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Drought impacts Texas reservoirs

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August 17, 2011 | 1,412 views | Post a comment

ATHENS -- Following the drought of record of the 1950s, Texas built dozens of reservoirs designed to maintain an adequate water supply should another drought of equal severity occur. That time has come, and the coming months will reveal if those reservoirs are equal to the task.

The outcome is anything but certain. As shown by the thunderstorms that swept across extreme North Texas in early summer and boosted water levels in lakes around Dallas-Fort Worth, one exceptional rain event can go far toward relieving an exceptional drought, at least in the short term. But we can’t control the weather, and only one other part of the state has been blessed with reservoir-filling rains since the drought began in earnest in 2010.

“Heavy rainfall in the Rio Grande watershed in 2010 filled both Amistad and Falcon International Reservoirs,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries biologist Randy Myers. “Amistad is currently 2 to 3 feet below conservation pool, and Falcon is about 15 feet low. Angler access remains excellent at both. With the current drought, water levels in both reservoirs should decrease but not reach problematic levels this year.”

Everywhere else across the state, TPWD fisheries managers are dealing with what appears to have the potential to become the new drought of record.

“Some Hill Country lakes have been severely affected by the drought,” said TPWD biologist Marcos De Jesus. “Lakes Travis, Buchanan, and Canyon are nearing record lows. The biggest problem in this area is access as lake levels fall below the point where boat ramps are usable.”

De Jesus suggests anglers consider switching to lakes with more stable water levels, such as Inks, LBJ, Austin, Lady Bird, Fayette, Bastrop, and Walter E. Long.

“All of these reservoirs provide excellent, diverse fishing opportunities with easy access,” he said.

Conditions are similar at Choke Canyon, Coleto Creek, Texana, and Lake Corpus Christi, said TPWD biologist John Findeisen.

“As water level decreases we lose habitat, and this concentrates the fish to the remaining available habitat and provides ample successful fishing trips,” he said. “Fishing reports from Choke Canyon, Coleto Creek, and Lake Corpus Christi are good, with lots of bass and catfish being caught. Access is not a problem at this time, but anglers need to be aware of timber now at or just below the surface.”

West Texas and Panhandle lakes have been hit particularly hard by the drought. Lakes Baylor (near Childress) and O.C. Fisher (San Angelo) have dried up. Lake Meredith is listed at 0 percent capacity, though it still covers about 2,000 acres. O.H. Ivie Reservoir, the leader in entries into the Toyota ShareLunker program the last two seasons, is at 24 percent capacity, but anglers are still doing well, according to Jerry Hunter, manager of Elm Creek Village Marina. Other Panhandle and West Texas reservoirs range from less than 1 percent capacity to 46 percent full.

Low water levels can actually be beneficial to reservoir fisheries in the long run, though, as pointed out by several TPWD fisheries biologists. Long-term benefits come from the establishment of terrestrial vegetation along shorelines that will provide a nutrient boost when lakes refill. In the short term, however, lower lake levels do impact fish reproduction.

Reduced water levels and higher water temperatures in streams and reservoirs also lead to lower levels of dissolved oxygen in water, which can also be fatal to fish. TPWD’s Kills and Spills Team monitors fish kill events and can be notified of fish kills at 512-389-4848.

Rainfall in Texas historically follows a boom-and-bust cycle. That’s why the nearly 200 major reservoirs exist in the state, to catch and hold water to sustain us in the dry times between wet times. But since we never know when the next drought will come, how severe it will be, and how long it will last, prudence demands making the most of every drop of precious water those reservoirs hold.

Remember that every time you start to turn on a faucet.

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