Electric power for 33 cities Bastrop Bellville Boerne Brenham Burnet Cuero Flatonia Fredericksburg Georgetown Giddings Goldthwaite Gonzales Hallettsville Hempstead Kerrville LaGrange Lampasas Lexington Llano Lockhart Luling Mason Moulton New Braunfels San Marcos San Saba Schulenburg Seguin Shiner Smithville Waelder Weimar Yoakum The LCRA is 43 New Deal prodigy turns into spoiled brat Energyfrom 1,200 megawatts of installed capacity at six hydroelectric stations and four natural gas-fueled steam units. Flood control through the use of the six dams of the Highland Lakes of Central Texas. Water-821 billion gallons of storage capacity and continuing river management to provide water for domestic, municipal, industrial and agricultural uses. Human developmentthrough recreation on seven lakes and 12 surrounding parks. Source: Lower Colorado River Authority Annual Report 1977 By Vicki Vaughan Austin Of all the endeavors on which I have worked in public life, I am proudest of the Lower Colorado River Authority. Lyndon B. Johnson The role Lyndon Johnson played as a novice New Dealer helping to establish what eventually became Texas’ richest and most successful river board may have been modest but you can’t fault him for reminding folks that he had a hand in it. Once, everyone took justifiable pride in the LCRA, the tamer of the Colorado River that built six dams and introduced electricity to rural Central Texas in the mid-1930s. But ask Central Texans in 1978 what they think of the LCRA, and you’ll find that anger has replaced praise. Many are at wit’s end over higher utility bills and what they regard as LCRA’s abuse of its rate-setting powers. The Public Utility Commission has the final say on LCRA rate increases, but consumer protection ends there. The publicly appointed LCRA board, conceived originally as the overseer of management, has failed to protect the public interest against managerial whim. What’s more, its present members have more or less turned their backs on the people they are supposed to speak for. It’s all a far cry from the populist tradition in which the LCRA is rooted. A bit of history: the LCRA Act of 1934 provided that at least one director shall be appointed from each of the ten counties that make up the LCRA statutory be elected at-large from counties served with LCRA-supplied power. By incorporating this provision into the original bill, its principal author, State Sen. A. J. Wirtz, brought LCRA governance into line with New Deal thinkingthat people should be protected against the utilities that had, by the ’30s, become such an important part of everyday life. President Franklin Roosevelt approved a $4.5 million Public Works Administration loan to the Colorado River Company \(the LCRA’s private enterprise eight of the nine directors would have to be publicly appointed. \(The ninth would Today, says a high-level LCRA employee, “Our problem is that board members don’t take enough interest in the authority.” What a contrast to the people who struggled to create the public river agency four decades ago! “We got down on our knees,” says Tom Ferguson of Burnet, “to Harold Ickes [FDR’s first secretary of the interior] and the Public Works Administration” for that $4.5 million loan. Ferguson, a retired district judge, served on the first LCRA board. He recalls how the LCRA bill got through the Texas Legislature: “Gov. Ma Ferguson [no relation] called the Dallas people in. The Dallasites didn’t want a governmental agency ahold of power distribution Texas Power & Light owned part of the proposed district, and the Dallas legislators wanted them to keep it. Ma was present. but of course Jim Ferguson did the talking. He told the bill’s opponents they could forget about hosting the centennial celebration in Dallas if they didn’t pass the LCRA. All but one voted for it.” Despite the strong-arm sponsorship from the governor’s office, “ours was not a special privilege board,” says another early director. That’s true, because by the time the LCRA Act became effective in 1935, Jimmy Allred, Texas’ last governor with any populist leanings, had been elected and had the power to appoint three members to the first boardone was Ralph Yarborough. The names of other board members appointed by the attorney general and the commissioner of the General Land Office, would be familiar to few of those affected by LCRA actions today, but the original appointees were serious about THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7 *.