Texas agency likely to cut water to rice farms

In this May 19, 2011 photo, Tyler Gray stirs up a cloud of dust as pulls a tiller across a dry cotton field near Lubbock, Texas, trying to break up hardened ground. A historic drought has already cost Texas farmers and ranchers an estimated $1.5 billion, and the cost is growing daily as parched conditions persist in much of the state. (AP Photo/Betsy Blaney)

LISSIE, Texas (AP) - With Texas in one of the worst droughts in its history, water officials are widely expected to announce March 1 that they won't release irrigation water for thousands of farmers in the state's rice-growing region.

The three counties likely to be affected by the Lower Colorado River Authority's decision - Wharton, Colorado and Matagorda - are among the poorest in the state, with poverty levels above the national average.

Typically, they account for 35 to 45 percent of the 160,000 to 200,000 acres normally dedicated to rice farming in Texas.

Many farmers in the region alternate between growing rice and ranching, but those with cattle sold off much of their livestock last year as the drought parched rangeland and pushed up hay prices. That leaves them with few alternatives now.