Updated 01/09/2013 08:56 AM
LCRA votes to withold water from Texas rice farmers
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A growing population, drought conditions and limited storage have created a perfect storm of sorts for water across the Lone Star State.
On Tuesday, Lower Colorado River Authority board members made a tough decision when they voted unanimously to not release water from the Highland Lakes to farmers downstream.
Southeast Texas rice farmers say the move will continue to devastate their way of life during dry times.
"I think this will be a knockdown blow,” rice farmer Danny Gertson said. “I'm hoping it won't be a knockout blow."
Gertson’s rice fields in Wharton County have been empty for the better part of a year. He said his farm produced almost no rice last year—the result of the record drought and the LCRA’s decision last year to not release any water.
What rice Gertson was able to harvest was grown using well water or irrigation.
"We need an awful amount of water in the next two months for there to be any amount of water available for release downstream,” Becky Motal LCRA General Manager said.
With a limited supply, the LCRA is looking to make the most of the water they currently have.
Back in September the agency announced it was aggressively moving forward on creating reservoirs downstream.
The idea is to acquire over 4,000 acres of land to build off-channel reservoirs.
Three such reservoirs in Wharton, Matagorda and Colorado counties could add another 90,000 acre-feet of water supply—that's roughly one tenth of Lake Travis' capacity.
"To the extent that we can capture rain, in another part of the basin downstream it is going to give us more options, and a greater portfolio of water supply," Modal said.
With a price tag estimated in the region of hundreds of millions of dollars and a timeline of several years, the reservoirs may be too little, too late.
The dire need for immediate help brought Wharton County farmers and officials to Austin Tuesday.
"This isn't just about rice farmers and wasting money on rice, it is the entire economy down there," Wharton County Judge Philip Spenrath said.
According to the U.S.A. Rice Federation, the Texas Rice industry translates to $200 million dollars for the state and thousands of jobs.
But before the water flows to the farmers, it first flows through Austin, a booming metropolis, with a growing thirst and growing fear of running dry.
"We are keeping the entire Central Texas area on the precipice of a very bad place, so I would ask you to start thinking very seriously about the imbalance in the supply and demand that we have,” Austin resident Frank Harren said. “It is no longer a reasonable position to use our only water supply to grow rice."
The LCRA has left farmers hoping for a miracle to keep their farms above water.
“Everyone is praying for rain out here,” Gertson said.
According to Motal, the LCRA board will likely vote on the reservoir project next week.
Their plan to withhold water from farmers must now get the green light from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.