February 12, 2014
Mr. Chairman. Commissioners. Executive Director Hyde. Counsel.
My name is Kirk Watson. I’m the state senator for District 14, which covers Travis and Bastrop Counties.
I’m here to convey my support for the emergency relief approved by the Executive Director and requested by the Lower Colorado River Authority. I’ve previously provided comments in writing. They’re included in your official record, and I won’t be repeating that here today.
This is a difficult and unfortunate time. It’s been labeled “historical.” It’s a time that generates understandable emotion and unhappiness. Supporting an action to cut off releases to three of the four irrigation districts for a third year in a row is not a position that I take lightly. Supporting an action that will likely result in reduced flow through Bastrop County and the other counties and cities located along the mid-section of the River is also not without deep concern.
We must do better addressing the important issue of water management in our basin. We can’t ignore the drought. We can’t ignore the need for water for a variety of legitimate uses. We can’t ignore the population growth in this basin and the increased needs for water. We can’t ignore the differing rights of users in the basin – differences arising out of monetary payments, permits and/or priorities.
And, as we seek to manage our way we should not ignore the areas where we ought to agree.
There’s no question that many in this room and up and down this river disagree on where to set the curtailment trigger (850, 1.1, or even higher). However, most all of us likely agree that in light of the low inflow trends, there is a need for curtailment in 2014. We also likely agree that in the time of an historic drought of unknown duration, the lakes, the firm water customers, and a major Texas city with the population and economy of Austin can’t be sustained by what’s outlined in the 2010 Water Management Plan.
I think we also agree that it would be inappropriate and ironic, if not simply ridiculous, if we allowed the LCRA’s management of the river to cause a drought worse than the drought of record. Think of that: a drought worse than the drought of record created by management action of the entity charged with properly managing the river. Who could defend such a position?
Who could defend a plan to release water to interruptible users that triggers a drought worse than the drought of record? With questions like that, the LCRA could not arrive at a 1.1 million acre feet trigger lightly. I worry about that number. But the LCRA settled on it because it’s what they believe, based on their models, is the necessary amount of combined storage needed to prevent their own management action from leading to a drought worse that the drought of record designation by their Board.
The management decision made by the LCRA in 2011 is still fresh on many of our minds. We saw what it did. We know its consequences. It’s a grim reminder. And surely all the folks in this room can agree that we want to avoid a declaration of a drought worse than a drought of record by the LCRA board. Such a declaration would mean water is cut off to all interruptible customers (even Garwood) and that firm customers (power plants and cities) move into pro rata curtailment. And it means, according to the plan, that water remains cut off until a refill of 1.4 million acre feet – which, if trends continue, may not occur for many years.
Finally, I think we may all agree that we need to get away from a crisis. We need to get back to a point where we can realign our mutual interest around a water resource that can be shared and managed responsibly. Without an end to the current drought, without allowing for some recovery of the Highland Lakes, without some cushion against the threat that an LCRA management action might trigger a drought worse than the drought of record, we’re going to be managing the water crisis-by-crisis, emergency order-to-emergency order. That’s no way to govern.
As a state senator who represents varied interests across this basin – many of the residents and businesses around the Highland lakes, the largest municipality on the river, power producers, Bastrop county’s economic, recreational, and municipal needs – and who strongly supports the environmental health of the river and bay, I’m committed to a path forward that gets us beyond this drought; out of the crisis, and back to a point where I can help move us toward long-term solutions – water conservation, better management and new supplies. Those three pieces together are what will sustain this region and this basin over the long-term.
Senator Troy Fraser, who you know is the Chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, had planned to be here today, but was unable to catch his flight in time to be here because of weather. But I told him what I intended to say today and he shared his comments with me yesterday, and he asked that I convey them on his behalf. He and I have worked closely together on this issue, and we remain aligned.
He supports the emergency order, and said that although he shares the concern that 1.1 million acre feet may not be protective enough, he does ask that you approve the LCRA’s Emergency Order that is before you – as it has been submitted – with a 1.1 million cut off.
He conveyed his concern that the water management plan, which has worked well when there is enough water to be shared, hasn’t stood up to the current drought, nor was it designed to. This drought simply wasn’t anticipated by that plan. This drought has shown that we cannot rely on Mother Nature to solve our problems, and that proper planning for our future must take that into account.
Senator Fraser also wanted to underscore the point that an LCRA action should not trigger a drought worse than the drought of record, and that releases downstream to interruptible customers – that then place a risk of shortage on to firm customers – are acts in violation of LCRA’s own adjudicated permit. And that as we look to the next water management plan, we must take a serious look toward ensuring that it does enough to protect the firm, uninterruptible customers, as the LCRA is required to do.
Commissioners, these are not easy issues to tackle, but from where we sit today, in a historic drought, fighting over a dwindling resource, those issues feel like a luxury.
It’s with that in mind that I come out in strong support of today’s action. It’s too bad. It’s one of many painful steps we must take to get beyond a water supply crisis, and to return to a point of working together to achieve our common goals.
And I firmly believe we must act today in order to preserve the promise we made – or should make – to the Texans of tomorrow and to allow for healing, not only for our lakes, but for our people as well.
Thank you for your service. I remain available to assist you as we work to make Texas even greater.