North Texas lakes are fat and happy going into Memorial Day weekend


At Eagle Mountain Lake, Augie’s Sunset Cafe was doing a brisk business for the middle of the week.

The jukebox was blaring Led Zeppelin, balls were getting racked on the pool tables, and patrons were bellied up to the bar.

Out back, other customers were sitting on the covered patio and staring at the main attraction — a suddenly full lake.

With a beer in hand, Bobby Cloud of Decatur pondered the possibilities of a seemingly endless summer on the water.

“It means I’m going to be spending a lot of time at the lake this summer,” said Cloud, who owns a house on Possum Kingdom Lake. “It’s been a long time, but I’m going to have a lot of fun this summer, whether it’s here, PK or Lake Bridgeport.”

The rise in lake levels across North Texas — thanks to a steady stream of storms in recent months — has spurred renewed enthusiasm among both lakegoers and business owners going into the Memorial Day weekend.

Besides filling lakes, the rain has put a big dent in the drought statewide. For the first time in almost three years, none of Texas is in exceptional drought, the most serious category.

How much rain has fallen?

▪ Since November, it has rained enough in Texas to fill 46 reservoirs the size of Eagle Mountain Lake, said David Marshall, director of engineering and operations support for the Tarrant Regional Water District.

▪ The district’s lakes, which provide water to much of Tarrant County, have gained about 251 billion gallons since Jan. 1, enough to fill 381,000 Olympic-size pools.

▪ It has rained 19.28 inches at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport this year — 5.69 inches above normal and just 2.04 inches less than all of last year.

▪ In six months, Millers Creek Reservoir, northwest of Fort Worth, has increased from 7.4 percent full to 78.7 percent full.

And more rain is on the way, with thunderstorms forecast for much of the week.

Denny Steward, who works at Augie’s, could not be happier.

‘We’ll be busy’

A few feet behind the patio, the Augie’s bait shop was packed with fishermen dropping lines in the water, a stark change from a few months ago when the shop was high and dry, standing several feet above the dusty lake bed.

“They say the fish are biting,” Steward said. “We’ll be busy Memorial Day weekend, and it will probably build from there.”

Almost every lake close to Dallas-Fort Worth is full or rising. Some reservoirs like Ray Roberts and Lewisville had to release water this week, and Lake Grapevine had flooding in some of its parks.

At Lake Granbury, where residents have battled with the Brazos River Authority for years about the lake’s level, everyone is suddenly upbeat about the summer season. The low levels have been a drain on the economy in recent years.

“It means the lake will be crowded, our businesses and restaurants will be packed, and sales taxes will be up,” Hood County Judge Darrell Cockerham said. “It’s good news for everybody.”

Two weeks ago, Stumpy’s Lakeside Grill on Lake Granbury saw its second-busiest day in six years.

“We’re hiring kids, trying to get them trained and ready,” said the kitchen manager, Tommy Jacobi. “When Memorial Day weekend gets here, it’s going to be insane. It will probably stay insane all summer.”

At Lake Palo Pinto, the sudden rise was drawing crowds. On April 18, it was still mired in drought, 20 feet down.

Then came the rain — enough that water flowed over the spillway this week. Residents from as far as Mineral Wells, 22 miles away, were making the drive just to take a look.

“It’s nice to see all that water after everything being dry for so long,” said Clayton Garvin, who lives just outside Mineral Wells. “Now they need to lift the water restrictions so we can plant a garden.”

At a boat ramp that was hundreds of yards from the water a month ago, Levi Richard, 27, of Santo was putting his boat in the lake for the first time this year. The engine took a while to start after it was idle for so long.

“That’s what you get when you haven’t used it in eight months,” Richard said. “But I’m ready to go. I hear the blue cats are biting.”

Some lakes still low

The rain has not been kind to everyone.

Hubbard Creek Reservoir, in Breckenridge, about two hours west of Fort Worth, is only 14.9 percent full.

