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Water shortage imperils Texas rice farmers

Future remains uncertain

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The Lower Colorado River Authority decided last week that water shortages would require restricting access to rice farmers in South Texas, according to State Impact Texas:

As the clock struck midnight Thursday, many rice farmers across southeast Texas had to face a sobering reality: for the first time in history, they will not have water for their crops. “It saddens me because like I said, my family’s been farming rice since 1905,” says rice farmer Paul Sliva. “This will be the first year we haven’t. There’s no other crop than rice for me. It’s gonna be a weird year. It’s gonna be a sad year for me.”

How did this happen? Under an emergency plan to deal with the drought, the Lower Colorado River Authority cut off water to the rice farmers downstream in Matagorda, Wharton and Colorado counties because there wasn’t a enough water in the lakes. They were about a billion gallons short.

The lakes that hold that water mean different things to different people. For the people that live on the lakes – and many of whom make their living off of them – they’re a boon to property values and business. But when massive amounts of water were sent downstream to rice farmers last year, more than three times the amount used by all of Austin, in the midst of a record drought no less, the lakes neared historic lows. And that hurt the lake interests, like the construction company owned by Buster Cole. He says rice farmers don’t appreciate the financial impact of their withdrawals from the lake.

“They have no respect for the impact of what’s happening on our Highland Lakes, from economic property values, business owners, all the things involved,” Cole says. “Everybody’s involved in this, and it’s bad.”

For the city of Austin and many factories and some power plants, the lakes are a crucial source of water. And for the rice farmers? They say the water in the lakes is practically a birthright.



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