Ducks Unlimited is greatly disappointed in the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) board’s vote to increase rice irrigation cutoff levels. 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.
The LCRA board voted Nov. 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.
“Water is part of the foundation for the basin-wide regional economy, and the fact is there is not enough water at present for all uses and users,” said Kirby Brown, DU conservation outreach biologist. “However, it is unconscionable to cut off water for food production – which in turn provides vital habitat for millions of migratory birds and supports a multi-million-dollar, natural-resource-based economy – while allowing non-essential uses such as lawn watering, car washing and filling swimming pools to continue. We are all in this together, and we must all conserve our limited resources and seek sensible compromises in water allocation.”
Without unprecedented winter rainfall, this decision will cut off water for rice farming within the LCRA irrigation districts for the third year in a row.
“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,” Brown said.
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. 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 state law is clear: You cannot ignore agricultural needs when other alternatives exist. We are hopeful TCEQ will recognize that other alternatives do exist and deny this proposal,” Brown said.
Brown doesn’t believe the LCRA met the threshold for public health and safety in their request. “The suggested level is untenable, and common-sense alternatives proposed by rice farmers provided reasonable compromises for balanced basin-wide solutions,” he explained. “Alternatives proposed by some of the board members to reduce a small amount of water in the constant level lakes, such as Lake Austin, and implement greater conservation measures were also ignored.”
The proposal requires Austin and other municipal customers to restrict some non-essential water uses for the first time, a move Ducks Unlimited and others feel is far too long in coming.
Logo courtesy Ducks Unlimited