In addition, environmental and wildlife advocates who oppose the curtailment of water flow from the Highland lakes say that failing to release water to flood rice fields and hamper fresh water inflows into the bay system creates a grave danger to wildlife in Texas.

Appearing before the board during last year's hearing involving curtailment, Todd Merendino, manager of conservation programs for the Ducks Unlimited Texas field office, testified before the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Water Operations Committee and briefed the group on the importance of coastal wetlands and the role they play in the state’s economy.


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Citing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, he told the group that Texas leads the nation with the most hunters and anglers (2.6 million), the most money spent by sportsmen and women ($6.6 billion), the most jobs supported (106,000) and the highest tax revenue generated ($1.3 billion) each year by outdoor recreation in any state. He also told the LCRA Committee that wintering waterfowl represent a substantial segment of that revenue, and rice wetlands surrounding the Colorado River have traditionally offered up to 50,000 acres of prime habitat for migratory birds.

In addition, Merendino said a Texas AgriLife report shows that, on average, rice agriculture contributes $374.3 million and more than 3,300 jobs annually in Colorado, Wharton and Matagorda counties alone. Those numbers don't include rice farming's substantial contributions to the revenue and jobs generated from waterfowl hunting and other outdoor recreation in the state. Waterfowl hunting contributes $204 million to the Texas economy each year.

In addition to curtailing water to rice farmers, for the first time LCRA staff also is recommending that the LCRA Board require firm customers to limit homeowners and businesses to watering a maximum of once a week if combined storage is below 1.1 million acre-feet on March 1. Firm customers include cities in Central Texas, including Austin, that depend on water from the Highland Lakes.

The recommendation originally was to include a proposal that the LCRA board ask the state to curtail requirements that water be released from the Highland Lakes for the threatened blue sucker fish, but that suggestion was not in the final staff recommendation. LCRA officials say they may consider the issue of environmental requirements at its January meeting.


Also of interest:

Heavy fall rains delay LCRA emergency action

LCRA moves to restrict water to rice farmers in Texas Rice Belt

Texas faces water shortage without water plan