Texas' Lower Colorado River Authority doesn't expect Hill Country lake levels to be high enough to provide irrigation water to downriver rice farmers--the first time growers wouldn't get water; agency to post final decision before midnight March 1

HOUSTON , March 1, 2012 () – A Central Texas river authority said Thursday that it doesn't expect Hill Country lake levels to be high enough to provide irrigation water to downriver rice farmers, which would make it the first time ever that the farmers wouldn't get the water.

Clara Tuma, a spokeswoman for the Lower Colorado River Authority, said the agency would post its final decision on its website just before midnight. But as of Thursday morning, lakes Travis and Buchanan were about 3.200 acre-feet, or more than 1 billion gallons, short of the level they'd need to reach for the farmers to receive water.

"We do not anticipate that the combined storage will reach 850,000 acre-feet today," Tuma said in an email, referring to that target level. "We expect to end the day with storage between 846,000 and 847,000 acre-feet."

Rice farmers have been preparing for such a situation for months, knowing that the worst one-year drought in Texas history had so severely depleted the Highland Lakes it was unlikely it could rain enough for them to plant their crops. This would be the first time in LCRA history that rice farmers did not receive water for their rice paddies.

Texas is one of the six largest rice producers in the country. The farmers in the Colorado River basin make up almost three-quarters of the state's total rice acreage.

At current lake levels, a small percentage of farmers, those with senior water rights along the river, will get about 20,000 acre-feet of water. The rest will not get any.

The drought has eased in recent weeks with some significant winter rains. But most of the state still remains under some level of drought.

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