"DU appreciates the opportunity to discuss the importance of rice agriculture to waterfowl," Merendino told the committee. "We understand difficult decisions must be made in current extreme drought conditions. However, nearly 2 million wintering waterfowl and millions of other migratory birds and wildlife depend heavily on the managed wetlands associated with rice agriculture in the Texas Mid-Coast region for habitat and food resources.”

Merendino told Farm Press that in reviewing LCRA’s decision to limit releases of water from Buchanan and Travis Lakes near Austin, no consideration was offered to its impact on wildlife or waterfowl.

“Given the importance of the Texas Mid-Coast to waterfowl and the related economic impacts of hunting and other wildlife-associated recreation in the area, this absence is very disappointing," he said.

But he described the meeting with the Committee as cordial and professional and said he believes the group is taking a serious look at the issue in light of the new information he provided.

“It was a very positive presentation and well received. A drought like we experienced last year is a serious development for everyone in the state and LCRA’s action reflects the serious measures that are necessary to deal with such a widespread problem,” he said. “But the Committee admits it was unaware of the waterfowl and wetland issue posed by that decision and was responsive to the presentation.”

He said the Committee suggested that conservation groups and property owners along the lower Colorado River could opt to purchase water from the river to maintain wetlands, but said that water must come from the natural flow of the river and not from dam releases at Highland Lakes.

“DU has been working for 20-plus years in developing partnerships with private property owners to work toward better conservation efforts, and the Committee thought purchasing river water would provide one alternative to help with the problem, and it might,” he said.