Homeowners wonder where Lake Granbury went

Posted Monday, Jul. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Texas drought The latest drought monitor released Thursday shows last week’s improved drought conditions slightly across Texas. More than 99 percent of the state is considered in some form of a drought and more than 71 percent of the state is in severe to exceptional drought. From April 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, DFW Airport has seen more than a 15-inch shortfall of rain. Last week, North Texas saw anywhere rainfall totals ranging from 1 to 4 inches.

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When Joe Williams moved from Keller to Lake Granbury, he believed that he had found the perfect place to retire.

Boats rocked gently next to docks meandering into the lake from green shores. Skiers cut across the blue-green water. Balconies attached to spectacular waterfront homes provided a panoramic view of the lake, its coves and canals.

For Williams, 56, who once owned a Grapevine landscape company, it was paradise. He knew every fishing hole around the lake and even rode a water scooter up a man-made canal behind Granbury City Hall.

Seven years later, the scene has changed dramatically, and Williams is not happy about it.

As Texas continues to suffer through a debilitating drought that forecasters say isn’t likely to end soon, recreational oases such as Lake Granbury are becoming a flashpoint in the war for water.

This month, the water in the 33.5-mile-long reservoir southwest of Fort Worth dropped to an all-time low of 7.5 feet below normal.

It rose about 6 inches after last week’s rains, but that’s not enough to dramatically change conditions around the lake.

Boats are still stranded high and dry. Ramps are closed. And now, muddy ditches have replaced water-filled canals running behind half-million-dollar homes

The reason is obvious, according to the Brazos River Authority, the state agency that manages the lake: drought.

But at Lake Granbury, residents suspect that more than the extreme weather is at play.

“Oh, my God, are they ever commenting about it,” Hood County Judge Darrell Cockerham said.

Seventy-one percent of Texas is now coping with severe to exceptional drought, according to the weekly Drought Monitor released by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Lake Bridgeport, at 49 percent full, is more than 18.6 feet low. Possum Kingdom, also managed by the Brazos River Authority, is 11 feet below normal, though it is expected to rise slightly.

Statewide, the reservoir capacity of lakes is at 64.3 percent, up slightly from a week ago but down 10 percent from the same time a year ago, according to the Texas Water Development Board.

Hood County residents acknowledge the drought but say everything changed for them back in 2007, when the old hydroelectric plant at the Morris Sheppard Dam on Possum Kingdom Lake was shut down, reducing the water flowing to Lake Granbury.

Matt Phillips, government relations manager for the Brazos River Authority, acknowledged that closing a power plant decreases the flow of water downstream. But he said Lake Granbury’s record-low levels can be attributed to the drought and nothing else.

“What we’re seeing above Possum Kingdom right now is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in recorded history,” Phillips said.

“The bottom line is, we’re in a terrible drought.”

Water wars not unusual

Tensions between water providers and lakefront homeowners are not new.

Agencies such as the Brazos River Authority, created by the Texas Legislature in 1929 “to develop, manage and protect the water resources of the Brazos River Basin,” must balance their primary mission of providing water to customers against recreational needs, a secondary concern.

Clearly, the drought doesn’t make it easy. Lake Granbury was last full in the spring of 2012 and had been dropping steadily until last week.

No releases to improve water supply have been made from either Lake Granbury or Possum Kingdom since January 2012, the authority said.

But the state mandates that enough water be released to keep the Brazos River from drying up, and water-supply customers such as cities and the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant must be served.

Residents are also concerned about the authority’s long-term plans to draw more water out of the Brazos River Basin.

A meeting on a new water permit is scheduled for Thursday in Hewitt, near Waco.

A contested-case hearing is scheduled for Aug. 26 in Austin. A local group, Save Lake Granbury, which Williams helped organize, is urging residents to show up to speak out at the meetings.

The additional water, part of which could be used to cool two proposed new reactors at Comanche Peak, would mostly be taken from Possum Kingdom Lake, which would affect Lake Granbury’s level.

How much could be removed is another point of dispute — Williams is concerned that the authority could take as much as 140 billion gallons, and Phillips said it would be closer to 40 billion gallons, or nearly as much as it takes to fill Lake Granbury.

Williams, who is president of the Lake Granbury Waterfront Owner’s Association, says the plan would fundamentally change the lake.

“It would decimate us,” he said.

‘Cussed and discussed’

New reactors or not, the state water plan mandates using existing resources before adopting costlier strategies such as building reservoirs.

Phillips said that means these types of disputes are inevitable as the state tries to stretch its water resources.

“It will have to be cussed and discussed in the future,” he said. “What it becomes is a battle between local lakeside economies versus the broader economy of the region or state.

“This water is going to major industry, it’s going to agriculture, it’s going to municipalities. Recreation is a secondary benefit to having the lakes there.”

Hood County, the city of Granbury and Williams’ waterfront homeowners association have commissioned a $40,000 economic development study to gauge the impact of Lake Granbury.

A preliminary report released last week said Granbury and Hood County’s economy will be harmed if the lake remains permanently lower.

Lakefront property, said Cockerham, the county judge, is vital to the health of Hood County. If the water continues to recede, waterfront homes could become rare.

“If this is the new normal, then people are going to demand their appraisals come down,” Cockerham said. “If that happens, the tax base goes down, and we have to cut services or raise taxes.

“I don’t want to do either of those.”

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698 Twitter: @fwhanna

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