As the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) seeks permission from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to cut off inflows to Matagorda Bay, Ducks Unlimited reminds Texans of the intrinsic link between environment and economy along the Colorado River and the need for all users to share in conserving water.
For shrimpers, farmers, fishing guides and birding eco-tourism businesses, the economy is directly tied to ecosystem services, especially the freshwater supply. For others, the economy is tied to business, industry, real estate or other jobs, but all of them require water.
“Every individual, every occupation, every community depends on water, and there is presently not enough to meet all demands,” DU Conservation Outreach Biologist Kirby Brown said during a LCRA board meeting in September. “The reality of the immediate situation is that all users should conserve equally and as much as possible. In the longer view, we must look at all the triggers for water conservation. The ones we have now are clearly coming up short, and water conservation is the only immediate solution.”
Brown encouraged Texans to remember that water is required for all life and livelihoods, and that all users must take part in conserving this limited resource.
“We are in a severe drought, potentially worse than the drought of the 1950s,” Brown said. “Yet there continues to be a lack of understanding of the situation by our communities and the public. Cities use anemic water-conservation policies that continue to allow non-essential uses of water while criticizing and politicizing agricultural and environmental water uses and crying out that it’s a ‘critters’ versus people debate. That’s an oversimplified and ineffective approach to the problem, and it needs to be corrected. “
Water allocation decisions are not about “critters” versus people. They are about a sustainable supply of water that can support all aspects of a complex, basin-wide regional economy and ecosystem.
Reflecting on the current water allocation policies in the state, Brown feels current water use priorities are outdated and unsustainable.
“How is watering the lawn weekly, or keeping golf courses and business grounds green, a matter of public health and safety or a beneficial use of water during these times of severe drought?” Brown asked. “If the public doesn’t start thinking along those lines and share water conservation responsibilities equally, then we are going to debate and argue the issue while the supply continues to dwindle and limit our economy.”
Along the Texas Mid-Coast, rice farmers have been cut off for two years, but the Highland Lakes continue to go down. Now the LCRA is proposing the cutoff of critical freshwater inflows to bays and estuaries, while an estimated 50 to 75 percent of the residential water currently being used is dumped on the ground for non-essential use.
“Cities and communities, which are justly worried about their economies in the face of limited water, are calling for halts in environmental and agricultural uses while not taking a hard look in the mirror at their non-essential uses,” Brown said. “Cities must recognize their water-conservation policies are not working and make responsible changes. Communities must believe there is a legitimate threat to public health and safety to address the serious drought. As long as residents can water weekly, they will continue to think ‘What’s the emergency?’”
In the meantime, the cutoff of water to rice farmers is crushing the rural economy of three coastal counties on the lower Colorado River and creating a food-supply deficit for more than 600,000 ducks on the Texas Mid-Coast. Environmental flows currently being considered for cutoff are necessary for the habitat that supports 60 to 80 percent of the continental redhead duck population and critical fisheries. Texas waterfowl hunting alone provides more than $204 million in annual economic input, and annual revenues from wildlife tourism, including hunting, fishing and wildlife watching in Texas top $5 billion.“Ducks Unlimited understands that there is simply not enough water to meet all needs at present, and natural resources and downstream economies should and have shared in restrictions and conservation measures,” Brown said. “Common-sense water-allocation policy is required in these times. The luxuries of lush, green lawns and squeaky-clean cars each week are relics of a bygone era of conspicuous consumption possible in times of greater rainfall. Now, our ecosystems and the economies they support must come first.”
Source: Ducks Unlimited