Boaters and marina owners were giddy with optimism earlier this month as North Texas’ perpetually dry lakes began to fill with water.
And fill. And fill. And fill.
Now, with the Memorial Day upon us, many area lakes are overflowing and may not be accessible this holiday weekend.
“It’s been a very wet spring,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Clay Church said. “I have not seen lake levels this high this decade.”
Lake Grapevine, which is operated by the Corps, is bursting at 15.8 feet above capacity, which is 25 feet higher than a year ago.
Randy Sell, city of Grapevine lake park and events manager, said the high water has covered up “lots of stuff” that is not supposed to be underwater, such as electrical pedestals, dumpsters, waste containers and picnic tables. Ten of the lake’s 11 boat ramps are closed — only the high-level one at Katie’s Woods is open.
“There’s so much stuff under the surface that could be dangerous,” Sell said. “People need to keep it safe.”
All over North Texas lake levels are changing rapidly.
Lakes filling up quickly
By Saturday afternoon, Lake Bridgeport, which was 24 feet low just a month ago, should be full. Further west, Possum Kingdom Lake, which was 14 feet down a month ago, was expected to fill sometime over the three-day weekend.
The eight area Army Corps of Engineers lakes — Benbrook, Grapevine, Joe Pool, Ray Roberts, Lewisville, Lavon, Bardwell and Navarro Mills — are in their flood pool, making boating a challenge.
With the higher lake levels, boaters can face numerous challenges as the landmarks and hazards change.
“We have some real safety concerns about people going out on our projects and not seeing the same lakes that they saw a month ago,” Church said.
At Lake Ray Roberts in Denton County, the reservoir is above flood stage with releases scheduled as long as conditions downstream allow them to continue without causing any flooding. On Thursday, Ray Roberts had reached its second-highest level ever with the Army Corps of Engineers managing levels to minimize impacts at Lake Lewisville, a few miles downstream.
The Tarrant Regional Water District, which owns and operates Lake Bridgeport, Eagle Mountain Lake, Cedar Creek Lake and Richland-Chambers reservoir, is also closely monitoring the situation. This is the first time all of its lakes have been full since July 11, 2010.
Boaters should be able to get out on TRWD lakes this weekend, but officials caution that waters can climb suddenly.
“The fact that Eagle Mountain Lake rose four feet overnight [between Wednesday and Thursday] shows how quickly things can change,” said David Geary, TRWD’s reservoir manager for Eagle Mountain and Lake Bridgeport.
Boat ramps are open at Eagle Mountain Lake, but Geary said many marinas are still trying to reposition their facilities after moving them further out to deal with lower levels during the drought. Boaters also need to be aware of hazards on the lake.
“Anytime you get a large rise, you’re going to get a large amount of debris,” Geary said.
More rain this weekend
At Lake Worth, boat ramps were closed Thursday night because of projections that the lake could reach an elevation of 596 feet. At that elevation, boats wakes could cause flooding in some homes and some boat docks could be underwater, said Fort Worth Water Department spokeswoman Mary Gugliuzza.
The other challenge this weekend may occur as another round of heavy rain is expected to inundate the area. Any rain could cause more flooding problems and raise lake levels even higher.
“I think we’re going to see 1-2 inches of rainfall across the area,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Harris. “The big problem is if we have one of those areas where it rains 3 inches over 12 hours and we just have nowhere for the water to go.”
The rain is expected to start west of Fort Worth and drift eastward Saturday night and into Sunday, Harris said. The wet weather also shows no signs of ending.
North Texas has received more rain in less than five months this year than all of last year.
The Climate Prediction Center’s 30-day-outlook continues to show above-normal precipitation and below-normal temperatures for the next month.
That could make it a challenge to prevent more flooding.
“Based on the National Weather Service long-range forecast, I see this continuing for all year, like 2007,” said David Marshall, TRWD’s director of engineering and operations support. “The challenge is always routing the floodwater while minimizing property damage.”
There are still lakes further west that need water.
Hubbard Creek Lake near Breckenridge is still only 18 percent full, but that’s up from 12 percent a month ago.
‘Everything is open’
But there are some popular lakes that have struggled with low lake levels in recent years that are now ready for a holiday crowd.
Both Possum Kingdom Lake and Lake Granbury, which are managed by the Brazos River Authority, are gearing up for the holiday weekend. The Brazos River Authority cautions that there could be releases from Possum Kingdom that could impact recreation on the Brazos River below the lake.
And Lake Bridgeport should be open for business despite the sudden rise.
“We’re just so happy — we’re having fun shoveling mud,” said Jeanne Kennedy, one of the owners of the North Side Marina and Resort on Lake Bridgeport.
The Wise County lake’s sudden reversal has brightened moods among residents and businesses.
“Everything is open,” Kennedy said. “Some of the ramps were redone during the low water. I think every homeowner around the lake is excited to finally have usable lakefront property.”
The recent rains have also diminished the drought even further. Statewide, 75 percent of the state is no longer in a drought, compared to 64 percent a week and 39 percent three months ago, according to the latest Drought Monitor.
“Drought continues to erode from east to west,” the National Weather Service Fort Worth said in its drought statement. “Just three months ago, the water-supply lakes for Dallas and Fort Worth were collectively less than two-thirds full but are now over 95 percent capacity.”
Staff writer Marty Sabota contributed to this report.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698