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LCRA makes changes to downstream water policy

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With the Highland Lakes dropping down to near historic levels, LCRA Board members changed the rules for releasing water down the Colorado River. The decision came after a close 8 to 7 vote and had rice farmers claiming they have now been put out of business.

Water levels are still low on Lakes Travis and Buchannan. New video recorded by LCRA shows- recent rains have done little to help. With levels projected to drop below a point recorded during the drought of record by April, the LCRA board room was filled to capacity Tuesday. A proposal was considered to make it even more difficult to release water downstream next year.

"Burnet County advocates for a combined storage of one point eight million acre feet prior to consideration of any interruptible releases. The consensus is clear from costumers, don't release the water," said Burnet County Commissioner Joe Don Dockery.

The Special Called Meeting was to consider raising the trigger level to cut off water that feeds most rice farming communities downstream. With the 8 to 7 vote, the LCRA Board set a new trigger point for next year. The combined storage capacity of lakes Travis and Buchannan will have to be above 1.1 million acre feet at 11:59 p.m. on March 1, for agricultural use. Staff members wanted the level increased from the current 850,000 acre feet mark because in-flows to the Highland Lakes for the past four years have been at one percent.

Eagle Lake Mayor Mary Parr argued their economy has already been wrecked and the new rule will be a death below.

"This will be our tsunami. Please find another way, please go back to the table, there has to be another way," said Parr.

The ongoing drought has intensified the long running tug of war between Highland Lake communities and those in the lower river basin south of Austin. The hearing reconfirmed just how hard it is to find common ground other than what's left of the lakes. There were several "us versus them" accusations during the hearing.

"Are we managing the water God gives us or are we hording water?" asked Mitch Thames with the Bay City Chamber.

Residents who live along the Highland Lakes took exception to comments that the rule change was prompted by political pressure and an effort to save million dollar lake homes.

"My constituency is along the lakes, my constituents do not have drinking water insurance," said Burnet County Commissioner Bill Neve.

Government leaders from the lower river basin believe they are being squeezed out by big city politics.

"Whether you want us or not the lower five counties are in the family of LCRA. We are part of the family you wouldn't treat one of your family members that way," said Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath.

The Board was urged by State Representative Dennis Bonnen not to act but to wait and give a new statewide water plan approved by voters a chance to ramp up.

"Let's not kill the local Ag community before the opportunities that the people of Texas overwhelmingly said we want to see happen across our state" said the Republican from Angleton.

Another state lawmaker, Lois Kolkhorst, made a passionate plea for the board not to take a broader look at the problem.

"You shouldn't just have one person's interest, one industry, one area of Texas interest at heart. That is not what Texans do," said the Brenham Republican.

The emergency plan, which must be approved by the state next month ,also includes an order for once a week residential watering.

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