AUSTIN, Texas – Nov. 16, 2012 – The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) board, after lengthy testimony dominated by a large Highland Lakes contingent, passed an emergency order that will likely provide enough water for first crop rice on approximately 50 percent of the fields in Texas's Wharton, Matagorda and Colorado counties. It is very unlikely second crop rice will receive water unless significant rains materialize to increase water storage in the Highland Lakes before midsummer.
Kirby Brown, conservation outreach biologist for Ducks Unlimited, testified before the LCRA board on Nov. 13 regarding the importance of LCRA irrigation district rice for waterfowl on the Gulf Coast. Approximately 60 percent of the estimated 1.96 million midwinter bird population for the Texas Mid-Coast is expected to rely on ricelands (active and idle flooded rice fields) to meet their food needs. In addition, the Gulf Coast Joint Venture identifies specific population objectives for more than 12 million shorebirds and wading birds that are highly dependent on water in ricelands for nesting, migration and wintering habitat.
"We realize that water allocation decisions are challenging, and that compromises have to be made," Brown said. "However, Ducks Unlimited feels very strongly that the needs of waterfowl and wetland wildlife in the rice prairie wetlands complex must be voiced and evaluated along with other stakeholder interests. There are significant economic impacts tied to rice agriculture and waterfowl hunting, as well as natural resource and cultural heritage considerations. We sincerely thank the LCRA board and staff for taking the time to hear our concerns, and we want to express our appreciation for their efforts to meet in the middle."
Ducks Unlimited remains concerned about the overall decrease in rice acreage and the predicted absence of second crop rice. Because of the timing of seed maturation, second crop rice is particularly important for migratory waterfowl. In terms of food needed to support wintering waterfowl in the Texas Mid-Coast agricultural landscape, second crop rice provides at least 10 times as much as first crop rice.
"This is the last intact rice prairie wetland complex of its size remaining in Texas, and the Colorado River is a critical migration landmark running right through the middle of it. I cannot overstate the importance of this area for waterfowl and wetland wildlife," Brown concluded.
For every 10,000 acres of flooded ricelands lost, the region loses the ability to support 120,000 waterfowl.
At the hearing, Brown expressed DU's commitment to working with LCRA and other water-management entities to find sound conservation solutions in the rice prairie wetlands complex.
Ducks Unlimited is interested in maximizing use of "run-of-river" water to provide for early fall flooding of ricelands, waterfowl ponds and other habitats across all LCRA irrigation districts. The organization also encourages reasonable compromises, water conservation practices that benefit all users and strategic off-channel reservoir construction as a means to provide water for irrigated agriculture and wildlife habitat.
Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest non-profit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, DU is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, with special events, projects and promotions across the continent. Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 12 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org. Connect with us on our Facebook page at facebook.com/DucksUnlimited, follow our tweets at twitter.com/DucksUnlimited and watch DU videos at youtube.com/DucksUnlimitedInc.