Texas rice farmers will have to wait a few more days before they find out whether or not they will have a chance to receive any irrigation water from the Colorado River this year.

That's after commissioners of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) delayed taking action on a temporary emergency drought order request Wednesday (Feb. 12) that would have, if approved, shut off water for irrigation for a third straight year.

The decision came after commissioners listened to several hours of testimony from a packed chamber of passionate stakeholders and members of local governments, industry, special interest groups and the general public.

At issue was whether commissioners would ratify, alter or deny a controversial Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) emergency request to further restrict water releases from the Highland Lakes by raising the combined minimum lake level threshold from 850,000-acre feet to 1.1 million acre feet in an effort to ensure that Central Texas 'firm' customers, including the City of Austin and surrounding communities, would have enough water this summer for essential use.

Texans challenge water restrictions.

Following long hours of testimony from the large group attending the proceedings, the commission referred the issue to a state administrative law judge, Judge William G. Newchurch from the State Office of Administrative Hearings, who was charged to conduct a mediation hearing with qualified stakeholders and return his recommendations to the full TCEQ Commission by Feb. 21.

The multi-year drought and a forecast that calls for little relief in the months ahead has fueled concerns across much of Texas, which, like their Western counterparts, is facing an escalating problem of too much demand and too little water.

The 600-mile Colorado River, which starts in West Texas and flows southeast to Matagorda Bay on the coast, feeds a series of Highland Lakes including Lake Buchanan, Inks Lake, Lake LBJ, Lake Travis, and Lake Austin before traveling south through Bastrop, Smithville, La Grange, Columbus, Wharton and Bay City and emptying into the bay.

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LCRA is charged with managing the river's resources and provides water to a number of cities, industry users, water cooperatives, irrigation districts and agricultural users all along the river, according to a state approved water plan. LCRA customers are divided into 'firm' customers, like city water districts/users, and downstream interruptible users. LCRA is also charged with providing an environmental flow for the health and protection of Matagorda Bay. But in times of emergency, like a drought, LCRA can deny water access to some users in an effort to provide continuing water supplies to firm customers, but only after seeking a temporary emergency order that must be approved by TCEQ.