Emergency order not good for farmers, bay
Feb. 9, 2014 at 9:01 p.m.
Updated Feb. 8, 2014 at 8:09 p.m.
I fondly remember the cover story of Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine in July 2002. The photo rendered a stunning, flowing stream with a bold font reading, "The State of Water."
I blew the story off, quickly thumbing through the pages trying to find the story and photos I had compiled for the magazine. Then, a few months later, I picked up the magazine and read the cover story prophesying Texas' growing population and the possible shortage of water if the Lone Star State ever suffered from a prolonged drought.
Again, the ignorance of my youth spawned me to blow off the prediction. Not enough water? Come on!
Here we sit 12 years later with a crisis on our hands. Five years now, we have endured a drought, so much so that rice farmers dependent on Lower Colorado River Authority water have not farmed in two years - so much so that the releasing of vital freshwater downstream to Matagorda Bay is in danger of being cut off.
The LCRA Board and staff have previously balanced water use and users across the basin; however, the current LCRA emergency order to raise the new release trigger to 1.1 million acre-feet, thereby cutting off water to rice farmers and other users for a third year, is just plain reckless.
This is not just about rice farmers; the proposed emergency order effectively shuts off river water at the Longhorn Dam, impacting the river itself and all communities and businesses downstream in eastern Travis, Bastrop, Fayette, Colorado, Wharton and Matagorda counties.
The 600-mile stretch of the Colorado River managed by the LCRA is an artery for more than a million Texans, supporting various local economies valued at more than $100 billion.
It seems the LCRA has caved to the demands of users like the city of Austin, lakeside residents and communities of the Highland Lakes by voting 8-7 to propose the 2014 emergency order to the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality.
Here's the sad thing: There is no evidence the 2014 emergency order to raise the trigger level to 1.1 million acre-feet is needed, and certainly there is no imminent threat to human health and safety.
The Highland Lakes are not at historic lows, thereby needing the 2014 emergency order. Even if lake levels drop to 600,000 acre-feet in the drought of record, LCRA along with the city of Austin agree there will not be a shortage of water.
The 2012 and 2013 emergency orders were enacted so water wouldn't be released to farmers and communities if water levels on the Highland Lakes were not at 850,000 acre-feet by March 1.
While downstream users like myself objected to the 2012 and 2013 emergency orders, we learned to live with it temporarily, believing there needed to be a spirit of cooperation and equal sacrifice. However, that cooperation and sacrifice has not been shared by all.
We understand that at current lake levels (as of Feb. 7, lake levels were at 38 percent, or 763,697 acre-feet) the 850,000 acre-feet trigger of 2012 and 2013 probably would not be met for 2014 unless a miracle of moisture sat on the Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis watershed.
What I and the rest of the Lower Colorado River Basin do not understand is: Why was the trigger raised to 1.1 million acre-feet?
The truth of the matter is eight members of the LCRA Board have essentially passed the buck of rational, unbiased water management to TCEQ.
Lord willing, TCEQ will stand up for all of us in the Lower Colorado River Basin and protect our right to Colorado River water.
I want to thank the seven members of the LCRA Board who voted against the 2014 emergency order for using their heads and standing up for our farmers and communities.
Here is what really bugs me in the 2014 emergency order: The LCRA Board recommended restricting lawn watering to once a week for 15 hours a day, but that recommendation is not contained within the emergency order request.
Are you kidding me? If we are truly in an emergency situation, why are we allowing irrigation at all? Let the grass die.
If we are indeed in emergency status, let the lawns and golf courses in the city of Austin suffer, not real people like rice farmers and the folks who rely on the coastal prairie agricultural economy.
I believe the health of Matagorda Bay is much more important than being able to shine up four wheels at an Austin car wash.
Where did logical thinking go?
Apparently, it evaporated.
The TCEQ Commission's hearing to affirm, modify or set aside the executive director's emergency order will be at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the TCEQ Commission Office, 12100 Park 35 Circle, Room 201S, Building E, in Austin. Written public comments should be submitted to the Office of the Chief Clerk, MC 105, TCEQ, P.O. Box 13087, Austin, TX 78711-3087. Emails can be sent to Richard.Hyde@tceq.texas.gov, Lori.Hyde@tceq.texas.gov or Blas.Coy@tceq.texas.gov.
Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author and licensed captain (firstname.lastname@example.org).