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Memorial Day Downer: Storm-Related High Water Closing Some North Texas Parks

Source: http://www.lake-lewisville.org/

HICKORY CREEK, Texas — In a quiet corner of Hickory Creek Park, Lewisville Lake laps against the edge of the access road, covers nearby picnic areas to the tabletop and leaves just an inch or two of the barbecue grills poking above water.

In North Texas, this Memorial Day will be different from what we've seen in years, especially for those who prefer to celebrate on the water.

The Dallas Morning News reports that while boat ramps on Grapevine Lake are open, almost all parks and boat ramps at Lavon Lake, Lewisville and Lake Ray Roberts are closed, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“So that will slow things down on Memorial Day weekend,” said Denton County game warden Logan Griffin of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

Spots that were high and dry just a couple of months ago, before the North Texas drought ended in a deluge, have been inundated. And beneath the surface, potentially troublesome surprises await, Griffin said.

“We haven’t seen conditions like this since 2007. This isn’t completely unheard of, but it’s been a while,” he said. “Water levels have been down for so long that plants and trees have grown, and now they're flooded.”

In many spots, just the tops of the small trees poke up, like the arms of a drowning man. But boaters poking through the shallows have to remember the rest of the tree is down there. And those long-dead trees that appeared by the thousands during the driest days of the recent drought are hidden again.

“It’s kind of out of the pot and into the pan when you have such drastic changes,” Griffin said. “When the water is low, normally submerged obstacles are no longer submerged, and everybody did a really good job of avoiding those. But now that we've kind of reached water levels above the conservation pool, you increase the odds of finding floating debris that came down the streams and rivers with all the runoff from the rain.”

And the rain is likely to continue, forecasters say.

The National Weather Service in Fort Worth puts rainfall chances at 40 to 60 percent through Monday, with high temperatures ranging from the mid-70s to low 80s. The Weather Channel’s website puts the chance of rain and thunderstorms at 50-60 percent through Tuesday.

The Corps of Engineers, which oversees the flood control lakes along the Trinity and across Texas and the U.S., said the issue now and for the coming weeks, and perhaps months, is how to release water from the swollen lakes so it can flow safely downstream.

Brig. Gen. David C. Hill, commander of the corps’ Southwestern division in Dallas, said dealing with the rapid rise in lake levels over the past several weeks has required a delicate balancing act to move water downstream while controlling the flow to protect areas from serious flooding.

“There’s a lot of science involved, but there's also a lot of judgment in the decisions we make,” he said.

Water can only be released from flood control reservoirs like Lewisville and Ray Roberts when there is enough storage capacity in the Trinity River channels themselves, Hill said. But at the same time, there’s a certain urgency to move water from the lakes so they’ll have the flood capacity to deal with “significant future rain events,” he said.

According to the Texas Water Development Board’s website, waterdatafortexas.org, Lewisville Lake is more than 7.6 feet above conservation level, the point at which a reservoir is considered full. Ray Roberts is 7.5 feet into the flood pool, Lavon Lake 7 feet, Grapevine Lake 13 feet and Lake Texoma almost 18 feet above conservation level.

Despite all the water that has made its way into the various forks of the Trinity and other Texas rivers and the lakes that dot the rivers, holding and releasing water “is very manageable,” Hill said. At this point, the corps has used about 60 percent of its flood storage capacity along the Trinity — roughly 1 million acre-feet of water with room for an additional 700,000 acre-feet.

Still, conditions can be dangerous, even along the usually placid stretches of river contained between the levees near downtown Dallas.

Dhruv Pandya, assistant director for Dallas’ Trinity Watershed Management, cautioned walkers, bike riders, even kayakers to heed high-water warning signs lest they find themselves swept away in the current.

“Please, don’t do that," he said.

And farther north, around Lewisville Lake and Lake Ray Roberts and the stretches of river running toward Dallas, high water causes wildlife to seek higher ground, too — often ground occupied by people. “If you start pushing this much water into the area, it pushes the animals around a little bit, too,” said Griffin of Texas Parks & Wildlife — feral hogs and deer swimming across open stretches of water, for example, something that “to a lot of people can be alarming or strange.”

“Then you see other displaced wildlife moving away from the waters — possums and raccoons, even coyotes and bobcats,” Griffin said. “You have to figure they’re just like us, trying to stay dry.”

He suggests that people give the animals wide berth, use proper levels of caution and mostly just leave them alone. “You have to remember, we moved into their neighborhoods,” he said.

He also urged caution for would-be party animals on Memorial Day weekend. Before hooking the boat trailer to the back of the car, filling the cooler with snacks and beverages and heading for the lake, check conditions first. “You hate to load up everybody when there might only be one park open,” Griffin said. “So definitely do a little information search and find out what you can before you go.”

If you do spend the weekend on the lake, remember to wear life jackets, he said. “And last but definitely not least, we want everyone to have fun. But when it comes to alcohol on the water, they just don’t mix,” Griffin said.

(Courtesy: An AP Member Exchange Program With The Dallas Morning News)