A matrix of shallow, placid streams covers the vast, flat marshland at the mouth of Texas’ Colorado River as it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Chewing on a plastic-tipped cigar, Buddy Treybig steers his shrimp boat through canals and into Matagorda Bay.
Treybig, 52, has been shrimping the bay — a semi-salty body of water nearly 30 miles wide, sheltered from open sea by the Matagorda Peninsula — since high school. And it’s never been harder, he said.
Dwindling rains, a stubborn drought and more demand for water upriver in Austin have taken a toll on the crabs, shrimp, oysters and fish that provide livelihoods for coastal communities.
“We’re in bad shape already. The shrimp and oysters are almost gone,” said Treybig, a self-appointed defender of the bay and an advocate for people who depend on it to make a living.
Big shrimp boats are chained up on shore; Treybig said their owners couldn’t make enough fishing to pay for fuel.
Recurring droughts have plagued Texas with particular intensity since 1996, with worsening consequences. In November, voters approved spending $2 billion from state reserves to create a revolving fund for water infrastructure improvements. But most projects are years away — no relief for the bay or the people who make their livings from fishing and tourism.