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LCRA cuts off downstream water releases from Highland Lakes for rice farmers


AUSTIN — A late-inning save for lower Colorado River rice farmers never came as a deadline for a Highland Lakes water cutoff came and went March 1 without substantial increases to lake levels.

Under an emergency order granted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Lower Colorado River Authority shut off most downstream releases for irrigation purposes as of 11:59 p.m. March 1. For those releases to occur, the combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis had to reach at least 850,000 acre-feet of water.

According to LCRA, the combined storage at the deadline was 822,782 acre-feet. An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre at a depth of one foot.

This is the second year in a row LCRA has cut off downstream water releases because of low storage levels.

“This drought has been tremendously difficult for the entire region, and we know that going without water for the second year in a row will be painful for the farmers and the economies they help support in Matagorda, Wharton and Colorado counties,” LCRA General Manager Becky Motal said. “This was a difficult decision, but LCRA has to protect the water supply of its municipal and industrial customers during this prolonged drought.”

With the emergency order, farmers in the Gulf Coast and Lakeside irrigation divisions will not receive any water from the Highland Lakes this year. Farmers in the Garwood Irrigation Division are entitled to about 20,000 acre-feet of Highland Lakes water this year based on the purchase agreement of the Garwood water right.

“The Highland Lakes were built to capture and manage water in times of heavy rains so there is water for cities and industry during severe drought,” Motal said. “The lakes are doing their job, but this prolonged drought means that we’ve had to make some hard choices.”

The last time the two storage reservoirs were considered full was 2007, officials said.