Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Texas water authority cuts off supply to rice farmers due to drought, and rural economies suffer

Rice farmers in southeastern Texas are switching from growing that water-intensive grain to crops that require less water, mostly because the Lower Colorado River Authority cut off water for most downstream farmers for the rest of this season so the city of Austin could recover from drought, Ashley Price of the Austin American-Statesman reports. As a result, rice production in rural counties along the river has fallen drastically. It's down by 75 percent in Eagle Lake, and has decreased to 1,500 acres this year compared to 24,000 acres last year in Matagorda County. (Wikipedia map: Lower Colorado River watershed)

Austin-based LCRA is the "chief arbiter" of who gets water and who doesn't, and the move to cut off water for downstream farmers was perhaps an inevitable move, Price reports. If the drought continues into 2013, those farmers could be cut off again. LCRA adopted stricter guidelines this February that reduces the amount of water released to farmers while almost doubling the amount for cities and power plants.

Most rice farmers aren't feeling the pinch, because their fields are insured, but the consequences of a "no-rice year" are reverberating in rural towns whose economy is tied to the crop's production, Price reports: "The woman who sells diesel oil for farm equipment; the pilots who eke out commissions spraying fungicide from tiny duster planes; the chicken farmer who buys rice hulls, the protective layer of the grain, for litter; the calf-cattle rancher who buys the bran, the hard outer bit that gets polished off when rice is made white, for cattle feed -- these people all find business is off as the rice crop has dwindled." (Read more)

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