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LCRA raises rates for rice farmers

Lower Colorado River Authority irrigation districts

A map showing the location of three large irrigation districts that purchase water from the Lower Colorado River Authority for rice farming. The LCRA Board of Directors raised rates for those customers at a recent meeting. Courtesy image

The Lower Colorado River Authority is increasing the rates for its interruptible water customers to cover the rising cost of service for delivery to rice farms in the Gulf Coast region. The LCRA Board of Directors heard details of the rate increase and other changes during its Water Operations Committee meeting and then approved the updated contract rules and rates at its regular meeting, both on Wednesday, Jan. 18. 

The changes affect the Gulf Coast, Lakeside, and Garwood agricultural divisions. Rates vary for Garwood, which is not subject to river management costs in its contract. 

Lakeside and Gulf Coast water rates increased by 7 percent to $74.20 per acre-foot from $69.44 per acre-foot — $4.88 more for each acre-foot. An acre-foot of water equals 325,851 gallons. 

Garwood will now pay $1.91 more per acre-foot after a 4.7 percent increase. Because lifts are needed in drier times to get the water to Garwood, that district pays three different rates, all of which increased. 

The weighted average for Garwood is $42.46 per acre-feet, up from $40.55. The rate is calculated based on whether one lift is required or two. One lift is $41.04 per acre-foot; two is $48.64. 

The LCRA also changed the date set to determine whether an agriculture user will receive water for a second crop. The date was moved from June 30 to June 15. 

New rules also changed the number of days to deliver water from six to eight. With a dry river, it takes longer to pump the water from the river to the farm.

“We will continue to deliver just as soon as we can, but we need to make sure we have enough time to get the water there,” Vice President of Water Operations Kelly Payne told the board in his presentation.  

Another change adds a $5-per-acre-foot charge when a customer orders water but does not take it. LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson called it a “restocking charge.”

“It is not intended to be punitive,” he said. “When a farmer orders water, we go through the steps, and then for no good reason, the farmer decides he doesn’t want it now. This doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, it’s not a good business practice for us.” 

If rain is the reason a farmer declines water they ordered, they will not be charged. 

“That’s not something they made a choice about,” Wilson said. 

Two comments were received in December during a public comment window: one from the Central Texas Water Coalition in favor of the changes and the other from Garwood Irrigation Co. against the changes. 

While approving the changes, the CTWC added in its written remarks that even more needs to be done to regulate how much of the water from the Highland Lakes is sent downstream to grow rice. The coalition pointed out that the drought contingency plan should have been part of the rule-making package and that the $5-per-acre-foot charge for ordering but not using water is not enough. 

“This rule change is a small step in the right direction, but it does essentially nothing toward recouping LCRA’s actual financial losses for ordered but not diverted water and it does not prevent the irreversible loss of water stored in the Highland Lakes,” read the comments. “CTWC respectfully requests LCRA’s continuing work to avoid the negative consequences of current OND water management.” 

Garwood asked the LCRA to come back to the negotiating table before approving the changes, specifically pointing to the rule change that would allow the LCRA eight days to deliver. 

“The longest time allowed for delivery by the operator of the system should be five days, which was the rule in effect for decades when Garwood owned and operated the system,” the letter from Garwood stated. 

The new rules approved by the LCRA Board of Directors go into effect immediately.

suzanne@thepicayune.com

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