Texas Republican Lobbyist News: Water Needs Pit Agriculture Against Recreation
Texas is faced with a seemingly insoluble dilemma. Our population is growing, leading to greater water needs. A larger portion of our population is centered in urban areas, meaning more water is needed for household and recreational use. Farmers and ranchers are finding themselves pitted against the cities when appealing to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for water allocation rights.
In the 1930s, lakes were build by the Lower Colorado River Authority to generate power and tame floods. Populations around the lakes themselves were small, so water needs were not in conflict with agribusiness on the rivers. But those times have changed. Communities, some recreational, have sprung up around lakes. Homeowners have bought property based on property values that take lakeside tourism into account.
The state of Texas projects the population of the lower Colorado water basin to expand to 2.8 million people by 2060, and the fact is there just isn’t enough water for everyone.
This year the LCRA withheld water for irrigation for the first time. Farmers are not happy and feel that their livelihood – a livelihood that is older than lake tourism – is at stake.
“The issue is, Texas is a different place than when this system was set up,” said Andrew Sansom, executive director of the River Systems Institute at Texas State University. “We have to find a way to equitably allocate these shortages in a future that is nothing like the time of its origin.”
The new plan being considered for the Colorado basin will have caps on irrigation in order to keep water in the reservoirs. The LCRA says they are trying to balance varied interests in times of drought, but not everyone feels that decisions are being made equitably. In particular, Rice farmers feel that keeping a high lake level is a waste of water since so much of it is lost to evaporation.
Texas law recognizes agriculture, industry and cities as the highest beneficial uses for water. Recreation stands lower on the hierarchical ladder, below power generation, mining and navigation.
Still, recreation plays an important role in the Central Texas economy. Property values around Lake Travis totaled $8.4 billion in 2010, while tax revenues fluctuated with lake levels, according to a recent study by Travis County.
The bottom line is this: Without rain, we are in trouble. Tourism isn’t just fun. The Texans who support their families in the tourism industry are no less important than those who support their families growing rice. There is a serious economic impact when either group suffers.
And the way things stand, without rain, there are no easy answers to this problem.