An extended day of public testimony also included supporters of the emergency request. Officials representing a number of Central Texas cities testified that drought conditions and falling lake levels have created a number of burdens including providing adequate water to residents and ample water to fight fires.

Business representatives from the Highland Lakes area testified they have lost millions in revenue as marinas, restaurants, and boat ramps have closed and recreational traffic has all but ceased to exist.

The Mayor of Leander, Chris Fielder, told commissioners his city has invested over $3.5 million on a new water intake system required because of low lake levels and says if lake water continues to recede, drought level costs could easily exceed $10 million in the near future.

Supporting rice farmers and downstream users, representatives of the Texas Farm Bureau, Ducks Unlimited and the Sierra Club also testified that restricting flow downstream not only hurts rice farmers, but penalizes rural communities and provides devastating damage to water fowl, wildlife and the delicate Matagorda Bay system.

Gertson told commissioners that almost all of the arguments presented by supporters of the emergency request addressed problems associated with the economy, and he said those types of problems are beyond the responsibility and charge of TCEQ.

He also testified that the water management plan originally adopted by TCEQ provides several triggers before an emergency order can be passed; one of those triggers in the plan involves curtailing water for downstream interruptible users but also requires firm users to curtail water usage by 20 percent.

Gertson says rice farmers have been penalized with shouldering all the burden of the drought and conservation efforts in Central Texas have failed to curtail usage by the required amount to meet the drought emergency.


For more on drought:

Long-range weather outlook for Southwest is not optimistic

Climate change causing historic drought

Drought conditions worsen slightly