While Texas rice growers in Wharton, Colorado and Matagorda counties are feeling a little relief after the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) Board of Directors indicated they plan on releasing 121,000 acre-feet of water next year if Highland Lake levels don’t drop below 775,000 acre-feet, not everyone is happy over the decision.

For beginners, if forecasters are right and rain showers become scarcer in the winter and spring seasons, maintaining the minimum 775,000 acre-feet is a tall order. Currently, levels at Buchanan and Travis Lakes are at about 860,000 acre-feet of water, just 43 percent of their total capacity and well below normal.

Secondly, even if lake levels remain above the minimum by Jan. 1 and Mar. 1, as required, growers say that will only provide enough water for irrigation to support the first of two rice plantings in 2013, hardly enough to recover from the devastating developments of 2012. This year growers were denied their allocation of water from the river because of an emergency order authorized by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) at the request of LCRA. That move forced rice growers to plant only about 50 percent of their normal rice acres.

In spite of the uncertainties and challenges ahead, however, rice farmers have expressed relief and gratitude that LCRA’s vote last week clears the way for at least a chance at the release of some river water for irrigation this year.

But a well-known wildlife conservation and sportsmen’s group has raised the alarm over the LCRA decision, warning state and water district officials not to forget the potential negative impact on millions of migrating water fowl if rice fields are not flooded, especially during the traditional second rice planting season at the end of summer and beginning of the fall season.

A biologist for Ducks Unlimited testified before the LCRA’s board last week that most of the estimated two million waterfowl in the region rely on the affected rice acres to meet their food needs, and if rice fields are not flooded next year there could be dire consequences, not only to the ecology and wildlife of the region but also to the local economy, as a result of fewer sporting activities like hunting and bird watching.