Farmers, waterfowl hunters, applaud LCRA efforts
With a week left of duck season, coastal hunters received some good news for future fall flights.
The Lower Colorado River Authority's Board of Directors unanimously approved $18 million for the first phase of the project for a new reservoir near Lane City capable of providing 90,000 acre-feet of water a year.
That's even better news to rice farmers and the communities that base much of their economy on agriculture, waterfowl hunting and bird-watching.
The move comes as the region is caught in the grips of one of the worst droughts in history and on the heels of a board decision that could cut off Highland Lakes water to most rice farmers for the second year in a row.
"This ongoing drought has highlighted the need for bold and decisive action to ensure that LCRA's customers have a reliable supply of water in the future," said Board Chairman Tim Timmerman. "This new reservoir would help serve the entire basin's needs for generations. I'm honored to be part of the board that is working to make it a reality."
On Wednesday, the board also approved $15 million to install new groundwater wells in Bastrop County if the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District approves the project. LCRA has applied for a permit with the groundwater district to pump up to 10,000 acre-feet a year to serve the Lost Pines Power Park in Bastrop County. When coupled with the Lane City reservoir, the projects would meet the board's goal to add 100,000 acre-feet of new water supply by 2017.
The preliminary cost estimate for the Lane City reservoir is $206 million. LCRA will seek grants, loans and other outside funding sources to help pay for the rest of the project. This reservoir would be the first major water supply infrastructure built in the lower Colorado River basin since the 1970s.
Currently, most of the water that enters the river downstream of the Highland Lakes flows to Matagorda Bay unless customers withdraw it from the river for immediate use. There is no way to capture and store those flows for future use, so during dry periods, downstream customers often need to call on water from the Highland Lakes. Last year, more than 800,000 acre-feet of water flowed down the river into Matagorda Bay.
While freshwater inflow is vital to our bay estuaries, just capturing a fraction of that water could have supplied farmers all the water they needed for first and second crop rice.
"Ducks Unlimited thanks the LCRA board and staff for moving forward on the approval and looks forward to quickly getting the project on the ground," said biologist Kirby Brown. "In addition to rice agriculture's tremendous role in the Mid-Texas Coast's economy, the importance of ricelands to waterfowl and other migratory birds cannot be overstated."
Waterfowl and other migratory birds depend on the rice prairie wetlands complex for survival.
Approximately 60 percent of the estimated 1.96-million-bird midwinter waterfowl population for the Texas Mid-Coast is expected to rely on ricelands (active and idle flooded rice fields) to meet their food needs. In addition, the Gulf Coast Joint Venture identifies specific population objectives for more than 12 million shorebirds and wading birds that are highly dependent on water in ricelands for nesting, migration and wintering habitat.
For every 10,000 acres of flooded ricelands lost, the region loses the ability to support 120,000 waterfowl. Thus, the loss of LCRA water for rice fields on more than 50,000 acres in 2012 impacted 600,000 ducks as well as additional wetland-dependent shorebirds and wading birds.
Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author and licensed captain (firstname.lastname@example.org).