In an effort to address water shortages, LCRA asked for and was granted emergency orders from TCEQ in both 2012 and 2013, but the lake level threshold, or trigger at which point irrigation water was withheld from downstream rice farmers, was set at 850,000-acre feet. Much of the controversy over the emergency filed with TECQ this past December called for that threshold to take effect when combined lake levels reached 1.1 million acre feet.

LCRA staff recommended the threshold change to their board of directors in December, based upon what they called increased demand by firm users and a pessimistic weather forecast that offers little hope of substantial lake inflows in the months ahead.

But the change was not well accepted by LCRA board members. Many of them argued that better alternatives are available. In the end, the board narrowly approved adopting the emergency order 8-7, along with its increased threshold. That was subsequently sent forward to TCEQ for final approval and implementation before March 1, a date traditionally used to release irrigation allotments to downstream users.

Before the full TCEQ Commission was presented with the request this week, however, newly appointed TCEQ Executive Director Richard Hyde signed off on the request, pending final approval by the full board of commissioners.

"The increased trigger levels and decreased irrigation supplies being allowed for in this order are not realistic and do not treat all LCRA customers equitably," testified Daniel Berglund Wednesday. Berglund has been growing rice in Matagorda and Wharton counties for the past 25 years and is also the Chairman of the Texas Rice Growers Legislative Group and serves on the Colorado Water Issues Committee.

See more on drought in the Southwest.

Mitch Thames, representing the Bay City Chamber of Commerce, testified that he was under the impression the purpose of the emergency order was to ensure firm customers had enough water to survive times of drought, saying that was the mandate for the adoption of an emergency request that would vary from the state approved water plan.

"Apparently I came here with the wrong speech prepared. I thought this was an issue about imminent health and safety. What I have heard today is an imminent threat on the economy, on growth, housing, water rates, and appraised values of land [in Central Texas]. I didn't bring that speech, but we have been experiencing those same problems in the lower basin as well," he said.

Ronald Gertson, a rice farmer and Chairman of the Colorado Water Issues Committee, told TCEQ Commissioners the emergency order requested by LCRA puts the responsibility of conservation solely on downstream users.

"We are those folks being asked to bear 100 percent of the burden of this drought," he testified.