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How the Drought is Impacting Rice Farmers and Hot Tub Owners

The drought leaves nothing untouched. This week the drought impacts the state’s rice farmers, migratory bird populations, and hot tub owners. 

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Rice Guys Finish Last
Southeast Texas rice farmers face a tough year, as the Lower Colorado River Authority turned off the tap at midnight Thursday. Terrence Henry of StateImpact Texas put a face on this story when he talked to Paul Sliva, a rice farmer in Matagorda county who said 2012 will be the first year since 1905 his family won’t have a rice crop. “There’s no other crop than rice for me … It’s gonna be a sad year for me,” Sliva told Henry, adding that he was hopeful the lakes will recover enough so that the water returns in 2013.

Last year, rice farmers in Matagorda, Wharton and Colorado counties used three times more water than the city of Austin, but given the drought, the LCRA decided that the Highland Lakes’ water levels were about a billion gallons short of what would be needed to release water to soak farmer’s fields. One plan to save rice farming in southeast Texas is to build storage pools alongside the Colorado River below Austin to capture rainwater runoff, but exactly who would pay for those “off-channel reservoirs” is an open question, Henry wrote.

Drought and Bird Migration Gets “Twisted”
The Texas Gulf Coast is normally a winter mecca for tens of thousands of migratory birds, including “songbirds, waterfowl, catbirds, gnatcatchers, warblers and other migrants.” But this year, the drought is “twisting” bird migration patterns, and the long-term impact on bird populations remains to be seen, the Associated Press reported.

“We have birds scattered all over the place looking for habitat right now,” Richard Kostecke, a bird expert and associate director of conservation, research and planning at the Nature Conservancy in Texas, told the AP. “You may see a cascade of impacts. We don’t know exactly where things will end up.”

This year’s bird count, conducted around Christmas, revealed that geese populations were down 61 percent and spoonbills numbers had decreased by 74 percent. Some of the drop can be attributed to scarce food supplies. “The drought — the worst one-year dry spell in Texas history — parched thousands of acres of wetlands along the coast, a habitat that is normally rich with fish, seafood, berries and insects,” the AP wrote.

You Can Take Our Lawns, but You Can Never Drain our Hot Tubs
The Lubbock City Council is set to vote Tuesday on whether to waive a portion of Stage Two water restrictions that prohibit residents from refilling their pools and hot tubs once stricter restrictions go into effect on April 1.

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal‘s Tommy Magelssen reported that the ordinance amendment is expected to pass, as six of seven City Council members have promised to support it (no reporting on how many of those of council members have pools). The ordinance amendment says that “filling, emptying and refilling of pools and hot tubs represents a relatively insignificant portion of overall water consumption,” Magelssen reported.

If the ordinance passes, Lubbock’s stance on hot tubs and pools will be the same as Abilene’s. In February, the Abilene City Council voted to keep the city’s four public pools open through the summer despite the Stage Two restrictions.

Curious where Lubbock gets its water from? Well, as KCBD NewsChannel 11’s Abby Reed explained earlier this month, the city used to rely on Lake Meredith for its water supply, but now that lake is bone dry. The city now relies solely on “water well fields” in Roberts and Bailey counties, Reed reported, but plans are underway to begin drawing water from Lake Alan Henry beginning in August.

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