For Johnny Stoker, the owner of Sandy Creek Marina along the dry shoreline, the rainfall hasn’t helped much.

“We caught about two foot, but when you’re 30 feet down, that doesn’t do a whole lot to improve the quality of the lake,” Stoker said. “I can say it’s improved everybody’s attitude.”

Nearby Possum Kingdom Lake has climbed, and though that provides no benefit to Hubbard Creek, Stoker hopes a few West Texans might stop by to buy a boat or pick up supplies on their way to Possum Kingdom.

“Maybe I’ll get a few customers,” Stoker said.

Lake Stamford in Haskell County has risen dramatically in the past six months but is still only 26.9 percent full.

Lake Bridgeport has climbed about 9 feet the last couple of weeks but remains more than 14 feet down.

Danny Vann, who lives at Runaway Bay on Lake Bridgeport, just a few blocks from the water, and his children haven’t been able to use the lake in about four years. Even though it’s still low, this summer should be different.

“I believe the kids will be able to go out and use the swim beach and fish on the docks,” Vann said. “It’s been a long time.”

A cool summer?

Since about 2000, Texas has seen drier-than-normal conditions with a few wet years sandwiched in.

Some climate trends suggest that North Texas could be headed toward more favorable conditions for wet weather — at least for the rest of the year.

El Niño, in which above-normal surface sea temperatures develop off the Pacific coast of South America, is now in place and tends to bring wetter and cooler weather to Texas. El Niño usually has the most influence on winter weather but could be playing a role in the wet spring.

The Climate Prediction Center has given El Niño a 90 percent chance of continuing through summer and an 80 percent chance of lasting through 2015.

State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said it might stick around the rest of the year. And a strong El Niño may be building in the Pacific.

“We’re certainly getting rain at least partly related to El Niño,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “We should see those conditions last through next winter in the Pacific Ocean, which should mean the renewal of wet weather in the fall. We should see continued reduction of the drought this fall and winter.”

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation, in the northern Pacific, is similar to El Niño but can last a decade or two. When it’s in a “cold phase,” Texas is drier. When it shifts into a “warm phase,” Texas normally sees more rain. It switched to a warm phase this winter, but it’s too early to say whether that’s a long-term change.

“It may be turning but we’re talking a multidecadal oscillation, so we can’t really say,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

The wet weather could also lead to a milder summer, something like 2004 when a wet May and June led to only one 100-degree day in July.

Last year, North Texas saw 14 100-degree days.

“I think the likelihood of a mild summer is increasing with each rain event,” National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Huckaby said. “This is both a result of the wet ground and the delayed onset of the summer heat.”

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

Twitter: @fwhanna

North Texas lakes

A look at some of the lakes in North Texas, including their customers.

Lake Amon G. Carter

Located: On Big Sandy Creek southwest of Bowie in Montague County

Owned by: Bowie

Provides water to: Bowie

Worth noting: The lake is named for former Star-Telegram Publisher Amon G. Carter, who died a month before construction began on it.

Lake Arlington

Located: On Village Creek of the Trinity River, 7 miles west of Arlington.

Owned by: Arlington and Exelon Corp.’s Handley Generation Station have water rights to the lake. Arlington has also contracted its rights to the Trinity River Authority for water distribution and the Tarrant Regional Water District, which uses the lake for terminal storage.

Provides water to: Arlington and, through the Trinity River Authority, Bedford, Colleyville, Euless, and parts of Grapevine and North Richland Hills

Worth noting: The Arlington Yacht Club had leased spaced at Richard Simpson Park since the 1960s but was forced to vacate when its lease was terminated in March.

Benbrook Lake

Located: On the Clear Fork of the Trinity River in southwest Tarrant County, near Benbrook

Owned by: Army Corps of Engineers

Provides water to: Benbrook and Weatherford, but water district customers have rights to part of the lake’s yield

Primary purpose: Flood control, water supply

Worth noting: Benbrook Lake was built in 1952 and designed to prevent major floods such as the ones that plagued Fort Worth in 1922, 1947 and 1949. The May 16, 1949, flood killed 10, injured more than 70 and left over 13,000 homeless in Fort Worth after 10 inches of rain in 12 hours.

