Downstream rice farmers had been using the waters of the Colorado River for more than 40 years before the Highland Lakes were created. Rice farmers were among the strongest supporters of building the Highland Lakes dams in the 1930s because they recognized the value of the dams in easing flooding and making water available during droughts. Without the support of the rice farmers, LCRA and the Highland Lakes and dams might never have been built.

But that precedence doesn’t give all water rights to agricultural users. Times change and as a result the state’s priority and method of allocating and distributing water equitably needed to change as well. Ultimately the governing body that decides who gets the state’s natural resources and how much rests with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) , and in this case based upon the merits of recommendations from the LCRA.

While the river authority appears to make every attempt to meet the needs and requirements of each of its customers downstream, ultimately they are obligated to present a plan to TCEQ that at least has hope of surviving the state’s rigid requirement of parity and equity for all users, a largely undefined condition that puts the burden of determination on agencies like the LCRA without providing much detail.

But, as they say, the devil is in the details, and an exhaustive look at the resolution the LCRA board adopted on Nov. 14 this year reveals the depth of the problem of dividing up the state’s natural resources between qualified users who often believe their cause outweighs the needs of others.

Because of the prolonged drought, LCRA will for the second year in a row ask the state for permission to send less Highland Lakes water to downstream farmers than required by its state-approved Water Management Plan. The LCRA Board voted 10-4 to ask the state for the emergency drought relief for 2013 at its regular Board meeting on Nov. 14.

The vote came after dozens of people addressed the Board on the issue during two days of public comments during Board and committee meetings in Fredericksburg.