Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

May 21, 2014

A BALANCING ACT

As area lakes suffer from ongoing drought, Lake Granbury-area residents want increased draw-downs at PK Lake


Mineral Wells Index

— By TODD GLASSCOCK

POSSUM KINGDOM – Tuesday morning, about 25 yards out from a Possum Kingdom Lake boat ramp, was a handful of geese, three adults and a gosling, a stiff warm breeze ruffling their feathers.

The sight might have made for a National-Geographic moment, except the geese weren’t swimming: they were straddling what’s now the shoreline on this particular part of the lake off Breding Road. Not far from the geese was a pier that dropped off into hard-packed red sand and weeds instead of water.

The scene painted a sure sign of the drought that has taken its toll on Texas lakes.

In 2011, the Brazos River Authority, which manages water resources for the Brazos River basin, decided to implement a new draw down ratio between Possum Kingdom and Lake Granbury from 1-to-1 to 1.75-to-1, as long as Possum Kingdom’s surface elevation was 992 feet or more, said Matt Phillips, government and customer relations manager at the BRA.

“For almost two years we’ve been doing the 1-to-1,” he said, because the drought has kept Possum Kingdom’s surface levels well below 992 feet. Current surface levels at the lake are 984.72 feet, about 15 feet below normal.

But, a coalition of concerned citizens in Granbury, banding together as Save Lake Granbury, wish to see the BRA increase the draw down ratio to almost three times more than its current level.

“For the past five years, several decisions have been made that have completely changed the landscape surrounding Lake Granbury,” the coalition’s Facebook page says. “Those decisions have helped the lake levels to start reaching historic lows in two of the past three summers. For those of you who frequent Lake Granbury, you saw boating, fishing and all recreation come to a complete standstill.”

On its Facebook page the group says the BRA’s closure of a hydroelectric plant in Possum Kingdom five years ago caused the water flow to Lake Granbury to decrease. Without a draw down increase, the group claims, it will continue to see dramatic declines in the lake’s value to its residents.

Lake Granbury, according to the BRA, is at 681.95 feet, about 11 feet below normal.

Countering Save Lake Granbury is the Possum Kingdom Lake Association that drafted a white paper on May 15 to the BRA, asking the agency to reject the Granbury coalition’s white paper that seeks for increased water draw down.

The Possum Kingdom group’s paper requests “the BRA cease and desist the release of Possum Kingdom Lake water to Lake Granbury for balancing purposes.”

“We have never agreed with efforts to balance [the lakes],” said Jim Lattimore, the association’s president.

He said the group believes it is unfair, especially in a time of drought, to draw down water to balance lake levels, unless there is dire need for resources.

The group has asked the BRA for a meeting to go over their points, he said. The association was not allowed to meet with the BRA at the same time Granbury’s coalition’s met with them.

Once the association is able to meet with the BRA, they will decide if further action is needed, he said.

“We’ve gotten public comment on both sides,” Phillips said of the drawdown fight, “but the [BRA] couldn’t on its own order a change.”

For a change to occur, he said, stakeholders in both Granbury and Possum Kingdom would have to agree to make a change, and the BRA would have to recommend those changes to its board of directors, as it did in 2011. The BRA can’t initiate such a decision on its own.

Last week, Palo Pinto Commissioners approved a resolution that strongly opposes any consideration the BRA might make of a change in the draw down ratio between the lakes.

Palo Pinto County Judge David Nicklas said the county opposed any ratio change because of the value of the lake to residents of Possum Kingdom, as a source of recreation, and for water supply, which is falling. He said 40 percent of the county’s tax base comes from residents in and around Possum Kingdom.

Lower lake levels also decrease property values at the lake, he said.

More draw down would decrease the lake’s all-around value to the county, he said. “Once that water leaves here, it’s gone.”

While a large chunk of the fight on both sides seems concerned with recreational issues and economic impact to lake property, the BRA’s primary concern is water resources, Phillips said.

“These lakes are there for water supply,” he said. Water supply, he added, is essential to provide drinking water as well as electrical power all along the Brazos River basin.

Droughts, he added, have caused lake levels to fall before and lakes have recovered when it rains and the drought passes.

“This isn’t the new normal,” he said of the drought. “It’ll happen.”