Palestine lake water levels above other lakes: Other East Texas lakes below normal after no summer rain

Published on Saturday, 5 July 2014 21:59 - Written by Adam Russell

While drought forces water suppliers and cities across the state to assess their present and future options, Lake Palestine is literally spilling over.

Monty Shank, Upper Neches River Municipality Authority general manager, said Lake Palestine has been in the right place to collect rain. The lake has received more water in recent months than has been depleted by evaporation or consumers.

Lake Palestine’s spillway has been overflowing most every day since Nov. 4, 2013. May 5 to 8 and June 9 represent the five days water wasn’t released because the lake was at capacity.

“This was just a well-planned lake,” he said. “It’s way up the headwaters of the Neches and has been very fortunate.”

Good fortune goes for businesses surrounding the lake as well.

Lake Palestine Resort General Manager Scott Martin said first-timers are flocking to the lake because it’s full. They come to fish, ski and for other water activities, he said.

“Any business on the lake has reaped the reward of it being full,” he said. “So many lakes surrounding us are low right now, and it has helped bring people in.”

Martin expected thousands to flock to Lake Palestine this holiday weekend.

By comparison, other East Texas lakes aren’t doing as well. They are still in the grips of drought and struggling to keep up with consumption and evaporation.

Troy Henry, Sabine River Authority Upper Basin regional manager, said the concern is that it’s early in the summer for lake levels to be so low.

Lakes Fork and Tawakoni are down almost 4 feet and nine feet, respectively.

Summer months are hard on surface water, he said. Demand from consumers is higher. But Henry said evaporation during hot months claims significant amounts of surface water.

Toledo Bend gained 5.8 inches from rain in June but lost 3.2 inches to evaporation, he said. Lake Fork lost 8.4 inches to evaporation and gained a little more than two inches. Tawakoni experienced similar gains and losses.

Lake Fork’s water level has actually risen 1 foot since last June. But Tawakoni has dropped almost 3 feet.

Mother Nature gives and takes away, said Jody Puckett, Dallas Water Utilities Department director.

“A good rule of thumb when it comes to water is that for every gallon consumed, two gallons are lost to evaporation,” Ms. Puckett said.

Mother Nature isn’t predictable either, she added, which makes planning important in times of abundance.

Dallas Water Utilities pumps every hour of every day from Tawakoni and other North Texas lakes to supply more than 2 million customers. The system pumps 170 million gallons from Tawakoni alone.

Dallas and Tarrant Regional Water District partnered to build a pipeline to tap Lake Palestine. Dallas owns about 60 percent of Lake Palestine’s yield and permitted to pump more than 102 million gallons each day from the lake.

But Lake Palestine water likely will not flow from Dallas taps until the next decade. Any access to water then would depend on the lake’s level.

Because the lake is at capacity, Ms. Puckett said Dallas would likely be pumping water to replenish its other reservoirs if they had access.

“You never know what Mother Nature will deal you,” she said. “We’re in decent shape, but as a water provider you always want more than you have.”

Ms. Puckett said water fortunes across the state could turn either way. Other cities could be forced to consider alternatives, such as reusing wastewater as Wichita Falls is now, she said, or a series of storms could relax anxiety.

When it comes to water, Henry said there are little options.

“I can pray,” he said. “There’s not much you can do. We’re just not getting the rains we need to create good runoff to replenish lakes. Rain is just hit and miss.”

Shank appreciates his position overseeing a relative honey hole. But he’s also aware his position is delicate and subject to nature.

“There’s nothing extraordinary about the lake to answer why we’re doing better than others,” he said. “We’ve just been in the right place for rain.”