What is in this article?:
- Drought response compromise has been reached with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) that provides a little more time before irrigation gates on the Colorado River are closed.
- The most severe drought in Texas history has rice growers in Matagorda, Wharton, and Colorado counties scrambling over plans for spring planting.
- The new LCRA plan prohibits the release of water stored in Lakes Buchanan and Travis near Austin for agricultural purposes if the combined lake storage levels fall below 850,000-acre feet.
“This is a fight for water between farmers, cities and communities like Austin, industrial users and recreational users. Under terms of an existing agreement, farmers buy the water for less, so it no surprise the LCRA would rather sell the water to others that want and need it,” says Linda Raun of L.R. Farms in El Campo.
She should know. Raun served on the LCRA Board of Directors until recently and understands too well the growing demand for water and water rights in Texas. Raun also is the current chair of the USA Rice Producers group in Texas and along with her husband, L.G. Raun, grows rice in Wharton County.
Raun and Ottis agree that if rice production is to remain a viable farming alternative in Texas, other water resources will need to be developed. They might include private reservoirs and more ground wells. But the cost and time involved will provide no relief for the 2012 growing season.
“Depending on the farm, a farmer might be looking at $250,000 to establish a new well, and constructing smaller reservoirs on private property is not without a hefty price tag as well,” Ottis says, though he admits smaller ponds could fill quickly when the normal 45-inch rainfall rate in the region is realized.
“The region is also subject to tropical rains each year and when that happens, filling ponds and small reservoirs would take place quickly,” adds Raun.
But problems remain with evaporation and rapid use during periods of drought, and further reduction in rice acreage may become necessary for the Texas rice industry to remain viable in the years ahead.
“Texas rice growers are going to lose out to Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi farmers at a time when markets are indicating good potential in the years ahead,” adds Ottis.
This week rice representatives from Texas, Arkansas and Missouri are attending the International Fair in Havana in an effort to expand international rice markets. Drought in Texas, however, may keep the state’s rice farmers from capitalizing on what forecasters are calling a “growing international market.”
“If there is any hope for next year’s Texas rice crop it’s going to come from the skies in the form of substantial rainfall,” says Raun.
The long range forecast, however, calls for the worst drought in Texas history to continue in the months ahead.