Hoping for a drenching, but still stuck in a drought

Posted Friday, May. 30, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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At the marina in Runaway Bay, along what was once part of Lake Bridgeport, grass grows underneath sailboats.

In other places on the dwindling lake, boat houses sit on rocky shorelines.

Outside of a quick-hitting storm around Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, predictions of potentially heavy rain did not come true across much of North Texas last weekend, leaving the drought firmly in place.

Lake Bridgeport, northwest of Fort Worth in Wise County, is more than 22 feet below full.

In some areas around Runaway Bay, the boat slips have been unusable since last summer. The Tarrant Regional Water District, which operates the lake and supplies raw water to 98 percent of Tarrant County, last released water from the lake on June 18, 2013.

“For the most part, everybody is getting concerned,” said Runaway Bay city secretary Oneta Berghoefer. “It has really hurt us from a recreational standpoint. We don’t have a lot of commercial property on our side of the lake so we really need that recreational business.”

Lake Bridgeport and three other TRWD water supply lakes — Eagle Mountain, Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek — actually dropped in the last week. Three other reservoirs that supply water to Tarrant County — Lake Worth, Lake Arlington and Benbrook — rose slightly.

“It was the areas south of us that got drenched,” said David Marshall, the water district’s engineering services director. “We really missed out on the kind of rains we were hoping for.”

But as bad things look around some parts of Lake Bridgeport, most of the lake is still navigable, even though the West Fork of the Trinity River, which feeds into Lake Bridgeport, is the driest its been since the drought of record in the 1950s.

‘We’re Lake Michigan’

At the other end of the lake, the North Side Marina and Resort’s cabins were full on Memorial Day weekend and there’s still enough water for recreational boaters. The only catch for boaters is they have to use the one public boat ramp in Runaway Bay and come 8 miles across the lake. By land, that public boat ramp is 20 miles away from the North Side Marina.

“As long as we got that one usable boat ramp, we’re in good shape,” said Jeanne Kennedy, one of the owners of the marina.

While the drought is taking a toll on lakeside homeowners, fishing guide Keith Bunch said Lake Bridgeport is in better shape than many smaller, shallower lakes across North Texas.

“Compared to Lake Granbury, we’re Lake Michigan,” Bunch said. “We’re just a much deeper lake that’s still got a lot of water even when it is this low.”

Lake Granbury, which sits along the Brazos River, climbed less than a foot even though parts of Hood County saw more than two inches of rain. The low lake levels have become a contentious political issue between residents and the Brazos River Authority, which manages the lake. Upstream, Possum Kingdom Lake hasn’t seen any uptick but it is expected to rise slightly in the coming days.

‘More winners than losers’

While the lack of rain continues to plague North Texas, a large swath of the state, stretching from the Texas Panhandle all the way to Houston, saw heavy rainfall that helped ease extreme drought conditions.

The latest Texas Drought Monitor released Thursday showed that exceptional drought, the most serious category, has dropped from 25 percent to 10 percent across Texas since last week.

“There were a lot more winners than losers,” said state climatologist John Nielsen Gammon. “There was a lot of good rain in Central and West Central Texas that will help cotton farmers and ranchers. The O.H. Ivie Reservoir got about six months worth of water. It was only the second inflow into that lake since the drought began.”

Last week, O.H. Ivie, which is located near Ballinger and Coleman, was only 10 percent full. On Friday, it had climbed to 20 percent.

Locally, the rainfall did drop TRWD’s water demands from 350 million gallons per day to 250 million gallons per day. But those will start increasing again within days if the area doesn’t see more rain.

There is still about a 10 percent chance that Tarrant Regional customers could see Stage 2 once-a-week outdoor watering restrictions some time later this year. Currently the water district’s overall capacity is at 71 percent. Stage 2 would be triggered if the combined level of all its lakes dropped to 60 percent.

“We just flat out didn’t get what we were hoping for,” said Bob Carle, a senior staff hydrologist with the National Weather Service. “It happened in Texas; it just didn’t happen where we needed it for the Metroplex.”

Despite the disappointing results, Carle believes there is enough water in area lakes to avoid serious problems this summer.

“I think we’re going to be OK water-supply wise this summer, but people should be in full conservation mode,” Carle said. “They should be thinking this is all we’re going to get for the next two or three months and then hope we start recovering in the fall.”

‘Still in pretty ragged shape’

Wichita Falls, which has been in a Stage 5 water catastrophe, also missed out on beneficial rains. Lake Arrowhead, which is 23.5 percent full, climbed less than 1 percent from a week ago. Lake Kickapoo, the city’s other source of water, has dropped slightly since last week.

Forecasters say there is a 30 percent of rain through today for the DFW area. But none of those storms are expected to really help fill area lakes.

Even with the rains over the last week, it is still the eighth-driest start to a year on record at DFW Airport.

And no big rainmakers appear to be on the horizon.

The Climate Prediction Center is showing below normal chances of precipitation for North Texas in its 6 to 10-day outlook.

“We’re still in pretty ragged shape,” said Tom Bradshaw, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service Fort Worth office. “I don’t think we’re talking about any big, heavy rainfalls.”

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

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