If substantial rains don’t fall across Central Texas this month, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) could begin withholding water from agriculture users March1, the result of a historic drought that has caused reservoir levels along the Lower Colorado River to drop dramatically, resulting in an estimated 50 percent cut in Texas rice acres this year.

Water restrictions on agriculture use were developed jointly last year by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the LCRA and other water management organizations that have been struggling to meet escalating demands on water resources as drought conditions continue to plague the state.

Most affected by the move would be long-grain rice growers in three south-central Texas counties, the heartland of Texas rice production. Growers and millers in Colorado, Wharton and Matagorda Counties, an area that produces about 5 percent of all rice production in the U.S., will be hit the hardest.

“This will be the first time in history we have had to consider limiting water to agriculture users on a grand scale,” says LCRA chief meteorologist Bob Rose. “The only way to avoid it is for substantial rains to raise reservoir levels by the March 1 deadline.”

Under terms of new guidelines, reservoir levels at Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan would need to be 850,000-acre feet before rice growers could funnel water out of the Lower Colorado River. Lake levels as of February 1 were at about 761,000-acre feet. Substantial rains in December and January have helped reservoir levels, but more rain is needed to avoid water restrictions.

“We simply need more rain and higher reservoir levels to meet the growing water demands of communities, industry and agriculture. Without adequate water resources, limiting use becomes our best method of water management,” Rose adds.

He says the move to limit water use has never happened to farmers along the Lower Colorado River and illustrates the magnitude of the current drought.

Dr. Larry Falconer,Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension Economist-Management for District 11 of Texas AgriLife Extension, says the prospect of water shortage this year could cause the lowest production level of rice in Texas in over 100 years.