One of the worst droughts in modern history caused the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) to propose two consecutive years of an emergency water plan that, once approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), left Texas rice growers in a three-county coastal region without adequate irrigation water to sustain their entire rice crops, forcing most farmers to limit rice acres and scramble to plant alternative crops, like cotton or sorghum.

But LCRA's recent contract award to CH2M Hill, a global full-service consulting, design, and construction firm, that will result in the construction of a new reservoir project near Lane City, Texas, may be the first step in a long process to bring irrigation relief to troubled agricultural water customers.

The $206 million project, being tagged as the Lower Basin Reservoir Project, will provide an approximate 40,000 acre-foot, off channel reservoir that covers over 1,000 acres and with an earthen berm roughly 40 feet in height. Once complete, LCRA says the reservoir should provide an additional 90,000 acre-feet of water a year to LCRA’s water supply system.

LCRA recently awarded the contract for preliminary engineering support, part of the first phase of the project which calls for $18 million to include purchasing the property and for engineering and permitting services. Scheduled final completion for the project is set for July 2017.

The water crisis in Texas is the direct result of two straight years of a devastating drought that taxed nearly all of the state's water resources. Particularly hard hit were the reservoirs of Central Texas, better known as the Highland Lakes, including Lake Buchanan, Lake Travis and Lake LBJ near Austin. In addition to historically low lake levels as a result of rain shortages, increased demand for water from the ever-growing City of Austin and other municipal and industrial users compounded the problem.

While the drought has adversely affected all stakeholders along the Colorado River waterway, farmers in Wharton, Colorado and Matagorda counties were particularly hard hit. Rice growers have long been one of the most senior water users on the waterway and were instrumental in convincing the Texas Legislature to construct the lake projects many years ago. Over the last two years, many of these same farm families have estimated they cut back rice acres by as much as 50 to 60 percent as Colorado River water allotments were drastically reduced to ensure an adequate water supply for all of LCRA’s growing number of users.