Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Latest Recommendation Calls For Less Water for Rice Farmers Next Year

Photo by Jeff Heimsath/StateImpact Texas

Rice farmers in southeast Texas like Billy Mann may face another year of little to no water from the Highland Lakes for irrigation.

After revised forecasts that this winter will not be as wet as anticipated in Texas, staff at the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) have changed their recommendation to send a normal amount of water downstream next year to rice farmers in Southeast Texas.

Just a few weeks ago, staff had recommended that the agency not seek an emergency drought plan, which has stricter cutoffs for determining whether water is sent downstream for irrigation.

“Since then, conditions have not measurably improved, and updated weather forecasts call for drier conditions,” the LCRA says in a statement late Friday afternoon. Now staff will recommend that the board of the LCRA adopt an emergency plan, albeit a “different” one from what they have currently. The agency declined to offer specifics as to how it’s different in their statement, saying only that details will be available at a meeting in a few weeks.

When the initial recommendation not to seek an emergency drought plan was made public, several groups were vocal in their opposition, including Travis County’s Commissioners Court.

Under the normal plan, the LCRA is required to send water downstream twice a year. After the devastating drought in 2011, an emergency plan was adopted, and under that plan this year, rice farmers were cut off for the first time in history  because the amount of water in the Highland Lakes didn’t meet a certain threshold. (A new, longer-term plan was adopted by the LCRA in February that will result in less water for downstream irrigation. That plan is still under review at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has to sign off before it goes into effect.)

The LCRA says the board will take up the revised recommendation at a meeting November 13 in Fredericksburg, and possibly vote on it the following day.

The meetings will be held at the Hangar Airport Conference Center, located at 155 Airport Road in Fredericksburg.


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