TCEQ Suspends Some Water Use Over Drought Worries
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality controls the rivers in Texas. When they get low, like they are now, the TCEQ can tell people to stop drawing water from them. But there isn’t any formal rule. Robin Smith is an attorney for the TCEQ. She says the droughts have never been this severe.
“It’s gotten really bad, you know,” Smith said. “We just really haven’t had that many people make calls. We haven’t had people say, ‘I can’t get my water. Cut people off.’ It happened the first time in 2009.”
The TCEQ operates under the priority doctrine. Basically, it means first come, first served. Those with water rights that were issued first get priority.
When a senior water rights holder doesn’t get the amount of water to which it is entitled, it can make a call to the TCEQ. The TCEQ then asks other water users to stop drawing from the river.
But because of the drought, the TCEQ is switching things up a bit. For example, it could give cities and power plants priority over some farmers and ranchers. TCEQ Attorney Robin Smith says the state has public welfare responsibilities to fulfill.
“Right now it is kind of a case by case basis, we just have to weight that in,” she said. “It certainly could. We want people to have water to drink and we want people to have power.”
During the past state legislative session, lawmakers directed the TCEQ to put something formal in writing on how the state agency would determine who gets cut during a drought. At a public comment meeting, David Wheelock with the Lower Colorado River Authority told TCEQ staff that the LCRA was concerned about agricultural users’ senior water rights being trumped.
“I think it would be very valuable to make it clear whether or not it would be appropriate or whether or not it would allowable payment in cash remediation for some other type of payment from one water right holder to another,” Wheelock said.
Right now, river water users in the San Saba and Llano River basins have been told their water rights are temporarily suspended. It’s the same for those in the Brazos River Basin. And there’s no clear picture of how long it will last. That’s one question that will have to be determined in writing before the TCEQ adopts drought water restriction rules.