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Myron Hess 512-576-3948
Jennifer Walker 512-627-9931
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February 11, 2014

Proposed LCRA Emergency Order Unfair to Lower Colorado Basin, including Matagorda Bay

Proposed LCRA Emergency Order Unfair to Lower Colorado Basin, including Matagorda Bay

On Wednesday, February 12, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will consider approving an emergency order limiting the availability of water from Lakes Buchanan and Travis for downstream irrigation and for the protection of water quality and fish and wildlife in the Colorado River and Matagorda Bay.

The National Wildlife Federation and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club support the approval of an emergency order that provides reasonable limits on downstream releases in order to protect firm water supplies. However, the emergency order recently signed by the Executive Director that the TCEQ Commissioners are being asked to confirm fails to strike a reasonable balance.

“We understand and support the need for a reasonable emergency order,” said Myron Hess, Manager of Texas Water Programs and Legal Counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, “but this order isn’t reasonable. It would unjustifiably deprive the lower Colorado River basin, including Matagorda Bay and the Colorado River below Austin, of essential water supplies even if lake levels have fully rebounded.” “Not only is that unfair, by continuing restrictions beyond the end of emergency conditions it oversteps the appropriate bounds for an emergency order,” added Hess.

For each of the last two years, emergency orders were in effect that largely eliminated releases of interruptible water from the lakes when the combined storage level was below 850,000 acre-feet. Those orders successfully prevented the creation of any water supply emergencies. It is clear that a comparable emergency order is needed again this year. However, the emergency order under consideration substitutes a level of 1.1 million acre-feet for the 850,000 acre-feet level contained in previous Emergency Orders and continues to impose limits on releases of interruptible water for downstream irrigation regardless of lake levels—even if the lakes completely refill. Because interruptible water is not available for environmental flow protection when water for irrigation is being limited, the effect of the new emergency order would be to deprive Matagorda Bay and the Colorado River below Austin of needed flows even if heavy rains upstream were to refill the lakes. Although small amounts of firm water likely would still be available to help meet environmental flows, they are not adequate to meet critical needs without interruptible water for any extended period.

“In times of drought, we understand, and expect, that all water users, including fish and wildlife, will be cut back. However, an emergency order that would deprive Matagorda Bay and the Colorado River of needed flows even after lake levels have recovered and lawn watering restrictions have been rescinded just doesn’t make sense,” noted Jennifer Walker, Water Resources Coordinator for the Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter. “We urge the Commissioners to reject the current emergency order and to adopt one that more closely aligns with the reasonable versions that have been in effect during each of the last two years,” added Ms. Walker.

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NWF/Sierra Club Comment Letter to TCEQ on LCRA Emergency Order
NWF/Sierra Club Q & A about the Requested LCRA Emergency Order