Texas water policy ups and downs

After rains forestalled the Lower Colorado River Authority’s request to cut off in-flows to Matagorda Bay in October, a second victory for Texas water came in November when DU-supported ballot initiative Proposition 6 passed by a large voter margin.

Prop 6 will provide $2 billion in one-time funding for Texas Water Plan projects from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. DU believes Prop 6 is a strong start for a long-term remedy to water shortages in Texas, and the successful vote will implement HB 4 (the water bill supported by DU), providing $2 billion in rotating bond funding for water, of which 20 percent must go to water conservation funding and 10 percent to funding rural and agricultural water conservation projects, both of which are important to Texas waterfowl.

Unfortunately, water for waterfowl, wildlife and agriculture took another blow when the LCRA board voted November 19 to raise the cutoff trigger to 1.1 million acre-feet of water in lakes Travis and Buchanan by March 1 before releasing water for rice.

Previous emergency orders have put the trigger at 850,000 acre-feet. While this trigger ensures virtually no water will be available for rice agriculture next year, watering lawns is still permitted on a weekly basis.

After two years of emergency orders providing very little irrigation or supplemental water for rice and other wetland habitats, this may be the final blow to an ailing industry and the waterfowl that depend on it for habitat.

“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,” DU Conservation Outreach Biologist Kirby Brown says.

DU expects the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to review the LCRA proposal and to seriously consider other feasible alternatives with less impact to agricultural users. The proposal requires Austin and other municipal customers to restrict some non-essential water uses for the first time, a move DU and others feel is far too long in coming. DU will continue to work for science-based compromises to ensure some water is ultimately available for waterfowl, wetland wildlife and the rice industry, which provides significant wetland habitat.