What is in this article?:
- Drought conditions are forcing Texans to reconsider water use as resources shrink as a result of three or four years of abnormally dry conditions.
- But the Central Texas Water Coalition's proposal that rice producers sell their farms or switch to other crops to reduce demand for water has prompted criticism in ag circles.
- The group's "bold proposal" could spell the end of row crop agriculture in parts of the Texas Gulf Coast where irrigation has become a way of life for growers battling persistent droughts.
No one will argue that current drought conditions are forcing Texans everywhere to expand water conservation efforts and to reconsider water use as resources shrink as a result of abnormally dry conditions.
But the latest proposal by Central Texas Water Coalition President Jo Karr Tedder that rice farmers should simply sell their farms to lower water demands from the Colorado River to ensure residents of Austin enough water to irrigate their lawns is not only an unfair solution, but one that favors urban development over food production.
To be fair, Tedder and the CTWC are to be commended for aggressively pursuing solutions to help alleviate pressures of the drought and lower demand for water for the present crisis and for years to come. The organization has supported such worthy projects as rainwater harvesting, protecting natural springs, and promoting conservation programs and projects.
But in a March 6 press release, Tedder talks about a “bold proposal” that encourages officials of the Lower Colorado River Authority to abandon plans to construct a series of small reservoirs adjacent to rice farms in Wharton, Colorado and Jackson Counties that would provide water for rice irrigation while reducing demand for extraction of river water during peak times. Instead, Tedder suggests that LCRA purchase rice farms and eliminate the high demand of water rice operations require. The proposal is critical not only of high water use of rice operations but of the reduced price rice farmers pay for water, $6.50 an acre foot compared to Central Texas cities who must pay $151.00 per acre foot for water.
To be certain, the $6.50 an acre price Tedder says rice farmers pay for an acre foot of water is a number disputed by Mike Burnside, a former rice producer who serves on the Texas Rice Producer Board and is an officer of the Texas Rice Research Board. He says rice farmers are paying about $44.00 per acre foot of water. He also says while some power plants and smaller municipalities are paying $151.00 per acre foot of water to LCRA, the City of Austin, the largest municipal user of water from the Highland Lakes, is not. Their price per acre foot is difficult to calculate because of a number of special considerations. Burnside said they receive some water without charge while they pay for some acre feet of water.