Colorado River advocacy groups squaring off in water fight


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As drought conditions continue. The Lower Colorado River Basin Coalition, has assembled advocates from agriculture, environmental, hunting and wildlife interests from Bastrop County to the Matagorda Bay. Colorado River Advocacy Groups
As drought conditions continue to take a toll on communities in the Highland Lakes, including the Spicewood Beach area, a new downstream coalition has formed to advocate for more water for rice farmers, wildlife entities, environmentalists, fisheries and other interests from Bastrop County to Matagorda Bay. File photo

AUSTIN — As drought conditions continue, the battle over water from the Colorado River heats up between advocacy groups fighting to get their messages across to state agencies with the power to halt supplies.

The Lower Colorado River Basin Coalition, a newly formed group, has assembled advocates from agriculture, environmental, hunting and wildlife interests from Bastrop County to the Matagorda Bay.

“We wanted to make sure the messaging being heard by the public, being heard by our agencies, is a balanced messaging, so that they do hear from everyone who is impacted below Longhorn Dam, Lady Bird Lake in Austin,” coalition chairman Kirby Brown said.

Brown also works as a conservation biologist for Ducks Unlimited, a national organization that focuses on sportsman activities and waterfowl and wetlands conservation.

Other entities that comprise the coalition are the Coastal Conservation Association, the Rice Belt Warehouse, the Red Bluff Hunting Club, Bastrop County, the Sierra Club, Audubon Texas and the Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative.

“It’s been one of those things where we felt like we needed to tell the other story. Our entire economies, our businesses are being impacted — not just rice farmers,” Brown said.

The organization formed in June shortly after the Central Texas Water Coalition scored a victory regarding reservoir storage requirements and water-release triggers recommended by the Lower Colorado River Authority and approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The two entities agreed on setting a 1.1 million acre-feet of combined storage requirement for lakes Buchanan and Travis — the previous trigger point was 850,000 acre-feet — citing historic low levels, minimal inflows from rain runoff and persistent drought conditions.

While the reservoirs are currently about 38 percent full, for three years in a row, TCEQ has approved cutting off water releases for the rice farming industry downstream to try to maintain water levels upstream that supply water for domestic use for about a million people in the Highland Lakes from Lake Buchanan to the city of Austin.

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