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In Wichita Falls, a record rainfall provides hope

In Wichita Falls, a record rainfall didn’t do much for the city’s drought-stricken lakes, but it may have done something more powerful — bringing hope.

“I’m damn sure feeling better than Friday when I left the office,” said Russell Schreiber, the city’s director of public works.

On Saturday, Wichita Falls recorded a record 2.8 inches of rainfall, breaking the record of 2.15 inches for Nov. 22 that was set in 1913. Its main water supply reservoir, Lake Arrowhead, came up about 3 inches and a second reservoir, Lake Kickapoo, rose less than a foot.

It’s just a drop in the bucket — Wichita Falls lakes are still only 21 percent full.

But for only the third time this year, water actually flowed into the lakes.

“I just hope we can get off the ragged edge out here,” Schreiber said. “We’ve just been teetering on the edge, so any type of relief is welcome.”

With the four-year drought, Wichita Falls has used just about every measure to extend its water supply, including using recycled wastewater. That program drew national attention and has extended Wichita Falls’ water supply for two more years, even if it doesn’t rain another drop.

The city also tried cloud seeding and an experimental evaporation suppression project on Lake Arrowhead, where a lime-based powder was used during a 75-day trial. The Texas Water Development Board is still analyzing the data to determine whether the project helped reduce evaporation.

“I think, by and large, our residential and wholesale customers have embraced water conservation and I do expect that to continue even after the drought eventually breaks,” Schreiber said.

Wichita Falls wasn’t the only city closely watching for any sign of improvement.

West of Fort Worth, Mineral Wells was looking for any uptick in its water source, Lake Palo Pinto, but the lake rose only 2 two inches. It is now at just 10.3 percent of capacity.

Palo Pinto Municipal Water District No. 1, which owns and operates the lake, is scheduled to meet Dec. 5 to approve one of two options for more water — either building a line to Lake Mineral Wells or renting reverse osmosis equipment to pull more water from the Brazos River.

“I’m just as worried as I can be,” Mayor Mike Allen said. “You see rain and it makes you feel good. But when you don’t see anything happening in our lake, you realize it’s just not enough. We need a whole lot more.”

Thirty miles southwest of Mineral Wells, the small town of Gordon in Palo Pinto County is in even worse shape. The town is in danger of running out of water early next year.

The town’s lake, C.B. Long, rose about a foot from the weekend rain.

“We bought a couple of weeks, I guess,” City Secretary Barbara Epperson said. “But I still don’t know what we’re going to do if it really doesn’t rain some more. From what I see, it’s going to be dry all week.”

The forecast for this week is “quiet, dry and pleasant with a gradual warming trend,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer Dunn. The next chance for rain is at least a week away.

The weekend rains also did little to help lakes closer to the DFW area.

The Tarrant Regional Water District, which provides raw water to almost all of Tarrant County, got about 4 to 5 days worth of water out of the weekend rainfall, said David Marshall, the water district’s director of engineering and operations support.

But if more rain comes next week, area lakes should rise.

“The stock tanks are full; the ground is saturated,” Marshall said. “It’s kind of like we’ve primed the pump, now somebody just has to crank the handle.”

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