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Cutting off Matagorda Bay’s Water is Unwise and Inconsistent with Texas Law

Previously, we posted about LCRA’s decision to seek emergency authorization from TCEQ to allow them to diverge from their Water Management Plan and suspend river flows to Matagorda Bay

LCRA submitted their request to TCEQ on Thursday, September 26th.  We will lay out the process at TCEQ in another post.  Our current guess is that TCEQ may not take action on the request until mid-late October.

This request is unprecedented and should be approached with an abundance of caution.  It is important to know the water in question here is to provide “critical flows” to Matagorda Bay.  This minimal level of freshwater inflows is designed to provide a sanctuary area near the mouth of the river where organisms can persist during severe drought conditions so they will be available to repopulate the larger bay when better rainfall conditions return.  Think of it as life support – Matagorda Bay has been on it since 2008.  Reducing flow even further, or cutting it off completely, could mean permanent damage for the system.

Matagorda Bay Delta with Refugium. Image courtesy LCRA

Matagorda Bay Delta with Refugium. Image courtesy LCRA.

Sharing Water Means Sharing Drought Burdens

LCRA is using the extreme drought to defend seeking permission to implement this extreme solution.   The problem is that the entire watershed is experiencing the drought, but not all users are being forced to adjust their behavior in the same way.  While Matagorda Bay and its dependents are being asked to go without water, many urban areas are barely feeling the heat.  Water is a regional asset, which means that all users need to share the benefits and the burdens of that asset so we all survive the drought.  Before we completely cut off Matagorda Bay from freshwater inflows provided by LCRA, we need to take a close look at all the water use in our region.

According to the 2010 census, this region has over 1.4 million people.  Every single one of us can play an important role in ensuring that we have water available to provide for critical needs at Matagorda Bay as well as meeting all the other water needs in our region.  We can all be part of the solution to helping this bay survive the drought.

To get the lay of the land, we took a look at different communities in this region to see what, if anything, they are doing to reduce their water usage.  Because so much municipal water use is for outdoor watering, we looked at the drought-time watering restrictions of communities receiving their water from LCRA.

Of the 15 communities that we looked at, we found that 6 still allow outdoor watering two times per week and that 9 allow outdoor watering one time per week.  These drought restrictions are solely to limit discretionary water applied to outside lawns and landscapes.

LCRA Blog Post Table 2_100113

LCRA is effectively choosing to sacrifice Matagorda Bay so that we can continue to pour water on our lawns.  Before we consider cutting off the subsistence levels of water provided to Matagorda Bay per LCRA’s Water Management Plan, all of our communities should implement more aggressive levels of their Drought Contingency Plans.  It just doesn’t make sense to threaten the future vitality of the bay/estuary system while we are not doing everything we reasonably can to save water upstream.

TCEQ’s rules are very clear in requiring that an applicant for emergency relief of this sort must show that there is “no feasible, practicable, alternative” to suspending environmental conditions.  LCRA and this region cannot meet that test at this time.  LCRA and their customers have not done everything feasible and practicable to conserve water and avoid the need to suspend or reduce flows for the bay.

All of us have an important role to play in ensuring that our water supplies last as long as possible.  The “pain” should be spread equitably across all users of water in this region.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality should deny LCRA’s application and require LCRA to manage all water demands equitably.  Matagorda Bay and the people who depend on it should not be required to shoulder the pain of the drought without more shared sacrifice by other water users.”  Please reduce your water use and, if you want to weigh in, one concerned citizen has started a petition to TCEQ that you can add your name to. Check back here for more updates.

Jennifer Walker

Water Resources Program Manager at Sierra Club - Lone Star Chapter
Jennifer has 15 years experience focusing on focusing on water policy issues in Texas with an emphasis on water planning, water conservation and bay and estuary protection issues. She and her family like to camp near rivers where they can listen to the frogs sing at night.

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