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Dammed:What happens when lake levels plummet?
Aug 15, 2012 | 2249 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This small watering hole is, or was, part of Lake Corpus Christi. Plummeting levels have left areas high and dry. Residents in the area say they have traded their boats in for tractors to mow what was once the Nueces River and lake bed. They are concerned because this is the lowest it has been in recent memory. Many say water should be released from the dam at Choke Canyon.
This small watering hole is, or was, part of Lake Corpus Christi. Plummeting levels have left areas high and dry. Residents in the area say they have traded their boats in for tractors to mow what was once the Nueces River and lake bed. They are concerned because this is the lowest it has been in recent memory. Many say water should be released from the dam at Choke Canyon.
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Graphic provided by CorpusChristi.USGulf.info
The above graphic shows just how low Lake Corpus Christi is compared to the prior years of 2011 and 2010.
Graphic provided by CorpusChristi.USGulf.info The above graphic shows just how low Lake Corpus Christi is compared to the prior years of 2011 and 2010.
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this pier is usually just above the water level. Now, the river isn’t even visible – only grass.
this pier is usually just above the water level. Now, the river isn’t even visible – only grass.
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Above, the water intake structure towers above a shallow Nueces River. Residents in the area say this is the lowest they have seen the river in years .
Above, the water intake structure towers above a shallow Nueces River. Residents in the area say this is the lowest they have seen the river in years .
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BEEVILLE — “We’ve got water,” Beeville Water Supply District Board President Jim Crumrine said Monday.

Crumrine was commenting on a rumor that was spreading that claimed the city had only a 40-day supply of water available.

“They’re releasing water so that we can continue to draw it” at the city’s raw water intake structure at Swinney Switch, Crumrine assured city residents.

“I’m not concerned,” he said. “I am very concerned that we’re not going to have enough water in the future,” Crumrine continued. But he said the city is not facing a dire shortage of water at this time.

“Is it an emergency?” Crumrine asked. “Yeah, it’s getting close.”

However, the board president said he feels certain that Beeville is not facing an eminent threat of running out of water in the next month.

Crumrine said there is enough water in the Choke Canyon Reservoir to fill up Lake Corpus Christi several times.

City has ample supply

George P. Morrill, I Water Treatment Plant Superintendent Hector Salinas also did not express concern about the city’s water supply.

He said Urban Engineering is working on making sure that the city has ample supplies from Corpus Christi’s reservoirs, Lake Corpus Christi and the Choke Canyon Reservoir.

Engineer Jim Urban, one of the principals of the Urban firm, repeated what Salinas said.

“The City of Corpus Christi is in complete control of releasing water,” Urban said.

BWSD’s intake structure can continue to take water out of the Nueces River when the level of Lake Corpus Christi is at 77 feet above sea level.

“It’s at 77.9 feet right now,” Urban said. Corpus Christi has every intention of maintaining the 77-foot level of the lake for the time being.

Citizens get nervous

Urban expressed concern that apparently Beeville residents get “whipped up” about a possible water emergency every now and then. He said some type of mechanical failure in a pump or in some equipment at the treatment plant at Swinney Switch is more likely to interrupt Beeville’s flow of water than a drop in lake levels.

The falling level of Lake Corpus Christi is part of Corpus Christi’s water management plan. But Urban said there is probably enough water in Choke Canyon to last two years.

The level of Lake Corpus Christi is allowed to fall during periods of drought, because when rainfall comes to the Coastal Bend, that lake needs to catch water.

If Choke Canyon fills up and overflows, the water going down the Nueces River is caught in Lake Corpus Christi.

But if Lake Corpus Christi fills up and overflows, that water is lost downstream.

“You can’t pump it back up to Choke Canyon,” Urban said.

Evaporates faster

at Lake CC

Also, because Lake Corpus Christi has silted up over the years and is no longer a deep lake, water evaporates much faster there than in Choke Canyon.

The latest lake level report proves that. It revealed that the level at Lake Corpus Christi had dropped by .07 feet from the previous day, while the level at Choke Canyon had not fallen any in the same period.

The City of Corpus Christi’s web site shows that Lake Corpus Christi is considered full when the level of water is at 94 feet above sea level. At that point the lake holds 257,260 acre-feet of water. The bottom of that lake is at 55 feet above sea level.

Choke Canyon Reservoir is full when its water level is at 220.5 feet above sea level and the lake holds 695,271 acre-feet of water. The bottom of that lake is at 132 feet above sea level.

At its current 77.94 feet, Lake Corpus Christi is down by 16.6 feet and now is at only 17.7 percent of capacity. At this time last year, the lake was at 53.1 percent of capacity.

This week the level at Choke Canyon is at 206.12 feet and it is holding 54.4 percent of its capacity.

Choke could refill lake several times

Urban echoed Crumrine’s statement that there is enough water in Choke Canyon to fill Lake Corpus Christi several times.

Urban said Corpus Christi continuously seeks new sources of water for that city. Recent efforts include the construction of the Mary Rhodes Pipeline from Lake Texana and an agreement with the Garwood Irrigation Company for the purchase of 35,000 acre-feet of water a year.

But there are several communities that depend on Lake Corpus Christi and Choke Canyon Reservoir for their water supplies and Urban said the City of Corpus Christi will honor those commitments.

Corpus Christi does intend eventually to allow the level of the lower lake to draw down to 74 feet above sea level. But that cannot be done now, because it would leave cities like Beeville and Alice without water. State agencies will not allow that to happen.

Corpus Christi will give those cities the opportunity to rearrange their intake structures so that they can continue to take water at that depth.

Need alternate sources

Urban said Beeville needs to arrange for alternate water supplies in the event of a problem with the surface water system. That means depending on ground water (wells) for backup.

The city had agreed to maintain several of the wells that were no longer used after Beeville built the current surface water system. In fact, in previous droughts, Beeville has used its wells to blend with surface water supplies to maintain a steady flow of water. But only two or three of those original five wells are operational now, Crumrine said.

Urban said Beeville would still have to use surface water in the future in the event that it has to pump water from the aquifers again. The quality of the water in the aquifers is marginal and would have to be blended with surface water.

“I don’t want to say it’s a rosy situation,” Urban opined. However, with the recent installation of new pumps at the intake structure and other improvements expected in the months ahead, the engineer believes Beeville is on the right track to correct its problems.

For example, the city has hired HDR Engineering to prepare a report on the location and quality of the water in aquifers that could be tapped for emergencies.

Oil field increases water usage

One of the concerns is that water usage for the city has increased by about a million gallons a day. Urban believes the increase in oil field activities in the Beeville area is responsible for much of that. He said oil field operations could use other sources of water, such as wastewater treatment plant effluent.

Another fix Beeville needs to address is the leaky pipeline between Swinney Switch and the city’s storage tanks. That has been a significant problem for years. That situation is being studied, and, hopefully, a solution can be found before long.

Corpus Christi has already been paid for water leaking from that 18-mile line, and Beeville has already treated it.

Also, when it comes to the volume of lake water used in the Coastal Bend, Beeville’s portion is not that significant. Beeville is using about 5 million gallons a day (mgd). But Corpus Christi uses 100 million-plus gallons of water a day, Urban said.

“If it were 4 percent or 5 percent, I’d be surprised,” Urban said.

Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.
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