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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.

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