Continued drought could force water conservation
Cooper Lake at lowest level in its history
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Dec. 7, 2005 -- Sulphur Springs residents may have to start conserving water if some appreciable precipitation doesn't arrive in the coming weeks.

With the continued drought conditions across Northeast Texas, water reserves are coming under much closer scrutiny. Rainfall across the area is almost half the normal rate of more than 46 inches, and no relief is in sight.

Without appreciable rainfall in the next three weeks, Cooper Lake will start 2006 at the lowest level since it came into use as Sulphur Springs's primary water supply. A representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Fort Worth said the lake was at its lowest point — 10 feet below normal pool level -- ever. He also said he expects it to fall to 11 feet in about a week. He said North Texas Municipal Water District, one of the entities that pumps water from the lake, has already started conservation measures, but other districts from the Dallas area continued to pump 90-100 million gallons of water a day from the reservoir.

Cooper Lake is currently 10 feet below normal pool level, about half full, and while not at a critical level, Sulphur Springs city council members were told the city may need to start thinking of implementing water conservation measures early next year if the extended drought continues.

"What concerns me is we started this year with a less than full Cooper Lake, and we haven't done that before," City Manager Marc Maxwell said. "On top of that we have these severe drought conditions."

Cooper Lake currently is at the lowest point in the past 10 years. Without rain, the level will continue to drop, and Maxwell said the city will need to look at water conservation measures.

"If we go into next year even lower than we were at the beginning of this year, I really think we need to get our drought contingency plan and dust it off, have a look and start putting together a plan," he said.

The plan is implemented in phases. The first phase calls for voluntary conservation, letting people know there could be a problem and asking everyone to start watering their lawns less.

In phase two, the city would begin implementing more strict guidelines limiting water use. In this second phase, watering lawns would be permitted only every other day.

Phase three of the contingency plan would prohibit any outdoor watering in the city.

"Hopefully, we we will not get to that point, and hopefully my comments to the council were for naught," Maxwell said. "I just want the council and the public to be aware that it is getting serious."

Maxwell also said the water reserves in the city's secondary water source, Lake Sulphur Springs, are limited.

"At one time, Lake Sulphur Springs could provide a year's worth of water," the city manager said. "It has silted in, to what degree we do not know exactly."

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