Brown and other environmental and wildlife advocates charge LCRA of imposing unfair and devastating limitations on agriculture and the environment while allowing Central Texas water users an exemption from the same type of water limitations.

“Water is part of the foundation for the basin-wide regional economy, and the fact is there is not enough water at present for all uses and users,” said Brown. “However, it is unconscionable to cut off water for food production – which in turn provides vital habitat for millions of migratory birds and supports a multi-million-dollar, natural-resource-based economy – while allowing non-essential uses such as lawn watering, car washing and filling swimming pools to continue. We are all in this together, and we must all conserve our limited resources and seek sensible compromises in water allocation.”

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Brown went on to say that in addition, farmers are facing an uncertain future because of the possibility of changing farm legislation.

“Unless there is a dramatic change in the next farm bill, which Congress has yet to pass, no disaster assistance will be available next year. A third year without water for rice will be devastating to the $374-million rice industry in the lower basin, and that will ripple across our regional economy,” he added. 

But he remains hopeful the TCEQ will hold a higher standard for the importance of food production, especially in Texas, an agricultural leader, and will address the need of both agriculture and the state's environment before taking any action that could damage both industries.

“The state law is clear: You cannot ignore agricultural needs when other alternatives exist. We are hopeful TCEQ will recognize that other alternatives do exist and deny this proposal,” he said.

Brown added that he doesn’t believe LCRA met the threshold for public health and safety in their request either.

“The suggested level is untenable, and common-sense alternatives proposed by rice farmers provided reasonable compromises for balanced basin-wide solutions,” he explained. “Alternatives proposed by some of the board members to reduce a small amount of water in the constant level lakes, such as Lake Austin, and implement greater conservation measures were also ignored.”

Voting in favor of an emergency request for drought relief were Chair Timothy Timmerman and directors Thomas Michael Martine, Vernon E. "Buddy" Schrader, Franklin Scott Spears Jr., Jett J. Johnson, John M. Franklin, Raymond A. "Ray" Gill Jr. and Robert "Bobby" Lewis. Voting against the relief were directors John C. Dickerson III, J. Scott Arbuckle, Steve K. Balas, Lori A. Berger, Pamela Jo "PJ" Ellison, Sandra Wright Kibby, and Michael G. McHenry.

Under the drought relief approved Tuesday, if combined storage is equal to or greater than 1.1 million acre-feet on March 1, about 130,000 acre-feet of Highland Lakes water would be available to the four irrigation operations. For every 100,000 acre-feet of combined storage greater than 1.1 million, the amount available to farmers would increase by 24,000 acre-feet. This would be limited to a maximum of about 202,000 acre-feet available to farmers if combined storage is 1.4 million acre-feet or more on March 1.

Water available to farmers is measured downstream, where it is diverted from the river by the irrigation operations in Matagorda, Wharton and Colorado counties. Approximately 20 percent more would need to be sent from the Highland Lakes to make up for losses as the water travels downstream.

LCRA will now forward its request related to water for irrigation to TCEQ, which must approve any changes to the state-approved Water Management Plan used for operating lakes Travis and Buchanan.


Also of interest:

Texas faces water shortage without water plan

From rice to riches

Golden rice battle only just beginning