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LCRA poised to cut water for rice farmers, suspend new contracts

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 by Austin Monitor

The water captains at the Lower Colorado River Authority are poised to sail an uncharted course – authorizing cutting off water for rice farmers and other agricultural users in the lower Colorado River basin in 2010.


The unprecedented action, which the LCRA Board is expected to formally approve today, was spotlighted Tuesday when board members met to discuss the series of actions LCRA staff has proposed in response to the region’s more than two-year drought.


Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who last week spoke to the board at a special meeting, said in a follow-up letter that he endorses the staff plan, which should ensure water is available for “firm” water customers like the City of Austin that have long-term water contracts with LCRA. Leffingwell’s letter addressed his former concerns over LCRA’s plan to temporarily use “run of the river” rights as part of its drought response; Leffingwell said he now understands that LCRA intends to make use of these rights only as a temporary measure and “not seek to set a precedent for future or permanent amendments to these rights.”  


The only public speaker was Haskell Simon, a long-time rice advocate and farmer from Matagorda County, who reminded the board members that a potential 15 to 25 percent cut in water for rice farmers’ first crop – which LCRA may implement depending on the level of the lakes on Feb. 1 – would “have a serious impact on crop revenues and consequently the overall economy.” However, Simon said farmers would accept LCRA’s plan to potentially cut off water for the second crop as “our contribution to sharing the suffering.”


In addition to possibly curtailing water for rice farmers in 2010, LCRA’s drought plan would also temporarily suspend the issuing of new firm water contracts until the levels of the Highland Lakes return to more normal levels – 1.4 million acre-feet; currently the lakes are just above 1 million acre-feet. The lakes are lower than normal but about 20 percent higher than just two months ago, before recent rains started replenishing the reservoirs.

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