Industry News - EDITORIAL: Years of drought have harmed once-dependable water sources

Source : Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (TX)
Date : 2014-04-06
April 06 --The declining water level of Lake Alan Henry -- so soon after the level of Lake Meredith got so low as to make it unusable as a water source -- is cause for anxiety for Lubbock residents.

It is a more serious problem than the question "When will the drought end?" Even if the South Plains enjoyed several consecutive years of healthy rains, all it would take to put the city into the same uncomfortable situation it's in now is several years of drought.

Every lake is contingent on precipitation to refill it. Some years are wetter than usual and some are drier.

As noted today by A-J Media reporter Nicole C. Brambila , Lake Alan Henry is currently a little more than 60 percent full.

In addition to the water drawn from the lake for city use, the lake's volume is depleted by evaporation. The lake volume increases with rainfall and with river inflow, but a U.S. Geological Survey suggests only about half of the expected water is getting into Lake Alan Henry for storage.

Either there's a water loss or there isn't as much water going into the reservoir as was believed, said David Brauer , a soil and water management researcher with USDA's Agricultural Research Service .

If the drought continues, and the level of the lake continues to decline, the lower water supply could be trouble for Lubbock in the future.

Lake Meredith was a dependable water source for Lubbock and the other member cities of the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority for decades.

Lubbock began drawing water from it in 1968 and was still taking more than 12 billion gallons from Lake Meredith in 2000 and 2001. The lake levels eventually dropped to the point where there now is no allocation of water from the lake.

Even after the dwindling water level prevented Lake Meredith from being a water source, the lake was still used recreationally.

However, even lake visitation has declined. It went from a yearly 1.5 million visitors down to a range of 500,000-7000,000 people, said Bob McGuire , superintendent of the Lake Meredith National Recreation Area .

The record high of Lake Meredith was 101.85 feet in April 1973 , and the record low dropped to 26.14 feet on Aug, 7, 2013.

The current depth is 34.25 feet. It's somewhat encouraging to see even a slight increase from last year, but the water level will need to get much higher than that before Lake Meredith is useful again as a water source.

If the drought continues, could Lubbock be just a few years away from losing Lake Alan Henry as a water source?

As uncomfortable as the prospect is to think about, it's possible.

The drought that struck in 2011 and still has a hold on the many parts of the state has been a wake-up call.

Things such as aggressive conservation measures and reusing treated effluent are now being considered in places where they wouldn't have been discussed 10 years ago.

It's a serious business -- not just in Lubbock but in many other parts of the state. People are still praying for rain, but now they are wondering what other measures might be necessary.

At-a-glance

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