The next couple days will be busy ones at the headquarters of the Lower Colorado River Authority.
The agency that controls the water flowing from the Highland Lakes to the Gulf Coast is set to approve a new Water Management Plan on Tuesday. But before it makes a final decision, it will hear from the various – often feuding – communities who all rely on the river to support their way of life. None of those groups appear fully supportive of the plan as it has been amended.
The plan offers some new ways for the LCRA to manage the type of extreme drought we’ve seen in the last year. For one thing, lake levels in the Highland Lakes would be checked twice a year to gauge if there’s enough water to send downstream to rice farmers in South Texas.
“So you would look at the lakes on January first and if the lakes were above a certain level then you would send water downstream for a first rice crop, then you would look again at June first to see if it was available for a second crop,” LCRA spokeperson Clara Tuma told StateImpact Texas.
Up until now levels have only been checked once a year, a fact that raised alarm in Highland Lakes communities when levels dropped dramatically in 2011. But that new rule and others have rice farmers downstream worried about the future of their profession.
“[The plan] can mean disaster,” said Haskell Simon, with the rice farmers advisory committee, in a telephone interview. Simon said farmers won’t get enough water if the drought continues under the new plan.
“I’m not sure what the final format of the plan is. There would be consecutive years where no water would be made available for our crops down here in Matagorda County,” said Simon.
Rice farmers want the new rules to be phased in gradually while they lobby the LCRA to build new flood water reservoirs for their fields downstream from the Highland Lakes. But many people in Central Texas say the farmers have already received more than enough concessions.
“[The farmers] basically had weakened the plan enormously from a basin-wide perspective but they basically strengthened the amount of water that they were getting,” Jo Karr Tedder, President of the Central Texas Water Coalition, told StateImpact Texas.
“We want recovery time that will allow the lake time to recover so the lakes are usable again,” said Tedder.
While the plan may still get some fine tuning, one thing is growing more certain by the day. Texas’ historic drought has left lake levels too low to send water down to the rice farmers this year. Under normal conditions, they would have been getting water for their first crop starting March first.