The recent Lower Colorado River Authority resolution to release water to Gulf coast rice farmers next year appears to be a positive development in the ongoing fight over water rights in the Lower Colorado River Basin. But agricultural interests could once again suffer devastating water rationing limitations in 2013 if the water authority pushes for a way to satisfy all end users at a time when water supplies are short and water needs are growing.

The resolution, adopted by LCRA's Board of Directors during a Nov. 14 meeting in Fredericksburg, paves the way for the release of some rice irrigation water after the first of the year depending on lake levels at two reservoirs in Central Texas.  

In addition to farmers who claim LCRA is treading on traditional agricultural use of water in the basin, officials of Ducks Unlimited are suggesting that the recent resolution allocating less water for farm use greatly threatens migratory and native water fowl populations of the Texas coastal region and will result in devastating economic losses in sporting and wildlife revenues generated as a result of a declining birding industry.

(For more, see: Water jihads and Moe Howard haircuts)

In fairness to LCRA however, escalating population growth and rapid urban and industrial development is adding fuel to the argument of who has first rights to the natural resources of the state at a time when historical drought conditions threaten to make water scarcer in the years ahead. While farmers argue the water is needed to continue to provide adequate food supplies to meet market demands and to strengthen the state’s agricultural economy, sprawling cities like Austin and industrial users like mining operations and golf courses say they have a need and a right to the water as well.

In reality, who has first but not exclusive rights to the water was established by precedence long before the LCRA entered the scene. According to Texas water law, “first in time is first in right.” Downstream rice farmers were given the first water rights in the Colorado basin, and these rights are senior to LCRA's water rights for the Highland Lakes. These rights include some of the water that flows into the Highland Lakes. LCRA must pass through that water to comply with those rights.