncommon for the Legislature to require the state auditor’s office to perform a review of a specific agency. In 2012, for example, the auditor reviewed the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. That review was prompted by legislative direction passed in 2011.

But with allies of its own at the Capitol, the river authority has at least several times evaded efforts by lawmakers to have it reviewed by the Sunset Advisory Commission, whose staff reviews whether agencies ought to continue.