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LCRA board considering measures that could curtail water releases for rice farmers

AUSTIN — The Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors will vote Jan. 8 on readdressing emergency drought relief that could restrict water releases from the Highland Lakes for downstream irrigation usage.

“I think it’s a very good decision by the LCRA to reconsider those releases,” said Burnet County Precinct 1 Commissioner Bill Neve. Neve’s precinct includes the eastern shore of Lake Buchanan, where property owners have watched the receding lake waters leave them high and dry.The LCRA board will consider staff recommendations the include curtailing water releases for downstream irrigation purposes if the combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis is below 850,000 acre-feet of water on March 1. An acre-foot of water is approximately 326,000 gallons.

Currently, the two reservoirs have about 824,000 acre-feet.

If the board approves an emergency drought relief request, which includes the above-mentioned provision, it will go to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for its OK.

Other provisions in the recommendation includes:

• Provide up to 121,500 acre-feet of water for irrigation if the combined storage is between 850,000 acre-feet and 920,000 acre-feet on March 1.

• Provide water in accordance to the Water Management Plan if the combined storage is at or above 920,000 acre-feet on March 1.

The measure, if approved by the board and then TCEQ, would further protect water for municipalities and other firm-water customers, officials said.

“As this historic drought continues, it becomes more and more apparent that we must do whatever it takes to protect the firm water supplies for the City of Austin and other municipalities,” LCRA Board Chairman Timothy Timmerman said.

If the board and TCEQ approve the measure, and the lakes stay below the prescribed thresholds, it would mark the second year in a row LCRA has curtailed releases for downstream agriculture irrigation use for farmers in Wharton, Matagorda and Colorado counties.

Neve said as the drought continues to plague the region, even the rice farmers are realizing how it’s hurting businesses and residents in the Highland Lakes.

“I think the rice-farming industry has realized just how bad it is up here,” the commissioner said.

The LCRA board will discuss, and possibly take action on, revising its request for emergency drought relief during a special meeting Jan. 8 at 1 p.m. at the water authority headquarters, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd.