RICHMOND, Texas - Ducks Unlimited is gravely concerned by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) decision to deny water for agricultural uses in Colorado, Wharton and Matagorda counties this spring. The decision came after record drought and insufficient rains failed to bring key reservoirs up to acceptable levels despite proactive restrictions on supplemental water last fall and winter.
"LCRA provides water for about 60,000 acres of rice, approximately one-third of the entire Texas rice acreage," said Todd Merendino, Ducks Unlimited manager of conservation programs. "The loss of that rice acreage will be a substantial economic blow to the many farmers, communities and service industries related to rice agriculture; it will double current waterfowl habitat shortfalls along the Gulf Coast and it will likely reduce hunting opportunities this fall."
Prior to the drought, the Gulf Coast Joint Venture estimated an additional 59,000 acres of flooded rice and moist-soil habitats were needed to meet the foraging demands of winter waterfowl populations in the Texas Mid-Coast. The LCRA decision potentially increases that shortfall for this coming year by up to 60,000 acres.
"Ducks Unlimited realizes there are difficult decisions to be made when dealing with limited resources," Merendino added. "Our concern is that decision makers don't realize the full economic and cultural impacts of essentially eliminating rice agriculture from the Texas Mid-Coast and greatly reducing important waterfowl and wildlife habitats in one fell swoop."
According to a Texas AgriLife economic impact analysis, on average, rice contributes $374.3 million and more than 3,300 jobs annually in this three-county area alone. Those numbers don't include rice farming's substantial contribution to the revenue and jobs generated from waterfowl hunting and other outdoor recreation in the state. Those same rice producing lands also provide important waterfowl habitat that is the basis for the region's waterfowl hunting heritage.
Nearly 2 million waterfowl and millions of other migratory birds and wildlife depend on the managed wetlands associated with rice agriculture in the Texas Mid-Coast region for habitat and food resources. This abundant wildlife produces significant economic benefits by bringing in hunters, anglers and bird watchers who spend money on equipment, lodging and food. According to a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service report, 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) by outdoor recreation in any state. Waterfowl hunting alone contributes $204 million to the Texas economy.
This is not the first time farmers along the Lower Colorado River have faced the possibility of water use restrictions, and it certainly won't be the last. Record droughts have exacerbated the problems associated with increased demand for water from booming populations and urban expansion.
With state population projections doubling over the next 50 years, water availability will become an increasingly difficult issue. Ducks Unlimited is committed to ensuring rice production and wildlife habitat needs are fully communicated so that decision makers can make the most informed water allocation choices.
Ducks Unlimited is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 12 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.