After a period of extended rainfall, if the weather is sunny and mild it might seem like a perfect time to take your boat and enjoy a nice day on the reservoir, or for some, a visit to the river. But beware – one of the consequences of all that rainfall and the heavy streamflows is a steady parade of debris that can cause damage to your watercraft – and potentially injury you or those with you – and turn what was intended as a fun day into a disaster.
Just how big of a potential problem is this debris?
Debris is always a concern with major rainfall and inflow events,” said Lake Ranger Kyle Lewis, based at Lake Granbury. “Debris can cause damage to docks, water pumps and even create a danger to boaters on the water. The debris also causes damage to our navigation buoys on the lake. All of these issues are expensive to correct and repair.”
While much of the debris is clearly visible, there are also hidden dangers that can cause a nasty surprise. Some debris that is waterlogged may be floating just below the surface and can cause damage when a boat hits it unexpectedly.
The issue with waterlogged debris depends on the size and location of the item,” Lewis said. “Generally trees and logs are our main concern. When they begin to sink, if they are in shallow water, they can become an unseen hazard. Depending on size, larger logs can cause dangers in normally deeper waters where boats are more likely to travel. Larger logs and trees will rise up higher from the bottom.”
While boating may seem tempting now that fall temperatures are comfortable and there are days with clear weather, anyone using the water for recreation should be extra cautious during this time and may want to reconsider their plans.
I would recommend avoiding being on the water unless you absolutely had to,” Lewis said, referring to the danger posed by a large amount of debris after the recent storms. “Boaters need to be aware that our navigation buoys may not all be in the proper locations. They will not be replaced until the heavy inflow subsides to make sure they stay in their correct locations. If someone chooses to go on the lake, use extreme caution and utilize the depth finder on your boat -- if available -- to stay in deeper water. If you don’t have a depth finder on your boat, have a spotter watch for floating debris, travel at slower than normal speeds and make sure everyone on the boat is wearing a life vest – not just having it readily available. If you strike a submerged log or tree, you may not have time to put on your life vest.”
Caution is always necessary when operating a boat, but when debris may be heavy, it is absolutely vital.
While trees and logs are among the most common items floating in the water, there are several other things that add to the debris field.
In some places, a Texas Observer article noted, debris has included rotten furniture, broken boards and Sheetrock, insulation materials and an array of miscellaneous items such as children’s toys and garbage bags.
In 2016, flooding caused by heavy rains was so strong that an emergency management worker in Johnson County reported seeing 1,000-pound hay bales floating down the river, according to the Fort Worth-Star Telegram.
Debris is a problem throughout the basin. The City of Waco hired a helicopter company earlier this year to clear out logs and other debris from the city’s low-water dam at a cost of $80,000, according to an article in the Waco Tribune-Herald.
For individuals who have debris on their property, options include checking with the city or county government to see if any assistance might be available. If not, you might consider hiring a company to remove debris or seek help from local volunteers such as church groups and civic clubs. In situations where the debris may be smaller and more manageable, you might seek assistance from groups such as the Boy Scouts or Key Club service programs.
The Brazos River Authority removes debris when there is a direct threat to navigation or operations at one of the BRA’s three reservoirs – Possum Kingdom Lake, Lake Limestone or Lake Granbury.
Debris is, unfortunately, a recurring concern and something that only intensifies when streamflows dramatically increase following heavy rains. Caution and patience are needed in dealing with this issue