DEPLORABLE! What Does LCRA Stand For?
November 19, 2012, 9:00 pm by
With its vote to fill the bottomless trough of the rice
industry with water from the ever-shrinking Highland Lakes, the LCRA cleared up
any misunderstanding about exactly what its acronym represents.
It is not the Lower Colorado River Authority. It is the Lower Colorado Rice Authority.
Helped along by the weaselly votes of three upstream
directors who turned their backs on the people they pretend to represent, the
"rice farmers” – as these downstream water welfare recipients like to call
themselves – narrowly killed a compromise that would have given them a little
less than what they wanted.
But traditions die hard, and pouring dirt-cheap water onto a
crop that apparently can’t be raised in Texas without a flood of government
assistance has been an unquestioned entitlement for nearly a century.
Only eight months ago, the LCRA declared that the storage
capacity of Lakes Buchanan and Travis had fallen so alarmingly low that
emergency measures were needed to help them recover. For the first time in the history of the organization, its directors
adopted a plan that actually interrupted water supplies to the rice hogs,
though they have paid next to nothing for 80 years because their servicecould be interrupted.
So what changed between March and November? Did the "storage
buckets” – as a rice industry lawyer likes to call the lakes – fill up?
Nope. Lake Buchanan was at 41 percent of capacity then. It’s at 43 percent now. We’ve put
12,000 acre feet in the bank over the past eight months. Meanwhile, the drought
is digging in again, forecasters see no improvement near, and we’re losing
water at the rate of 1,000 acre feet per day.
What changed is that the "rice farmers” – mostly a
collection of agribusinesses and large landowners who are used to running
governors and legislators like cattle – fired up their jets, headed for Austin,
revved up their political pals and whipped their LCRA houseboys into line. A
few closed door meetings later, the Rice Authority
board was back on the leash.
When the day of decision arrived, few of the "farmers”
troubled themselves to attend the director’s meeting in Fredericksburg,
apparently assured they had the votes to end the board’s short but pesky
flirtation with science and common sense.
The crucial vote came on a compromise offered by Burnet
County director John Franklin, who clearly saw the industry’s political
thresher bearing down on the lakes. His plan would have set a trigger for the
release of irrigation water halfway between the current emergency level of
850,000 acre feet in storage and the LCRA staff recommendation of 750,000.
Equally important, it would have allowed only one measurement date to determine
whether irrigation water would be released in 2013.
Three upstream directors – Rice Authority chairman Tim Timmerman of Austin; Scott
Spears, also of Austin, and Michael McHenry of San Saba, an oddly reliable
sycophant for the "rice farmers,” provided the margin necessary to swiftly kill
the measure. Franklin, Jett Johnson of Mills County, and Ray Gill and Buddy
Schrader, both of Llano County, were then the only opponents of dropping the
threshold another 25,000 acre feet and giving the rice interests two shots at
While Gov. Rick Perry has denied involvement in the
decision, it surpasses credulity to believe the prints of his cloven hooves are
not on a supremely sensitive political vote involving one of Austin’s most
powerful lobbies and the 15 members he’s appointed to the LCRA’s 15-member
The bottom line is that the Rice Authority decided to gamble with the ability to
provide adequate water supplies to people, animals and diversified business and
industry in one of the state’s most populous and robust economies in favor of
subsidizing special interests producing a crop that can’t stand on its own.
This is how we see it:
"rice farmers” will pay about $729,000 for their expected entitlement
cities like Marble Falls, Burnet and Austin would pay $18.3 million for
the same amount of water.
2011, the single worst drought year in recorded Texas history, more than
three times the water required by the entire City of Austin was poured on
the four downstream rice districts. As legendary Texas businessman and
rancher Red McCombs observed recently, "These rice farmers harvested a
bumper crop while the rest of Texas suffered the brunt of the
year, "farmers” who were unable to produce just turned from subsidized
water to federal crop insurance payments to cover their losses.
giveaway water, "Rice farmers” in Wharton, Matagorda and Colorado
counties apparently need plenty of help from the federal government to
grow a crop that’s less than ideal for the place and time. Between 1995 and 2000, they took
over $700 million from 17 different Washington subsidy programs for their
With government clamoring to support the Texas rice industry
by every available means it certainly must be the most important agricultural
product springing from the farms and ranches of South Texas, right?
No, not even in downstream Wharton County – the state’s top
place for rice farming. In fact, it ranks number four there, falling behind
livestock, corn, cotton and sorghum, all of which manage to survive without
monstrous quantities of subsidized water and some with a fraction of the
government programs available for rice growing.
As conservatives, we have a hard time understanding why the
government and upstream consumers should support an industry that would rather
rely on others rather than adapt. If their supposedly interruptible supplies
were realistically priced, would they begin to plant more water efficient crops
or drill their own wells?
The Legislature should review the wisdom of providing
preferential treatment to this special interest and – at a minimum – require
reasonable compensation from those who now squander a precious resource vital
to the future of Texas. Perhaps that will encourage them, like the rest of us,
to deal with the economic realities of capitalism.
