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LCRA to release water downstream, but not to rice farmers

Thursday, May 17, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though it may be a case of ‘too little, too late,’ the Lower Colorado River Authority Board voted unanimously yesterday to release water to downstream farmers – provided the water not be used to irrigate rice crops.


The board voted to make run-of-river water that originates below the Mansfield Dam available to irrigation customers, if there is any water available after environmental flow needs are met.


In doing so, they approved rates for the sale of water to agricultural customers in Gulf Coast and Lakeside irrigation divisions, as well as authorizing the supply of run-of-river water to Pierce Ranch.


Customers will be charged the rates the board approved in January, which are a $12 base charge and $12-14/ foot acre. In this case, the base charge will be non-refundable to cover costs of providing the water. The one-time contract will be in effect from June 1 until October 15.


“Because of the uncertainty of this water, we would like it not to be available for rice,” said External Affairs Executive Manager Kyle Jensen. “What it would be used for primarily, I think, is for waterfowl purposes later on in the year when farmers begin to fill their fields to create waterfowl habitat, and also to the extent that farmers find it useful to water turf.”


“There is an immediate demand in the turf industry and in the aquaculture industry, no matter what county, as we speak,” said Board Member J. Scott Arbuckle.


Rice farmers are currently questioning the legal standing of Highland Lakes customers, challenging the LCRA’s decision to cut off their irrigation supply this year following last year’s drought.


Jensen explained that the clarification came after discussion with the farmers.


“There is some concern that if you make it available for rice it could have adverse impact on their ability to collect insurance on their crops. That’s an issue they brought up, and we wanted to be mindful of that,” said Jensen.


Though Board Member John Franklin expressed some doubt about the usefulness of dictating what the water was used for, this line of reasoning evidently resonated with the board, who voted to pass the contracts with the language clarifying that the water was not to be used for rice crop irrigation.


“Another way to look at it is, for turf or for hay or cotton or corn, you can water it once and you don’t ruin your crop if you don’t water it again. Rice, you have to keep the water on it, so it would be a waste on rice.” said Board Member Steve Balas. “It won’t be a waste on everything.”


Available water is limited to water that originates downstream of Lake Travis, after the LCRA fulfills environmental flow obligations under the Water Management Plan. Following that, water will be available to the regions, prioritizing the Gulf Coast region. Once those needs are met, water would be available to the Lakeside region, and following that, Pierce Ranch.

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