Part of Lake Bridgeport dry enough to ‘drive across’

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The northwest end of Lake Bridgeport is normally about three-eighths of a mile wide and a popular place for water skiing and fishing.

But 2013 is anything but a normal year. Today, what once was a scenic lake is covered in chest-high weeds. The only water nearby is a 30-foot-wide strip of the West Fork Trinity River — and even that is just a few feet deep.

While most of it flowed into North Texas homes and businesses, some of it simply evaporated into the hazy blue Texas sky. And with North Texas expected to continue its brutal string of triple-digit temperature days — the eighth in a row today — it may be a while before the lake returns to its liquid luster.

“We’re getting close to the point where you can drive across the Trinity River,” said Darrell Beason, operations director for the Tarrant Regional Water District, which manages the lake and other reservoirs that serve the region’s long-term water supply.

Since July 1, the lake level at Lake Bridgeport has dropped 8.37 inches just because of evaporation, said David Marshall, the district’s engineering services director. Lake Bridgeport is 19.11 feet below normal, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Marshall has calculated the Trinity River flow back to when Lake Bridgeport was built in the early 1930s and determined that the current three-year period is the driest on record for the reservoir — even worse than the mid-1950s, which is considered by some to be the worst drought period in the lake’s history.

“We've just had consistently low spring runoff the last 11 years,” Marshall said. “In the 50s, there were some low years, but there was more recovery.”

Not Mother Nature

But while the water district wants to blame Mother Nature for the lake’s dry condition, some area property owners say a longstanding agency policy favors downstream reservoirs such as Lake Worth and Eagle Mountain Lake.

From mid-April to June 20, the water district released a large amount of water from Lake Bridgeport — about 20,000 acre-feet — to maintain levels at downstream lakes as part of agreements with water customers such as the city of Fort Worth.

Now, most of the Lake Bridgeport boat ramps are unusable. Residents say dead fish and mussels and the carcasses of other wildlife lie on the shorelines.

“The TRWD chooses to drain the water from Bridgeport Lake to its detriment and to the benefit of downstream lakes on the West Fork of the Trinity River,” said Randy Pierce, a real estate broker and Lake Bridgeport resident.

Pierce noted that other lakes managed by the water district have far better levels. Eagle Mountain Lake, for example, is only 4.36 feet below normal, and Lake Worth is 3.14 feet below normal.

Pierce and nearly 2,000 other area residents have signed an online petition calling for a more equitable policy for taking water out of Lake Bridgeport during dry times. The petition had 1,975 signatures as of Tuesday.

“The rules in place allow Lake Bridgeport to be drained to support other lakes,” Pierce said. “These outdated rules need to be changed.”

But water district officials say that, while the lakes do exist for recreation, their core mission is to provide a reliable water supply for the western part of the Metroplex and that their agreements with the customers require that the district send water from Lake Bridgeport to downstream lakes closer to its core customers.

“We serve 1.8 million people, so we have to look at water use in each reservoir in a perspective,” Marshall said. “Our customers pay the bills for the water district,” he said, “and they want to make sure we operate in the least expensive way possible.”

Even so, the water district has no plans to take any more water out of Lake Bridgeport until the lake has recovered from its current drought, Beason said. The district can take up to about 78,000 acre feet out of the lake, but took only about 20,000 acre feet before stopping June 20, he said.

Weather forecast

And although North Texas’ summer started off mild, the region appears to be entering a period of sustained hot temperatures.

What already is likely to be an eight-day streak of 100-degree-plus days today is expected to continue through Friday, said Eric Martello, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

There is a chance of rain during the weekend, and the possibility of high temperatures only in the 90s Saturday and Sunday, he said.

However, some forecasting models show that whatever rain may hit the region will likely be in the far eastern stretches of Dallas-Fort Worth.

The chances of a good soaking out west near Lake Bridgeport — one that would replenish the reservoir and bring the fishing and water skiing back — are slim, he said.

“Out west, it could pop up,” Martello said, “but it’s not going to be widespread.”

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson

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