Lake Bridgeport

Located: On the West Fork of the Trinity River near Bridgeport

Owned by: Tarrant Regional Water District

Provides water to: Customers around the lake, the Springtown-based Walnut Creek Special Utility District, and the Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, which uses the lake for a power plant in Jack County

Worth noting: On. Dec. 15, 1931, Lake Bridgeport’s dam was completed. It would take 10 years for the lake to fill.

Cedar Creek Reservoir

Located: 60 miles southeast of Dallas on Cedar Creek

Owned by: Tarrant Regional Water District

Provides water to: Water district customers *

Worth noting: It is the fourth-largest lake in the state, with 320 miles of shoreline. It covers 32,623 acres and is 18 miles long.

Eagle Mountain Lake

Located: On the West Fork of the Trinity River in northwest Tarrant County. It covers 9,104 acres.

Owned by: Tarrant Regional Water District

Provides water to: Water district customers *

Worth noting: In 1927, voters approved $6.5 million in general obligation bonds to build Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Bridgeport. On Oct. 24, 1932, Eagle Mountain’s dam was finished. It would take six years for the lake to fill.

Lake Graham

Located: On the Brazos River, 7 miles northwest of Graham

Owned by: Graham

Provides water to: Graham and Young County and Throckmorton

Worth noting: Luminant Energy’s Graham Power Plant is on the lake, which is connected by a canal to Lake Eddleman.

Lake Granbury

Located: On the Brazos River in Hood County

Owned by: Brazos River Authority

Provides water to: Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, the Acton Municipal Utility District and the Johnson County Special Utility District

Worth noting: Lake Granbury is a big tourist draw for Granbury and Hood County. Before the recent rains, the level had been a source of conflict between local officials and the Brazos River Authority. Lake Granbury is operated as part of a subsystem by the Brazos River Authority with Possum Kingdom Lake and Lake Whitney.

Lake Grapevine

Located: On Denton Creek in Tarrant and Denton counties, near Southlake, Grapevine and Flower Mound

Owned by: Army Corps of Engineers

Provides water to: Park Cities, Dallas Water Utilities and Grapevine

Worth noting: Machinery that was used to build the lake still sits on the bottom.

Hubbard Creek Reservoir

Located: On U.S. 180 just outside Breckenridge

Owned by: West Central Texas Municipal District

Provides water to: About 175,000 customers in Abilene, Anson, Albany and Breckenridge

Worth noting: One of the lakes in West Texas that have not benefited from recent rains; it’s only 12.1 percent full.

Joe Pool Lake

Located: Fed by Walnut and Mountain creeks, the 7,740-acre lake is in parts of Dallas, Tarrant and Ellis counties

Owned by: Army Corps of Engineers with the Trinity River Authority as the local sponsor

Provides water to: Trinity River Authority, Grand Prairie, Cedar Hill, Duncanville and Midlothian

Worth noting: Cedar Hill State Park is a popular state park in the middle of the Metroplex. Much of the water rights in Joe Pool are not used because anyone who would choose to take the remaining yield must assume the debt on the lake.

Lewisville Lake

Located: On the Elm Fork of the Trinity River in Denton County, near Lewisville

Owned by: Army Corps of Engineers

Provides water to: Dallas Water Utilities and its customer cities

Worth noting: The party cove near Westlake Park, where boats tie up to one another, is known for attracting revelers from all over North Texas.

Millers Creek Reservoir

Located: On a tributary of the Brazos River, about 9 miles southeast of Goree in Baylor and Throckmorton counties

Owned by: North Central Texas Municipal Water Authority

Provides water to: 11 communities in Knox, Haskell and Stonewall counties

Worth noting: A great fishing lake, especially for hybrid striped bass (record 16.01 pounds) and largemouth bass (11.19 pounds)

Lake Palo Pinto

Located: Along Palo Pinto Creek in southwest Palo Pinto County, 79 miles southwest of Fort Worth

Owned by: Palo Pinto Municipal Water District No. 1

Provides water to: Mineral Wells, Graford, Palo Pinto, Santo, Millsap and parts of rural Parker County

Worth noting: The long-term solution for the Mineral Wells area’s water needs would be to build the $70 million Turkey Peak Reservoir just downstream from Lake Palo Pinto. That would effectively double the city’s water supply, but construction won’t happen until at least 2018.

Possum Kingdom Lake

Located: In Palo Pinto, Stephens, Jack and Young counties

Owned by: Brazos River Authority

Provides water to: Most municipalities around the lake, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Fish Hatchery below the lake and The Cliffs Resort next to the lake. A pipeline is also being built to supply Abilene if water issues continue in that part of the state.

Worth noting: Possum Kingdom is known for its clear water and its rock formations, such as Hell’s Gate, where the Red Bull Cliff Diving competition will return for the second straight year May 30.

Lake Ray Roberts

Located: On the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, 10 miles north of Denton between Pilot Point and Sanger

Owned by: Army Corps of Engineers

Provides water to: Dallas Water Utilities and its customer cities

Worth noting: Lake officials recently began releasing water to control flooding and became an overnight draw for curious onlookers.

Richland-Chambers Reservoir

Located: In Freestone and Navarro counties, it is fed by Richland and Chambers creeks

Owned by: Tarrant Regional Water District

Provides water to: Water district customers*

Worth noting: At 45,000 acres, Richland-Chambers is Texas’ third-largest lake lying completely within the state boundaries.

Lake Worth

Located: On the West Fork of the Trinity River in northwest Fort Worth and Tarrant County

Owned by: Fort Worth, which contracts with the Tarrant County Water District to release from Eagle Mountain Lake to keep it at a minimum level

Provides water to: Lockheed Martin and Fort Worth’s Holly treatment plant

Worth noting: A recreation hot spot from when it opened in 1914 through the ’20s and ’30s — featuring Casino Beach and its boardwalk and amusement park — it gained fame in 1969 with the birth of the legend of the Lake Worth Monster.

* The Tarrant Regional Water District provides water to Aledo, Arlington, Azle, Bedford, Bethesda Water Supply Corp., the Benbrook Water Authority, Burleson, Colleyville, Crowley, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Dalworthington Gardens, Edgecliff Village, Euless, Everman, Forest Hill, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Grapevine, Haltom City, Haslet, Hurst, Keller, Kennedale, Lake Worth, Mansfield, Northlake, North Richland Hills, Richland Hills, Roanoke, Saginaw, Southlake, the Trinity River Authority, the Trophy Club Municipal Utility District, Watauga, Westlake, Westover Hills, Westworth Village and White Settlement.

How much water?

▪ The state has gained about 2.7 trillion gallons since Nov. 14. That is equivalent to filling 46 reservoirs the size of Eagle Mountain Lake, 4 million Olympic-size pools or five barrels of water each day for the next year for every person in Texas.

▪ The Tarrant Regional Water District has gained about 251 billion gallons since Jan. 1, which is equal to four Eagle Mountain Lakes or 381,000 Olympic pools. It is enough water that the 2 million water district customers could each have six 55-gallon barrels of water a day for the next year.

Source: David Marshall, director of engineering and operations support for the Tarrant Regional Water District

Water restrictions

▪ The Tarrant Regional Water District is lifting Stage 1 watering restrictions effective Monday, but that will have minimal impact for many customers.

▪ The twice-a-week restrictions have been in effect since June 2013, when the water district’s reservoirs fell below 75 percent capacity. Fort Worth and its 29 wholesale customers are still subject to permanent twice-a-week watering restrictions and can’t water from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Arlington, Azle, Bedford, the Benbrook Water Authority, Colleyville, Euless, Grapevine, Mansfield and Pantego do not buy water from Fort Worth. Check with those entities for watering restrictions.

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