As Mid-Coast rice farmers in Texas continue to suffer through a year without water releases from two Central Texas lakes, they are getting unexpected support from conservation giant Ducks Unlimited.

Todd Merendino, manager of conservation programs for DU’s Texas field office, appeared before the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Water Operations Committee June 19 and briefed the group on the importance of coastal wetlands and the role they play in the state’s economy.

Merendino was asked to appear before the Committee to discuss the impact of LCRA’s new water policy as it relates to wildlife and wetlands in the Texas Mid-coast region.

Merendino, citing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, told the group that Texas leads the nation with the most hunters and anglers (2.6 million), the most money spent by sportsmen and women ($6.6 billion), the most jobs supported (106,000) and the highest tax revenue generated ($1.3 billion) each year by outdoor recreation in any state. He told the LCRA Committee that wintering water fowl represent a substantial segment of that revenue, and rice wetlands surrounding the Colorado River have traditionally offered up to 50,000 acres of prime habitat for migratory birds.

In addition, Merendino says, according to a Texas AgriLife report, on average rice agriculture contributes $374.3 million and more than 3,300 jobs annually in Colorado, Wharton and Matagorda counties alone. Those numbers don't include rice farming's substantial contributions to the revenue and jobs generated from waterfowl hunting and other outdoor recreation in the state. Waterfowl hunting alone contributes $204 million to the Texas economy each year.