Earlier this month, Lake Bridgeport crossed a significant milestone: the lake is more than 24 feet low.
As of Tuesday, the lake level was just under 812 feet. That is having a major impact on those who live on the lake. as well as fishing, recreational boating and other activities.
But it’s not a historic low.
Hydrologist Laura Blaylock of the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) noted Tuesday that back in 1980, the lake was almost 11 feet lower than it is now, at 801.04 feet.
“This is the lowest it’s been since then, but 1980 is the absolute low,” she said.
The lake’s normal water level is 836 feet above sea level.
TRWD manages the lake and supplies water to the communities that surround it, including Decatur and Bridgeport. The water district stopped releasing water from Lake Bridgeport in June of 2013.
Since then, the lake’s steep drop has slowed, with conservation and a milder summer in 2014 playing a role. Over the past 12 months, Lake Bridgeport has fallen only four feet.
TRWD spokesman Chad Lorance said the district has no plans to release water from Lake Bridgeport in the foreseeable future.
“We are holding that water there for municipal purposes, as well as the power generation plants up there,” he said. “That’s why we essentially stopped those releases.”
Blaylock noted that Walnut Creek Special Utility District, which supplies water to smaller cities and rural areas in Wise and Parker counties, recently completed a barge to float their water intake farther out into the lake – into deeper water.
“Walnut Creek and the Brazos generating plant were both facing their intake becoming dangerously close to the water surface,” she said. “They built a barge, and now they have another 10 or 12 feet or so of depth.”
The other four intakes, including the cities of Bridgeport and Decatur, are near the dam, in the deepest part of the lake.
“Nobody’s in any danger of their intake coming out of the water,” she said.
Lorance said the water district’s plan is to stay the course, using water from its East Texas reservoirs, which can be pumped all the way up to Eagle Mountain Lake as needed.
“Fortunately, they’ve seen more rain than these reservoirs have in the west,” he said. “We have been pumping, and are currently pumping water into Eagle Mountain Lake. We’ll have to stop in January due to pipeline maintenance, but just for a short period.”
DROUGHT’S IMPACT FELT
It wasn’t that long ago that Lake Bridgeport was full – in fact, it started 2011 at full capacity. That year, however, saw historic lows in rainfall and the start of what is now a three-year drought. The lake’s decline has been steady since then.
Periodic rain, while welcome, has had little impact over the past three years. The line flattens occasionally, but it does not rise, instead continuing a steady decline.
From October 2010 to November of this year, rainfall in Bridgeport is 37.7 inches below normal and in Decatur, it is nearly 42 inches below normal. Both cities have seen about 75 percent of their normal rainfall over that time.
A year ago, Lake Bridgeport was just more than 20 feet low, sitting at 45 percent capacity. Last week it was at 38 percent of capacity.
Nothing but rain can fill it back up.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s website, enhanced warming throughout the central Pacific suggests a shift to El Ni o – a weather pattern that typically brings more rain. The site said the likelihood of an El Ni o event this winter has increased to 65 percent.
That means the outlook for this winter favors above-normal precipitation – but those chances are greater along the Gulf Coast and into Central Texas, and much less significant along the Red River and in the western portions of North Texas.
The site also says this should be a cooler-than-normal winter – but notes that analysis is based on heavier cloud cover keeping daytime highs lower, not extreme weather events.
In fact, it says, the “predominant zonal flow actually reduces the incidence of arctic intrusions. As a result, extreme cold is less likely during El Ni o winters, and there are typically fewer freezes than normal.”