East Texas river users react to new regulations

NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Jim Lemons was taking it easy at the Nacogdoches Farmers Market peddling the wooden chairs he makes. "Yeah. And I'm happy," he said to a little girl trying one out for size.

Other days the licensed canoe outfitter spends a lot of time on rivers. "The river is a teacher and its lessons are usually pretty gentle. Sometimes it can be somewhat brutal," reflected Lemons.

Kind of how a debate over surface water flow requirements can be described. It happened this week in Austin.

"They looked at the Sabine, the Neches, and the San Jacinto and the Trinity," said Richard Donovan, a Lufkin resident who has a special connection to the Neches. The environmentalist wants it to receive a wild and scenic river designation. "And it will flow more like god makes it flow every year," he said.

For now regulators are very much in the mix. "They did agree to increase the, the flow by 10%," said Donovan of a debate that surfaced between regulators and those who say restricting the flow of the rivers will cripple ecosystems.

The increase was not up to the level originally recommended. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approves the new standards. Commissioners increased water flow to the Sabine and Neches rivers, but not the Trinity. That river is a major source for the city of Dallas.

Environmentalists, scientists and seafood producers originally suggested a higher water flow. "It's critical to the bays and estuaries at the coast because the oyster and shrimp depend on that," explained Donovan.

In East Texas a strong water flow feeds hardwood forests.the concern is significant this year. "We're going into a drought right now and water is going to be very, very critical. Already is," warned Donovan.

River authorities serving municipalities have the same thoughts. Environmentalists know this. "What they're thinking about is water supply for cities, rather than water supplies for the river," said Lemons.

Reaching a compromise that serves both is a debate for bodies of water statewide.

©2011 KTRE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.