LCRA to vote on water usage for farmers



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Posted on September 21, 2011 at 5:41 AM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 21 at 11:33 AM

TRAVIS COUNTY -- Farmers across South Texas in Wharton, Matagorda and Colorado Counties will soon learn whether their water supply will be restricted next year. Board members of the Lower Colorado River Authority, LCRA, are meeting Wednesday morning.

The board will vote on proposed measures to help manage lake levels. Among the proposals: cut-backs to rice farmers.

Currently, rice farmers in South Texas get their water supply from the Colorado River. Experts say in 2010, those farmers accounted for 57 percent of the water usage out of the Highland Lakes. It's three times as much usage from the City of Austin over the same time period. Rice crops require three to four inches of water in the field to grow.

With the ongoing drought, lake levels continue to drop. They are now at critical stages. By the end of this week, experts estimate the levels at Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan will fall lower than during the drought of 2009. The lakes are currently at 39 percent capacity.

Restricting water usage to farmers could help the LCRA better manage lake levels through the drought, but farmers worry about the economic impact. One spoke before LCRA board members on Tuesday and explained that cutting back the water source would damage crops; taking out $5 million to $6 million from the economy.

"About 65 to 70,000 acres of rice is watered out of the Colorado River," rice farmer Paul Sliva said. "That's about a third of the crop in Texas. Imagine if we don't have water for anybody. That's a third of the crop gone in the State of Texas. It will have a big impact on the whole state."

Other business owners relying on lake levels, however, are urging the LCRA board to make the cuts.

Restaurant owners on Lake Travis argue they've had to close because business dropped too low. Marinas say they're laying off workers.

"We've got to take care of our resources that we have," said one business owner. "We can't just let it flow on downstream for rice. We can't let it flow downstream for other reasons. I mean, drinking water, by the end of this October I'll have to be trucking in drinking water. Our water supply source is almost dry."

The LCRA is scheduled to meet at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to consider the arguments. Speakers on both sides of the issue are expected to go before the board with their arguments. A vote could come down as early as Wednesday afternoon.

Any restrictions approved likely wouldn't go into affect until January.