In a 10-5 vote Wednesday, the Lower Colorado River Authority approved a plan, mandated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to address the regions growing need for water.
Eighteen months of research and debate led to the LCRA board accepting a water plan that asks for aggressive water conservation, new ways to capture and store rain water and developing scientific methods that preserve the coastal bays and estuarys. It's a model expected to address the regions water needs through 2020.
The extended drought, specifically the worst single-year drought in Texas history, forced the hand of the governor-appointed board to create the more water-conservative plan.
"We've finally reached the point that we've got to conserve and we've got to start allocating water,” LCRA Board Chair Timothy Timmerman said.
During a two-day conference that started Tuesday, water experts and stakeholders who rely on the resource for countless businesses voiced their concerns and opinions on the upcoming changes to the plan.
Here are some of the amendments:
• 100,000 acre-feet of new water over next five years
• Reduce water sales to rice farmers downstream
• Use new science for environmental flows for bay and estuary needs
• Further protect firm water customers during drought
Public comment extended into Wednesday, until the board voted to accept the plan.
During Wednesday's meeting, Timmerman told rice farmers if the current drought continues, they may not get a release of water for their crops this spring.
"Not everyone got what they wanted, but I think it provides us with a good balance between the upstream and the downstream rice farming interest that have been a part of the basin forever," he said.
Instead of the yearly average of 360,000 cubic acre feet per year, farmers will now work with 273,500 acre feet.
"We'll survive for the next few years but, by 2020 if there is not a new water supply downstream developed, we'll slowly die,” Paul Silva with S.R. Farms said.
One farmer told YNN ironically, the recent rains have flooded his rice fields, meaning he can't plant his crops until the water goes down. Rice is a crop required to have excessive irrigation to yield a healthy crop.