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State officials: Region's water levels at lowest of past year

By Reese Gordon rgordon@news-journal.com
Sept. 4, 2013 at 11 p.m.


After one of the driest Augusts on record in East Texas, the Texas Water Development Board said Wednesday that lakes and reservoirs across the region were at the lowest levels of the past year.

Lake levels have fallen as rainfall deficits have continued to rise during the past year and a half, with Longview's official tally now 18 inches below normal for that period.

Looking at dropping levels Wednesday, a Lake O' the Pines marina owner said conditions have been worsened by cities continuing to draw water unabated from the reservoir north of Longview.

"It would be a tremendous help to us (if the cities didn't draw as much)," said Sam Edwards, owner of Johnson Marina, adding the lake could use "about four or five feet of rain."

For the 18 months from April 2012 through August, the National Weather Service said, Longview received 18 inches less rain than normal. In Tyler, rainfall for the period was 11 inches below normal.

The 18-month rainfall deficit in Texarkana, records showed, was a whopping 28 inches below normal. And August in that city was the driest since 1954, weather service records showed.

For the calendar year to date, the official Longview rainfall total as measured at East Texas Regional Airport was about 10 inches below normal. The city's official August rainfall total of 1.96 inches was nearly an inch less than normal, though this past weekend's storms dumped more than that on some areas.

Despite recent rains, the entire region remains in severe or extreme drought, forestry officials said.

While the extended dry conditions have prompted several Northeast Texas cities to declare water restrictions, the city of Longview continues to allow residents to use water at will.

Because it draws water from multiple sources, including Lake O' the Pines, Lake Cherokee and the Sabine River, the city has been able to avoid enacting water use restrictions, a city spokesman said.

In addition to Longview, the Water Development Board said the cities of Jefferson, Ore City, Lone Star, Avinger, Hughes Springs and Daingerfield draw water from the reservoir in the Cypress River Basin.

Eighteen miles long, Lake O' the Pines was 65 percent full Wednesday - its lowest level in more than a year. The water level was 224 feet above sea level. That's about 6 feet below the normal level of 230 feet at this time of year, said C.S. Ross of the weather service.

Lake Cherokee Manager Ned Muse said the private lake south of Longview - which was three feet below pool Wednesday - depends on selling water to the city of Longview to remain financially stable.

"That's originally why the lake was created," he said. "But we lose more water to evaporation than to the city."

And Lake Cherokee shareholder Rick Ashby said he wouldn't call Wednesday's water level unusual.

Greg Morgan, managing director of Utilities and Public Works in Tyler, said that city had called for voluntary water restrictions.

"We are not at the current levels to mandate a restriction," he said.

Like Longview, Morgan said Tyler is able to draw water from multiple sources, which include Lake Tyler, Lake Tyler East and Lake Palestine.

The United States Geological Survey showed Lake Tyler's water level was more than five feet below normal Wednesday.

White Oak, which last month began rationing water, does not have the luxury of drawing water from multiple sources.

Robert Ellis, a maintenance worker at the White Oak Water Treatment Plant, said rationing began last month when the city's main water source, Big Sandy Creek, dropped several feet in a matter of days.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality limits how much water the city can draw from the creek.

"It's like that with a lot of the smaller towns who use surface water," he said. "The bigger the community, the higher priority you're going to have."

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