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14 water districts in Northeast Texas declare water rationing

By Richard Yeakley
Aug. 23, 2013 at 11 p.m.

The city of White Oak joined 13 other water districts in rationing water this week as a lingering drought depletes water sources across the region.

Almost all of Northeast Texas was listed in severe to extreme drought conditions Friday by the U.S. Drought Monitor. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reported 14 water districts in Gregg, Upshur, Harrison, Rusk and Panola counties have declared water rationing.

The districts include Marshall, Gilmer, Murvaul WSC in Panola County, Gary WSC in Panola County, New London and Cross Roads Special Utilities District.

"If droughts kept up, we would certainly have to have another water source," said City Coordinator Charlie Smith.

The jump to Stage 3 on the city's contingency plan was prompted when the water level in Big Sandy Creek, White Oak's primary water source, dropped several feet in a matter of days, to a level that made drawing water impossible, Smith said.

"A lot of the creek is spring fed, and the source didn't replenish after the 2011 drought," Smith said, adding no one could remember when the city water source had been so low.

Merry Klonower, director of communications and web administration at the Texas Water Development Board, said water levels in underground aquifers in Northeast Texas are below normal levels.

"The City of White Oak has a well located south of Hwy 80 and east of Hwy 42 that is completed to a depth of 430 feet in the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer," she said. "It has a record of annual water level readings from 1964 to 2012."

The water level has declined approximately 15 to 20 feet since about 2000, Klonower said.

"We do not have information as to the cause of the water level changes – there could be a number of reasons. Nor do we have readings more recent than November 2012."

The water board has observation wells in Rusk County, south of White Oak and Gregg County which are also in the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer which have shown decreases of 6-7 feet over the last couple of years, she said.

The aquifer extends from the Rio Grande in South Texas into parts of Arkansas and Louisiana, supplying water to 60 Texas counties.

The city of White Oak has two water storage reservoirs, a 27 million gallon stand-by and a 9 million gallon back-up that have been tapped since they stopped drawing from Big Sandy Creek earlier this week.

Smith said he hoped to turn the pump on early next week and help replenish the reservoirs.

The city has also opened three transmission lines to buy treated water from the city of Longview.

Smith said that while the city could use as much as two million gallons of water a day, Thursday, after announcing the implementation of Stage 3 of the contingency plan, customers drew just one million gallons of water.

Aaron Stevens, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Shreveport said conditions are predicted to remain dry the next ten days at least.

Because in 2012 most of Northeast Texas received normal rainfall, the region was in better condition Friday than during the similar drought in 2011 - which was even hotter.

"As of today, in Longview, since Jan. 1 we have had 20.33 inches of rainfall. Normally by this time of the year there is 29.74 inches of rainfall. That is 9.41 inches below normal for the year," Stevens said. Similar numbers were seen in Shreveport and Lufkin.

And while fall will likely bring rain, Stevens said, the short term forecast called for more of the same with little chance of measurable precipitation and highs of near 100 by the end of next.

Kathy Modisette, who lives in the 300 block of Tuttle Road, said she waters either her front or back yard every day and hand waters her hanging plants.

She wasn't concerned that the city has rationed water for the second time in three years.

"It seems like it hasn't really bothered us," Modisette said, saying that she would abide by the restrictions to help the city.



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