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Lake Texana water levels decline with drought

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Nov. 9, 2011 at 5:09 a.m.

Oysters wash up along the receding shores of Lake Texana near the Brackenridge Plantation Recreation Area. With just over 8 inches of rainfall recorded by the Lavaca-Navidad River Authority, 2011 is likely to be the driest year in the last four decades.

EDNA - Standing on the second step of a retired Lake Texana boat ramp, Patrick Brzozowski peered out at the low water levels.

"The water line used to come up to this first and second step," said Brzozowski, Lavaca Navidad River Authority general manager, as he watched the water lap against the desolate shore.

The receding shoreline, which is visible now from about 20 feet away from the boat ramp steps, demonstrates the impact of the ongoing drought statewide.

Brzozowski has worked for LNRA for 15 years and said he's never witnessed the lake levels recede to their current measurements.

"I've seen the lake levels go up and down, but I've never seen it like this. No one has," he said. "This is the lowest it's been since it was filled in 1980. But this is the single driest year in recorded history."

In July, the reservoir was at a 60 percent capacity and 8 feet below normal water levels. Current water levels register 11 feet below normal, and 50 percent capacity. The continued decrease has forced LNRA to put a Level 1 restriction, or a 10 percent reduction of water consumption, on their municipal and industrial customers.

"As lake levels continue to decline, those restrictions will be put into place at differing levels of restriction," Brzozowski said.

Formosa Plastics, Inteplast Group, and the cities of Corpus Christi and Point Comfort, are the main consumers of Lake Texana water.

The city of Corpus Christi, which manages Lake Corpus Christi, and Choke Canyon Reservoir for a seven-county area, has similarly implemented restrictions on water usage, Brzozowski said.

"Corpus has reduced their supply or reliance of Lake Texana by about 40 percent or so," Brzozowski said. "All our customers have done a great job of implementing conservation measures, reusing water within industrial plants, but they've had to step it up."

Brzozowski said since there are no clear indications of when the state will experience rain, LNRA will remain prepared for the dry conditions by enforcing both a water conservation plan and a drought contingency plan.

"In that plan, you have to define how you're going to manage under extreme conditions. We're in extreme conditions," he said. "Speculation is all over the place" about when the drought will end. "You have to be able to manage through it."

In the past six years, rainfall averages have ranged from 32.68 inches in 2006 to 50.63 inches in 2010. As of Wednesday, only 8.34 inches of rainfall have been charted for 2011.

Lake Texana was built as a water reservoir to collect surface water runoff, but if there's no rainfall, there's nothing to replenish the lake. Meanwhile, consumption of the water continues, and water levels inevitably decline.

Brzozowski said LNRA is also assisting customers search out alternative sources of water. And if conditions worsen, LNRA will start having conversations about desalination, or the process of converting salt water to fresh water for human consumption and irrigation.

"We can't predict weather, we can't make water. We're one day closer to rain, I'll put it that way. Every day, we're one day closer," he said.

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