If you’ve lived in Texas for any length of time, you may have heard that the weather is unpredictable. In fact, that’s not true. There are a number of facts we can all count on with Texas weather.
It will be hot in the summer.
There will be periods of drought followed by periods of flooding rainfall.
Okay, there can be a lot of unpredictability in between, but those are the basics.
So, as we head into July, the Brazos River basin and the majority of the state are fully engulfed in varying degrees of drought.
So what does that mean to those that live on or near a lake or river?
It means that until the weather changes and we receive a fully drenching, persistent rain event, lake levels will continue to fall and the rivers and tributaries will dry to a trickle.
That is just a fact.
A century ago, this may have meant that you’d be climbing down into your well to dig a little deeper in hopes of chasing a dropping water table. Today, that’s not necessary because during the drought of the 1950s, Texans, along with the help of the federal government, built reservoirs to store surplus water for use during dry times. (By the way, did you know Texas has only one naturally occurring lake? And, it was formed by a log jam!)
Over the years, we’ve forgotten why these lakes were built. They became playgrounds for fishing and all forms of water recreation. So it does get pretty frustrating when Mother Nature chooses to take the playground away.
But, as we witnessed during the drought of the ‘teens (2010 – 2014), the lower lake levels are not “a new normal.” At some point, drought conditions break, rainfall returns, reservoirs refill and life gets back to normal.
Until then, here’s what you can expect – and what you can do about it.
Lake levels are going to decline. Until we receive a prolonged rainfall, the reservoir levels will continue to decline. Why? Two reasons. First, it’s hot. And with these conditions, evaporation accelerates. That’s the water cycle and it doesn’t go away for our convenience. Second, we’re still using the water supply. Not just for drinking and bathing, but for watering lawns, filling pools, growing food, and enjoying air conditioning powered by electricity that uses water to cool generators.
So, when you head out to the lake, it may be difficult to launch a boat, and in shallower areas, boat ramps may close. If this happens, head to the internet and check ramp availability. Both the BRA and the US Army Corps of Engineers post which boat ramps are open and which are closed. If your normal ramp is closed, simply choose another. There are a lot out there.
Dropping lake levels also mean you’ll be seeing things you didn't know were under the water -- like tree stumps, large rocks, and sometimes things people wanted to be rid of -- like old cars. These “hazards” can literally be hazardous to your health.
If you don’t know the lake like the back of your hand, learn the location of stump fields before you head out on the water. Even then, stay near the center of the channel. It’s usually the deepest area and you’re less likely to hit a hazard.
And, seriously, slow down. You might see a hazard before you hit it if you’re going slower.
Most importantly, be careful of where you choose to ski, surf, or pull a tube. If hitting a stump will total your watercraft, imagine a human body hitting one at high speed.
If you own lake or river-front property, your landscape may change. Declining water levels may mean your dock no longer has water under it, or your sea wall is standing high and dry. This, folks, is one of the downsides of living on a water course. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
Since no two areas of the lake are exactly alike, don’t wait for someone to tell you that you should consider removing watercraft from the reservoir before it’s too late. Keep watch on the level below your dock and plan to move your boat onto a trailer before you’re stuck hanging over dry ground. There may be deeper lakes out there that you can visit to enjoy water recreation if your craft isn’t stuck at home.
But, there are upsides to drought, too. Yes, really! If lake levels continue to decline and you find yourself looking at a field rather than water, take advantage of the time to improve your situation. Mother Nature has given you an opportunity to rid yourself of the stump near your dock, the heavy growth of water plants that were keeping the kids from enjoying the shoreline, or the shallow area just under your personal watercraft.
Contact the BRA for information on how best to remove stumps, a permit to dredge, and directions on the use of herbicides. Remember, chemicals can come back to you in drinking water and some are not allowed on or near water. Call the BRA before applying any insecticide or herbicide.
What this all comes down to is that drought is temporary. Water will return at some point.
Until then, be flexible, be careful, and be assured that water will still be flowing from your faucets -- because decades ago, these water supply reservoirs were created to meet human needs -- even during times of drought.