With the unusually hot temperatures this summer, many people are heading to nearby rivers and lakes in the Brazos River basin. These natural treasures offer a chance to cool down and take a break from the ongoing drought that is parching Texas and much of the southern United States.

But the lack of water creates many hazards that are normally not threats during a summer with average rainfall. From submerged stumps to the potential of becoming ill from unmoving water, if you’re unaware of the hazards, your trip can become anything but a day at the beach. With a little planning and care however, you can ensure your next trip to the water is a safe one.

Submerged trees and stumps

When the Brazos River Authority lakes were first filled, workers left in place the countless trees that covered the river valley. Like at other reservoirs around the world, removing these trees would simply be too costly.

When the lakes are full, most people probably aren’t aware the trees and stumps are there. But as the lake level’s drop, they make an appearance.

At the beginning of July, Possum Kingdom and Limestone lakes are about 4 feet low and Lake Granbury is about two feet below full. While boaters are now seeing more of these stumps sticking up, the real risk is those that are just below the surface. Someone on a fast-moving boat might not see a submerged stump or sandbar in time to avoid them. Even if no one is injured when a watercraft strikes a stump, repairs for the resulting damage can be costly.

We recommend anyone who plans to pull a water skier when the water level is down to first survey the area for hazards.

Fortunately such water hazards are mostly found along more shallow areas along the lakes’ edges, areas where one should not ski or operate a boat at faster speeds anyway. Authority regulations require watercraft within 100 feet of a shoreline, boathouse, dock, other watercraft or area where people are swimming or diving to operate at a slow speed that does not create a wake. People who stick to the middle of the lake and observe buoys marking the channels should not have problems with stumps.


The conditions that make the summer water temperature so delightful can also encourage the growth of a rare but dangerous microorganism. Swimmers should be aware of the health risks of swimming in slow-moving or stagnant water.

Primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which is most common during the summer, is a rare disease caused by naegleria fowleri, an amoeba found in almost all untreated, fresh surface water and in soil. The amoeba thrives in low levels of fresh water that is warmer than 80 degrees and stagnant or slow-moving. The PAM infection occurs when water containing the organism is forced into the nasal passages – usually from diving or jumping into water or from water skiing. The amoeba makes its way into the brain and spinal cord, destroying brain tissue.

Symptoms of the almost always fatal infection include severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, seizures and hallucinations as the condition worsens. Again, while the disease is extremely uncommon, identified cases thus far have almost always been lethal.

According to state health officials there have been only 10 cases of PAM diagnosed in Texas since 2000, including the death last year of a 7-year-old Arlington boy. In that case, 7-year-old Kyle Lewis died a few days after a swimming trip with his family. Since this tragedy, Kyle’s family have taken up the call to urge parents to be aware of the issue and to use protection such as nose clips when their children swim in fresh, untreated water. To learn more about the family’s efforts, please click here.

There have been no known PAM cases in Texas yet this year. To help reduce the already low chance of infection, state health officials recommend that those taking part in warm, fresh water-related activities use nose clips or hold their noses shut while jumping into water. With the amoeba often found in soil, it is best to avoid stirring up underwater sediment. Health officials recommend people avoid stagnant or polluted water and take “No Swimming” signs seriously.

PAM cannot be spread person to person nor by drinking water. Swimming pools and hot tubs that are properly cleaned, maintained and chlorinated are generally safe, as is salt water.

On the river

Texas rivers can suffer a double whammy during drought. Their flow is already low because they are not receiving runoff from rainstorms. And since lake levels are down, releases are rare – usually only to fulfill a customer’s request or to balance lake levels.

For paddlers, lower flows mean they have to work harder to move downriver, and might have to get out more frequently to move their canoes or kayaks past shallow spots

Rafting trips that previously took a couple of hours can take much longer when the river is down. This can pose a health risk for paddlers who don’t prepare for longer periods on the river in the summer heat.

Here are a few suggestions for keeping your next summer paddling trip a safe one:

  • Keep hydrated. Be sure to account for the longer trip time in low flow conditions when planning how much water to bring.
  • Check with a river guide or someone who is familiar with the river to learn about conditions and difficult areas when the water is down.
  • Know your limitations, particularly with activities during high temperatures.
  • Let someone know when you are going and when you expect to be back.
  • Watch out for submerged rocks, trees and stumps that may now be more of a hazard.

By planning ahead and educating yourself about potential hazards, you can help assure your next summertime trip to a Brazos basin lake or stream is a fun and safe one.