The three-year (and counting) Texas drought is progressively draining the rice industry. In order to deal with dangerously low water levels in the Highland Lakes, rice farmers on the Lower Colorado River were cut off from their water supply in March 2012. While such a restriction was unprecedented, farmers were optimistic — if the restriction lasted no more than a year. It’s over a year later, though, and the Texas horizon looks as dry for the lakes as it does grim for the farmers.
As a recent Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) report shows, the measures taken in response to the drought were both extreme, and necessary. In 2009, total agricultural water use — from both the Highland Lakes and Colorado River — was 509,839 acre-feet. In 2012, 102,668: an 80 percent reduction. If such crisis measures hadn’t been taken and the rice farmers had received their usual water supply, the water levels in the lakes would likely have dropped to their lowest in history.
Unfortunately, current 2013 inflows to the Highland Lakes are comparable to the record-lows of 2011, and according to the LCRA, “the weather forecast doesn’t offer much hope of relief anytime soon.”
Moreover, the LCRA reports that it “will not deliver Highland Lakes water to most downstream farmers for the second consecutive year.” While this might save the lakes from drying out, the farmers’ businesses are certainly in jeopardy of completing drying out.