The wet start to 2015 has been nice, but it has done little to dampen drought concerns for the region.
With 1.71 inches falling so far at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, rainfall is actually above normal so far this month.
But the rain hasn’t been enough to improve the dry conditions; it has simply put some critical issues on hold as officials wait to see if soaking rains arrive. If they don’t, most of Tarrant County could be looking at once-a-week outdoor watering restrictions in the next two months.
Both the Tarrant Regional Water District and the city of Fort Worth say the tougher restrictions won’t happen for at least six weeks.
“We won’t go into stage 2 of the drought plan before March 1,” said Linda Christie, the water district’s community and government relations director. “If we are below 60 percent at that time, we will notify our customers and work with them to educate the public about the new watering schedules and measures that will be put in place.”
The latest Texas drought monitor showed that exceptional drought, the most serious category, grew slightly across Texas last week. Portions of Tarrant, Parker, Johnson, Palo Pinto, Hood, Somervell, Stephens and Young counties are listed as being in exceptional drought.
Lake levels still low
The seriousness of the conditions is evident at Eagle Mountain Lake where boat houses stand far from the water’s edge and the sandy shoreline extends well into what would typically be part of the lake. The West Fork of the Trinity River, which feeds into Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Bridgeport, has been its driest since the 1950s.
Eagle Mountain Lake is about 10 feet below normal, but the situation would be far more serious if the lake wasn’t being supplied with water from two East Texas lakes, Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers, said David Marshall, the water district’s director of engineering and operations support.
Since September 2010, a month before the drought began, the water district has pumped 67 billion gallons of water to Eagle Mountain Lake. That is 1.14 times the volume of the lake.
Overall, the water district’s capacity sits at 61.5 percent.
“The rain we have received over the last couple of months has kept demands down, but it hasn’t made much of an impact on lake levels,” Christie said. “It has been just enough to keep us above the 60 percent of total lake storage” that would trigger stage 2 restrictions.
Long-range outlook bleak
Hopes for the weather phenomenon El Niño, in which warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America tend to bring wetter winters to Texas, may be dissipating, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Huckaby.
“Unfortunately, it looks like El Niño is really fading,” Huckaby said. “It’s not good news when we really need to have at least normal and probably much more than normal precipitation to help with this drought.”
Long-term outlooks were showing above-normal chances of rain, but those have been taken out of the Climate Prediction Center’s forecasts that were released Thursday.
That means it’s more likely that North Texas will face another year of drought.
“We could see some recovery, but it means we’re still probably going to be talking about drought this spring and summer,” Huckaby said. “There’s always a chance we could get some good rains this spring, but there’s really nothing in the offing right now that suggest we could get out of this hydrological drought.”
The drought of the 1950s, which lasted about seven years, is considered the drought of record for North Texas. The current drought for DFW and points westward is entering its fifth year. While it hasn’t been as severe as the ’50s drought, the growing population of North Texas makes it a challenge.
“We’re at least coming to terms with the fact that drought is more likely than the opposite,” Huckaby said. “… It’s not a secret that historically Texas has been a place of climate extremes and it’s a place of much more frequent and prolonged droughts than we’ve seen in the last few decades.”
‘It’s been pretty scary’
In Palo Pinto County, west of Fort Worth, the three small towns of Gordon, Strawn and Mingus are trying to come up with an answer to keep from running out of water. They’re seeking help from the state to search for groundwater in nearby Erath and Eastland counties.
The towns and the Barton Water Supply Cooperative have applied to Texas Water Development Board for emergency grants for the estimated $2 million the project would cost.
“We’re all neighbors,” said Strawn City Secretary Danny Miller. “Some of us have been friends. None of us want to see the other run out of water.”
Palo Pinto County’s largest city, Mineral Wells is on schedule to have a new reverse-osmosis plant to pull water out of the Brazos River before its main source of water, Lake Palo Pinto, runs dry — which could happen as early as July 1 — said Scott Blasor, secretary and treasurer of Palo Pinto County Municipal Water District No. 1.
Despite Mineral Wells own water woes, Blasor said, the Palo Pinto water district would be willing to discuss adding the three small towns into its system if their efforts to find groundwater don’t work out.
In neighboring Parker County, a new reverse-osmosis plant that will also pull water from the Brazos River should ease the burden on Mineral Wells. The Parker County Special Utility District dedicated the new plant last week, meaning it takes less water from Mineral Wells.
“It’s been pretty scary,” said Derrad Dickson, general manager of the Parker County district. “Everybody was relying on that lake, but this gives us a little bit of breathing room that should help everybody.”
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698
Watering restrictions: A closer look
Stage 1 (now in effect)
▪ Triggered when lake levels reach 75 percent capacity.
▪ No watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
▪ Twice-a-week watering for residents and businesses, based on address.
▪ Triggered when lake levels reach 60 percent capacity.
▪ No watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
▪ Once-a-week watering for residents and businesses, based on address.
▪ Triggered when lake levels reach 45 percent capacity.
▪ No outdoor watering.
Source: Tarrant Regional Water District