Barge on Lake Bridgeport to deal with drought

08/27/2014 2:39 PM

08/27/2014 2:42 PM

As the water kept dropping at Lake Bridgeport, Jerry Holsomback started getting worried.

The lake, about 55 miles northwest of Fort Worth, is down 23 feet and has dropped about 3 feet in the last year.

While the low levels are an irritant for boaters and fishermen, Holsomback’s concern is more serious: Lake Bridgeport is the main water source for the Springtown-based Walnut Creek Special Utility District, where Holsomback is the general manager.

If the lake kept dropping, both Walnut Creek and the Brazos Electric Power Cooperative — which uses the lake for a power plant in Jack County — were going to be without water.

As the drought continued, the lake levels were in danger of dipping below the lowest of Walnut Creek’s three intakes, which would have left 7,000 retail customers and several small cities without water.

“We decided we had to do something,” Holsomback said.

So Walnut Creek and Brazos Electric began searching for a solution. As they studied proposals, the long-range forecasts convinced them that the lake would keep dropping.

“It became evident that we had to do something real quick to keep Walnut Creek and Brazos Electric in water,” said Bill Lohrke, senior project manager with the North Richland Hills engineering firm E.S. & C.M. Inc.

The firm came up with the idea of placing a barge several hundred yards away from the shoreline so both entities could keep getting water. The barge can also be pulled about 1,000 feet farther out if the lake keeps dropping.

The $860,000 project can pull up to 15 million gallons a day from the lake, using two rotating pumps that sit atop the barge. It was built in about two months and came on line Aug. 21.

“Our deadline was Aug. 22, and we put it in full operation on Aug. 22,” Lohrke said.

Right now, the barge is pumping about 6.5 million gallons daily out of the lake for Brazos Electric’s 1,240-megawatt Jack County Generation Facility. Officials with Waco-based Brazos Electric, the largest generation and transmission cooperative in Texas, didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

For now, Walnut Creek can still pull water from the lake using its old intake system, but Holsomback said it could lose that connection by October.

Walnut Creek, which provides water to Rhome, Boyd, Paradise and several other cities, plans to use the barge for the foreseeable future.

“If something drastic doesn’t happen, it will be here for a minimum of a year, but I won’t be surprised if it’s two years,” Holsomback said.

Using barges for water access is not new.

In Central Texas, the city of Cedar Park and the Lakeway Municipal Utility District have barges on Lake Travis to cope with changing levels, said Clara Tuma, a spokeswoman for the Lower Colorado River Authority. Neither is a direct result of the drought.

The Tarrant Regional Water District is hopeful that its water supply will improve, given forecasts for above-normal precipitation this fall and winter.

Even so, officials aren’t counting on any immediate improvement at Lake Bridgeport, which is now about 40 percent full.

“I do not expect to see any filling until April of next year, when we typically see runoff starting,” said David Marshall, the water district’s engineering services director.

Tarrant Regional has contracts with 12 entities that use Lake Bridgeport for water supply, but they have much deeper intake levels than Walnut Creek and haven’t experienced problems.

When the lake eventually rises, Holsomback doesn’t expect the barge to disappear for good. Walnut Creek plans to store the barge on land and have it ready for the next drought.

“I hope they won’t need it again while I’m here,” said Holsomback, 72. “But I’m sure they will at some point.”

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