Meanwhile, should you come across those two Travis County
directors at a spot favored by Austin lounge lizards and lobbyists, please send
them a glass of water and tell them to drink up now. It might all be gone next
Roy E. Bode
President and Publisher
One of these days people will realize that water rights have seniority. It's legally binding.
If you want to take that away there are a few ranchers that might have an issue. But thats not worthy of headlines.
November 20, 2012, 7:50am by speak the truth
Typically, editorials acknowledge and present the views of the other side, which are then reasonably refuted with facts and logic. But then you couldn't lead a story with "DEPLORABLE!"
Glad to see the Highlander stooping to the levels of local broadcast news.
November 20, 2012, 8:34am by Danny Mantle
Great editorial. Gov. Goodhair has way too much power (appointment of almost every member of every board,commission,etc. in the state). Rerun this stance at election time in two years.
November 20, 2012, 9:22am by l.j.ross
Nice one sided "editorial".....much like your "opinion" pols that are phrased to get you the answer you want. Mr. Bode is the first to holler about the media twisiting information when he does the same thing in every single issue. Rice farmers have an economic stake too....can't there be a solution where every one gets something? No because that would involve logical thinking and compromise.
November 20, 2012, 12:18pm by DLMC
The rice farmers need water too. They've been around longer than most of your houses.
November 20, 2012, 2:32pm by Robert
These rice farmers are KING OF THE GOVERNMENT ENTITLEMENT PROGRAM!!
This has to stop!
November 21, 2012, 3:13pm by Robert Myers
To those who agree with our editorial position: Thanks! The Highland Lakes needs to let the LCRA and the Austin politicians in the background of this decision know why it was made and that we don’t like it.
To those who disagree: Thanks also for challenging our opinion. However, a couple of points you raise need to be answered. Sometimes, editorials carefully weigh and present all sides of a question before drawing a conclusion. In this case, everyone has heard and understands the position of the rice farmers. It hasn’t changed in 80 years – “We have an uninterrupted entitlement to the Highland Lakes; we want the water; we want it now and we don’t want it cheap enough we can afford to raise rice in dry times.” What many people don’t understand – which is the essence of the editorial – is what a sweet deal the rice industry has and how it keeps it. As for our opinion polls, DLMC, we don’t pretend that we can build scientific polls on a community newspaper website. So we often express our own editorial opinion with them. You can agree or disagree. If you have specific instances where you believe we are “twisting information” in our news stories, I’d be astounded. Editorials, as I guess you understand, are opinions. This one is well-grounded in fact, including that while the rice industry pays about 25 times less for its water, it expects the same uninterrupted service as those who pay for that privilege. We don’t care what crops the rice farmers want to grow. But if they want to cultivate rice in an unsuitable environment, they ought to behave like other capitalists – and agricultural producers – who don’t have continuous government handouts to keep them from failing. Finally, we’re not advocating changing the rules for ranchers and others with traditional Texas water rights – unless you can find some that use three times that of the City of Austin and pay the same dirt cheap rate as the rice interests.
November 21, 2012, 4:59pm by The Publisher
I bristle everytime I hear an agriculturer, lobbyist or lawyer refer to the lakes as "storage buckets" or "reservoirs." To me that highlights the arrogance these interests have and the disrespect and disdain they show for those of us "upstream folks" that not only depend on the lakes as well, but actually have to live with them.
November 22, 2012, 12:20pm by Dale
Just suppose the Rice farmers simply were not growing rice anymore and the drought did not end and the lakes completely went dry. who would the folks up here in the hill country squawk at?? Or how about if the Canadian Company Corix bought all the water systems and jacked all your water prices up 3 fold. who would you squawk at??
Both of those could happen. Best thing for you folks to do is put on your chief feathers and start dancing and chanting for more rain OR start finding away to stop the foreign capitalists from taking your resources.
November 22, 2012, 7:17pm by Roy
Mr. Bode states the facts well and complete. The lower basin does have rights to the water in the lakes, WHEN it is available. The actions of the LCRA releasing water when the lakes are this low is deplorable. Next summer when the LCRA ask, no tells everyone to conserve water I know we all can remind them about this. But the water will be gone. As far as the rice industry, you have received water for the last 80 years. During drought and flood. There have been many years(most) there would not have been any water for your crops if there were no lakes. You enjoy the benefits of the lakes but are not willing to make any sacrifices. I feel your pain, but have little sympathy.
November 25, 2012, 6:49pm by Ronnie Skelton
I live in the Lakeway area of Austin, on Hudson Bend. I have watched as friends of mine that own business in the area struggle keeping there heads above the disppearing water due to the lack of the recreational users of Lake Travis. They have had to lay off employees and some have gone out of business altogether. Finally someone had the courage to publicly speak out against this decision by the LC RICE A.
November 27, 2012, 12:20pm by Joel Manjarris