LCRA continues funding for agricultural conservation programs
At its Dec. 15 meeting, the Board released $625,000 from the HB 1437 Agriculture Water Conservation Fund for programs to level fields across LCRA’s three irrigation divisions and continue efforts to measure water use in the Garwood Irrigation Division. The money also will fund ongoing work by the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs to study savings garnered by these programs.
The HB 1437 fund was created by the Legislature and is administered by LCRA. The grant program began in 2006 and has awarded $1.3 million to level more than 22,000 acres of rice land. Using laser technology to level a field can reduce the amount of water needed to irrigate rice crops by removing low spots on the field. Each acre leveled is estimated to save about three-quarters of an acre-foot of water over the first and second crop of a season.
“This program has proven an effective way to save water and has been very popular with farmers,” said LCRA General Manager Tom Mason.
The funding for the conservation program came a month after the Board made its preliminary determination that there will be water available for agriculture this year and approved irrigation contracts for first and second crop. The irrigation contracts, for the first time, allow farmers to use groundwater in conjunction with water from the river on certain fields. This must be approved through the local LCRA irrigation office for farmers to receive credit on their base charge for irrigation water. Fields that have been leveled with money from the House Bill 1437 program are not eligible to receive credit.
The preliminary determination that water is available for agriculture is a requirement of LCRA’s Water Management Plan. The Board makes the decision in November to give farmers sufficient time to plan their next growing seasons. The decision is based on whether there will be at least 1.4 million acre-feet of water in lakes Buchanan and Travis on Jan. 1. Water supplies were above that level on Jan. 1. However, it has been dry in recent months and 2011 is forecast to be a dry year because of a La Niña weather pattern.
Also in November, a coalition of county judges, represented by Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger and Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald, presented a resolution to LCRA that endorsed cooperative initiatives for managing water supplies and LCRA’s efforts to enhance water supplies.
“When you have this kind of collaborative effort, that’s a good day for water,” said LCRA Director John C. Dickerson III of Bay City.
Judge McDonald was among officials from 17 counties to sign the resolution that pledged to cooperate and support ” new creative and innovative approaches … to accommodate the unprecedented future demands.” McDonald said the resolution represents the kind of cooperation needed in the future to solve water supply challenges.
“I think we’re fast approaching the time where we are all starting to understand how finite the resource is,” McDonald said. “ We’ve got to get our heads together and understand that everybody has needs. I feel like this is an excellent way to do that and heighten awareness.”