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Drought reduces Crossroads rivers to trickle

By Sonny Long
Sept. 18, 2013 at 4:18 a.m.
Updated Sept. 19, 2013 at 4:19 a.m.

Buddy Lee stands in the middle of the Lavaca River that runs through his ranch in Jackson County. Three years of a running drought has destroyed the river bottom, an important source of water for wildlife.

LAVACA BASIN RIVER LEVELS

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday,

Lavaca River near Edna: 4.57 feet(2010 average: 7.4 feet)

Navidad River at Morales:6.82 feet(2010 average: 8.8 feet)

Navidad River near Edna: 4.5 feet(2004 average: 8.2 feet)

Guadalupe River near Cuero: 6.58 feet

(2010 average: 10.1 feet)

Flood stage is 24 feet. The historical crest was 50.35 feet on Oct. 20, 1998.

SOURCE: U.S. Geological Survey website

Rivers in the Crossroads look sick.

Normally flowing and vibrant, the ongoing drought has rendered the area's main waterways nearly stagnant, stumps sticking through the surface, once narrow banks now sprawling and exposed beach-like.

Victoria dentist Buddy Lee owns property in Jackson County and has seen firsthand the river conditions there.

"I have been on this river (the Lavaca) since 1952, and I do not remember it going dry," Lee said. "Now in the '50s I remember the Navidad going dry but not the Lavaca."

The occasional rain in September - the area has had less than three inches - temporarily gives waterways some relief.

"It recharges the system but by no means very much. Just enough to say it is running," Lee said.

But that trickle doesn't last long.

"We just need a lot of rain. Maybe this weekend," he said.

Forecasts call for a 70 percent chance of rain Friday, 50 percent Friday night and 40 percent on Saturday.

On Wednesday, the Lavaca River at Edna was a full foot below its 2012 average level, 4.59 to 5.696 feet, according to Lavaca Navidad River Authority statistics.

Patrick Brzozowski, general manager of the LNRA, said the impact of the drought flows downriver.

"Lack of rainfall and/or the related runoff upstream, or in the upper parts of the Lavaca and Navidad watersheds has a significant impact on the surface water supply conditions downstream," said Brzozowski.

He added that the Lavaca River has no flow in Lavaca County and the Navidad River is near zero flow in Jackson County.

"Intuitively, the longer dry conditions persist, the larger and greater extent of the effects or impacts, or maybe, declining surface water supplies is a prelude to increased groundwater use," Brzozowski said.

The situation isn't any better for the Guadalupe River.

"The river is in a stress condition," said Bill West, general manager of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority.

"The forecast is for a dry fall and if that happens and we have a dry winter, too, we may be approaching the drought of record.

"We are two years away from being the drought of record," West said. "Maybe we'll be rewriting the history books."

The worst extended drought remains the 1950s event when Texas suffered under drought conditions for 10 years from the late 1940s until the late 1950s, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

"The drought is forecast to persist or intensify over south Texas through Oct. 31," said John Metz of the National Weather Service.

At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Guadalupe River at state Highway 72 near Cuero was at 6.58 feet.

Flood stage is 24 feet. The historical crest was 50.35 feet on Oct. 20, 1998.

There are no historical records on low river levels, according to the GBRA website.

On Wednesday, the Guadalupe River at Cuero was flowing at 188 cubic feet per second. The average annual flow rate, since 1949, is 919 cfs.

For the year, through Tuesday, Victoria has had 17.57 inches of rain - more than 11 inches less than normal.

The city of Victoria, which takes its water from the Guadalupe River, has been in Stage III of its Drought Contingency Plan during the month of September.

The city will remain in Stage III until the flow of the Guadalupe River returns and remains above 200 cfs for 14 consecutive days.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the flow was 145 cfs, according to the GBRA.

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