The West Fork of the Trinity River is entering this spring in unusually dry conditions.
The West Fork, which includes Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Bridgeport, has started this year drier than any year in the drought-plagued 1950s. That isn’t to say the drought is anywhere close to being as bad as the seven-year drought of record in the 1950s, but it is a cause for concern.
“None of those years started as bad as this year — the short-term intensity is much worse this year,” said David Marshall, engineering services director for the Tarrant Regional Water District, which supplies raw water to 98 percent of Tarrant County.
The water district, which has 71 percent of capacity in its reservoirs, is entering spring at its lowest since before the massive Richland-Chambers reservoir was completed in 1990. The last time it was lower was in the spring of 1981, when capacity was at 70 percent.
In the worst case, where the water district sees little or no rainfall through spring and summer, once-a-week outdoor watering restrictions could be imposed by summer’s end. But Marshall believes there will be enough rain at the Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek reservoirs in East Texas to prevent Stage 2 restrictions.
“At the very least, I think the East Texas reservoirs will see recovery this spring, which should be enough to keep us out of Stage 2 this year,” Marshall said.
Stage 2 restrictions would be triggered if the lakes dropped to 60 percent of capacity.
‘A drop in the bucket’
It’s just another sign that North Texas needs more rainfall. Before it rained earlier this month, it was the third-driest start to a year on record at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. That rain helped the region out of the Top 10, but it hasn’t really improved conditions.
“It was a drop in the bucket,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Huckaby. “These lakes are very low and normal rainfall is not going to fill them up. To suggest we can get out of a multiyear drought in one year is overly optimistic.”
Overall, the drought stayed about the same across the state from last week, but some parts of Tarrant, Johnson, Hood and Somervell counties are considered in extreme drought, the second-most serious category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor that was released Thursday. Some of those areas had some rain over the weekend but not enough to make a significant dent in the drought.
And there will be another chance of rain Wednesday through Friday.
“We shall see,” Huckaby said, adding that computer models tend to predict storms this time of year because spring is when North Texas typically gets more rainfall.
Last week the Climate Prediction Center was showing an above-average chance of rain in its six- to 10- day outlook. That outlook now shows a below-average chance of rain across most of Texas for the end of March and the first week of April.
Worries about farming
At the North Side Marina and Resort on Lake Bridgeport, about 50 miles northwest of Fort Worth, customers can still get out on the lake even though it is 21 feet below full.
“This lake is deep enough that you still get out on it even when it’s half-full — the fishing is good out there right now,” said Jeanne Kennedy, an owner of the marina.
Last week, the marina had visitors but business was down slightly from a year ago. But Kennedy said many customers have still come, including many from drier parts of West Texas, looking for water.
Other areas of the lake, including Runaway Bay, have had low levels since last year, which has affected boat docks and waterfront homes. The water district stopped releasing water in May, but with local water uses and evaporation, the lake will drop more in the summer without.
On Eagle Mountain Lake, which is more than 7 feet below normal, it would be 6-7 feet lower if water was not being pumped into the lake from East Texas.
Elsewhere, three North Texas lakes — Lake Granbury, Lake Ray Hubbard and Lake Nocona — are at all-time lows.
Conditions are even more serious in Wichita Falls and portions of the Panhandle, where there are pockets of exceptional drought, the most serious stage, state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said.
“We’ve got to worry about a high fire danger in some parts of the state where it has been so dry,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “We’re in the windy time of year and we’ve got fuel on the ground in many of these areas.”
The fire danger isn’t as bad as 2011, he said, when wildfires raged across much of the state, including Possum Kingdom Lake in Palo Pinto County, but the drought is taking its toll on agriculture.
“I’m more concerned about agriculture than I’ve been in the last couple of years,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “They’re really going to have some problems if we don’t get some more rain.”