Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Under Pressure, LCRA Announces New Plan That Could Cut Off Rice Farmers

Photo by Jeff Heimsath/StateImpact Texas

The drought has affected Texans across the state. Haskell Simon, a rice farmer in Bay City, may not have water for his crops this year.

Update: The new plan was approved Tuesday, January 8. Read the updated story here.

Under serious pressure by state legislators, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) has announced a new proposal that could result in more water for Austin and less for rice farmers this year.

The LCRA had initially planned to send water from the Highland Lakes downstream this Spring if the two main reservoirs, Lakes Buchanan and Travis, were 39 percent full. But after vocal, continuous opposition from state senators Troy Fraser and Kirk Watson, the LCRA appears to have reversed course. Now they’re considering a revised plan that’s essentially the same emergency plan that was in place in 2012. That resulted in most rice farmers downstream being cut off from water for the first time in history

In a press release this afternoon, the LCRA stressed that it was considering the proposal in order to protect supplies for the City of Austin, which pays a premium for a guaranteed water supply. Rice farmers, however, pay 25 times less, because their supplies are technically “interruptible” in times of drought. While they pay less for water, they also use more: in 2011, the driest year in Texas history, rice farmers used more than three times as much water from the Highland Lakes as the City of Austin did in an entire year.

The new proposal would have a deadline of March, 1, 2013 at 11:59 p.m., just like in 2012. If at that time Lakes Buchanan and Travis aren’t at least 42 percent full, most water for rice farming will not be sent downstream. Right now the lakes are sitting at 41 percent full. The LCRA will vote on the plan Tuesday at a special meeting in Austin.

Update: Here are the details of the proposal, from the LCRA —

  • Provide no interruptible stored water to farmers in Gulf Coast and Lakeside irrigation divisions if the combined storage is below 850,000 acre-feet.
  • Provide up to 121,500 acre-feet of interruptible stored water for irrigation if the combined storage is between 850,000 acre-feet and 920,000 acre-feet on March 1.
  • Provide interruptible stored water in accordance with the Water Management Plan if the combined storage is at or above 920,000 acre-feet on March 1.

Farmers in the Garwood district, would get water regardless because of their contracts with the LCRA.*

*Clarification: This article originally stated that the Garwood district would get water because of “firm” contracts with the LCRA. While the Garwood district will get water for rice farming even if the other downstream districts are cut off, their contracts with the LCRA are technically not “firm.”


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