TCEQ approves LCRA plan for emergency drought relief
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The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Wednesday approved Lower Colorado River Authority's request for emergency drought relief for an unprecedented second year in a row, according to a news release issued Wednesday.
Ron Gertson, president of the Colorado Water Issues Committee of Texas Rice Producers, was present at the meeting in Austin on Wednesday.
Gertson, a fifth-generation rice farmer from Lissie, has worked to urge the LCRA not to cut off water to rice farmers again.
"It's extremely unfortunate that the same communities that suffered through a lack of water last year will suffer a second year," he said.
Gertson said he was disappointed by the TCEQ's decision but said he couldn't see a way the commission could not affirm the order.
"It's a massive and very unfortunate situation that we can't blame anybody for. It's purely the drought we're in," he said.
LCRA's municipal customers, such as the city of Austin, and other industrial customers contract for water that is guaranteed through conditions equal to that of the worst drought on record, while agricultural customers pay a lesser rate for water that can be cut back or cut off during a severe drought, according to the release.
"Let me tell you how bad it is: The first time LCRA ever had to cut off water to most rice farmers was last year. Now, because of the severity of the drought, we may have to do it two years in a row. That alone should tell you this is no ordinary drought," LCRA General Manager Becky Motal said.
The commission Wednesday unanimously approved the emergency request adopted by the LCRA board of directors on Jan. 8. The request was approved by TCEQ Executive Director Zak Covar on Jan. 29.
The approval from TCEQ means that LCRA will be allowed to provide less water to downstream rice farmers this year than required under the Water Management Plan, the state-approved plan under which LCRA operates Lakes Travis and Buchanan.
Under the plan, which is similar to the relief TCEQ granted in 2011 that led to most downstream farmers doing without Highland Lakes water in 2012, water would be cut off to most downstream rice farmers unless the combined storage of Lakes Buchanan and Travis is at or above 850,000 acre-feet at 11:59 p.m. March 1. Combined storage on Feb. 13 was 832,000 acre-feet, according to the release.
Motal said the need for emergency relief two years in a row illustrates why LCRA is moving ahead with plans for a new downstream reservoir in Wharton County. That reservoir near Lane City would capture water that comes into the Colorado River downstream of Lake Travis, according to the release. LCRA now has no way to capture that water before it flows into Matagorda Bay.
The LCRA Board approved preliminary plans for the new reservoir Jan. 8.
Gertson said he supports the new reservoir.
"We don't hold out any hope that they'll dedicate water supples in those reservoirs solely to agriculture, but they will benefit all of us," Gertson said.