A string of cloudless 100-degree days is depleting two reservoirs in the West Fork of the Trinity River, though officials say the region’s overall water supply is in stable condition. 

The Tarrant Regional Water District’s reservoir system sits at 85% full, according to the agency’s Aug. 17 daily water report. That’s an improvement over last August, when officials warned of levels falling beneath 75% full and triggering restrictions on watering in several cities. 

While the water district’s east Texas reservoirs are above 90% full, levels in northwest Tarrant County’s Eagle Mountain Lake and Wise County’s Lake Bridgeport have plummeted this summer. The two lakes are 67% full as of Aug. 17, or about 10% lower than last year, said Zachary Huff, the district’s water resources engineering director. 

Eagle Mountain Lake is seven feet under its maximum capacity, while Lake Bridgeport is just over 11 feet under capacity. Extreme drought conditions hit the Bridgeport area over the last month, Huff told water district board members at an Aug. 15 meeting. 

The water district is pumping significant amounts of water from the east Texas lakes, Richland Chambers and Cedar Creek, to its western reservoirs because of lack of rainfall. 

“The amount of water that we’ve discharged over the last year into Eagle Mountain … accounts for 66% of the volume of water that’s in the reservoir right now,” Huff said. “Without that pumping, Bridgeport would be seven feet lower and Eagle Mountain would be over five and a half feet lower.” 

Over the last year, pumping water through its extensive pipeline system has cost the water district upwards of $20 million. That cost estimate is at the higher end of the water district’s expectations each year, Huff said.

As lake levels fell this summer, water district officials received calls from several residents asking how long the dry conditions will affect their ability to use their boats or enjoy other recreation at Eagle Mountain and Bridgeport. 

A boat sits near Eagle Mountain Lake in July 2021. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

In response, Huff’s team created a blog sharing monthly projections for lake levels at Bridgeport, Eagle Mountain, Cedar Creek and Richland Chambers. Residents can sign up for email notifications whenever the water district posts new information on lake levels or, most recently, free boat pullouts for residents who need to remove their equipment from Eagle Mountain.

The graphs forecast expected lake levels should the region receive below average, average or above average rainfall. Much of the data is already publicly accessible through the U.S. Geological Survey, Huff said in an interview. 

“It’s just that oftentimes people don’t know where to go,” Huff said. “The information has been there for decades and decades, but this makes it where anyone who’s interested in our reservoirs can, with a click of a button, see it and be able to interpret it very intuitively.” 

Residents will also find information on historical lake levels and an analysis of recent weather patterns that are influencing the water district’s forecast. 

While hot and dry conditions are expected to continue in North Texas, Huff sees reason for optimism. Overall, the water district is in a better spot than 2022 — the driest year in Texas since 2011 — and significantly better off than other historic drought years, he said.

Forecasters are projecting an El Niño climate pattern, caused by warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. The impact is typically weaker during the summer and will grow stronger during the winter and spring, meaning Texas could see above-average rainfall and cooler conditions than a typical year. 

“I’m optimistic for getting some refresh in the fall,” Huff said. “I just hope that it hits the West Fork and we see some runoff in the Eagle Mountain and Lake Worth area.”

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org.

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Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org. Her coverage is made possible by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman...