Matagorda Bay…Safe for now?

Environmental advocates and fishermen from along the Texas Gulf Coast met in Bay City Wednesday to discuss the future of Matagorda Bay, a major destination for tourism, recreation and commercial fishing that has suffered greatly in recent years due to a lack of freshwater inflows from the Colorado River.

According to an article by Neena Satija in the Texas Tribune this week, the participants concluded saving the bay “will require tremendous political pressure on the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) — the agencies chiefly responsible for managing water resources in the Colorado River basin. And if that doesn’t do the trick, a lawsuit might”.

Thankfully pulse flows on the Colorado River from heavy rains this fall have occurred naturally (for example a couple of weeks ago with the Austin Halloween flood) and will greatly benefit the Gulf coast. But when in drought, Matagorda Bay and the estuaries along the coast of Texas suffer.

I do not agree that pressure on the LCRA or TCEQ will yield one more drop of water, they are bound by surface water delivery requirements that dictate implementation under certain conditions, and have very little legal leeway or incentive to alter course from their predictable delivery method schedule.

But the problem of surface water sustainability is real and requires a better way of conveying and distributing surface water. If not addressed legally soon, I predict the courts WILL address it in the name of the “whooping crane” or some other species or downstream reason/rationale.  And they will impose remedies that may include methods not anticipated or workable by the state or local’s.

The sustainability of those upstream or downstream will require lawmakers to address a better “drought” surface water availability method (especially detailed for extreme conditions) including all affected by senior and junior water rights, cities, industry, etc. It should include more than just cutting water off for downstream needs that depend on that “piggy back ride” of water when certain conditions are reached. Surface water is still state water* (*although the “right’s” are issued in a first come method more or less) and it was never anticipated to have a limit. We have arguably exceeded our limit.

Implementation of very different specific rules should be decided by Texas, not the courts. And both upstream and downstream users should have to conserve much more drastically until we get rain/floods where we need them and can store more of it.

A “water bank” for surface water right holders who are interested in selling or inactivating those rights could be established and necessary flows could be maintained and released by water master. How to pay for this? State lawmakers would decide, but ideas need to be deliberated soon.

Seems an anticipated effort to reduce the pain when the inevitable occurs, courts intervene and water is siphoned off at rates that drastically affect lifestyles, would be useful and help display willingness enough to avoid federal or court intervention.

Or we can just allow the status quo and hope it rains.

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