No water for birds
Dear Bay City Tribune Editor:
The Coastal Prairie eco-system is taking another severe blow. So far it has endured the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, channelization of rivers and bayous, drought and urban sprawl. But what it now faces may be its fatal stroke – the apathy and incompetence of the Lower Colorado River Authority.
Since the great drought of 2011, there has been no water released by the LCRA for rice production in the lower Colorado basin, including Colorado, Wharton and Matagorda Counties.
Although devastating to rural economies, most understand that the severity of the drought called for severe measures. Throughout this unprecedented period of drought, county officials, landowners, farmers and private hunting groups have worked together to maintain a minimum amount of roosting water to hold migratory birds in the Lower Basin. Colorado, Wharton and Matagorda counties are a destination for millions of migratory birds each year, and the water supports an eco-system that these birds depend on.
The LCRA policy has been to allow “run-of-the-river water” – water not pulled from the Highland Lakes, but rather rain water that has accumulated in the Lower Colorado River – to fill the hundreds of ponds that have for centuries been available for migratory birds (before rice farming, the area was covered with pockmarks that created a intricate series of prairie wetlands).
But this year is different. While the LCRA publicly stated that it would continue its policy of allowing “duck water” (the LCRA’s mission statement states that it is “a responsible steward of the river and the basin’s natural resources”), this year it systematically prevented run-of-the-river water for duck ponds.
Duck water contracts are applied for in the summer with the understanding that only “run-of-the-river” is to be used. Historically this has not been a problem. In my memory water has never been denied. History should tell officials to prepare to deliver water in late September or early October for these very important projects – a cooperation between landowners, farmers, conservationists and private waterfowl hunting operations.
Since no water was delivered to rice farmers since 2012, the LCRA canal system has not been maintained properly. And because the infrastructure was neglected, this year the run-of-river water was not delivered for the first time in decades.
To reiterate, run-of-the-river water was available due to heavy rains in the lower basin in mid-September. The water was refused not because of the lack of water due to drought – but because the canal system was not maintained properly. So when the time came for run-of-the-river water delivery, the LCRA refused to deliver, because their canal system – which is their responsibility to maintain – had deteriorated.
Because of the LCRA’s negligence – or incompetence – no water was pumped to duck ponds across the county.
You might be tempted to say, “Well, its just some ducks and geese. The guy writing this editorial is in the goose-hunting business, so he is only interested because of that.”
However, having no water for the duck ponds is a much, much larger problem. The ponds we’re talking about here are ponds that are used as sanctuaries and are not hunted.
Matagorda County is home to the most species of birds than anywhere else in North America, according to the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Birds are not only a resource that I depend on for my livelihood; they also are a resource that the county’s eco-tourism industry depends on.
When the birds show up this year, they will find dry pastures – formerly rice fields – and dry ponds. The idea that these migratory birds that call the Bay Prairie home every winter – including waterfowl, shorebirds, colonial wading birds, Peregrine falcons, bald eagles and Whooping cranes – will be stressed unnecessarily because of the LCRA’s incompetence is unacceptable.
Who are the real losers? Yes, the birds that depend on this water for survival, and yes, those who depend on the revenue from this natural resource. But the real losers are the people of Texas. They are seeing their heritage disappear, because of the apathy and incompetence of an appointed – not elected – group of bureaucrats.
Owner, Third Coast Outfitters of Texas