How Dry We Are
Cooper Lake at historically low level; could be empty by Aug. 2007
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Looking across hundreds of feet of dried mud stands the water intake structure and pump houses at Cooper Lake. The grim picture from February was presented to Sulphur Springs City Council members Tuesday as the city manager told them water reserves in the lake will only last until next August after a channel from the lake to the pump inlets is dredged out. When the city is forced to stop pumping from Cooper Lake, there is a year's water supply in Lake Sulphur Springs.

City of Sulphur Springs Photo

Oct. 4, 2006 - City Manager Marc Maxwell had some grim information for Sulphur Springs City Council members Tuesday night on just how much water remains in Cooper Lake.

For the past two years, the lake has received very little rainfall, and water being pumped from the lake — compounded by the amount of water evaporating — is not a pretty picture.

Cooper Lake has been at its lowest level in recent months since the dam's gates were closed in 1991. 

"If we do nothing, we will likely have to stop pumping out of Cooper Lake in November or December," he said. "But that is not what we are doing."

The city is entering into an agreement with North Texas Municipal Water District, Upper Trinity Regional Water District and the city of Irving to manage lake levels and to dredge out the channel between the water intake structure and the body of the lake in order to have access to water in the lowest levels of the lake.

While the dredging work is under way, Sulphur Springs will be forced to pump water from the backup source.

But even then, if the drought continues, the days of available water are numbered.

"For 60 days, while it is being dredged, we will have to pump water from Lake Sulphur Springs," Maxwell said. "Then, without any rain, we will run out of water in Cooper Lake next August."

Along with the agreement to dredge out the channel in the reservoir, Maxwell said he has been in negotiations with the other participating entities that pump water from Cooper Lake to better define the quantities, or percentages, of water each owns or has rights to.

The council authorized the city's participation in the new contract agreement, described by the city manager as an "accounting scheme."

"We are not accounting for the theoretical yield of the lake. We are accounting for the physical yield of the water," he said. "When the lake is full, our account is full ... everybody has a water account."

Evaporation, which takes as much water from the lake as the pumps, will be "a withdrawal from the account, based upon how much water you actually have in your account and when you pump out of your account."

"Rainfall is divided up on a pro rata basis based upon storage rights," Maxwell said. "The bottom line for this accounting scheme is that they cannot take our water and we can't take their water, because when your account is empty, you stop pumping."

Under the current setup, there is no agreement that nails down the amounts of water each of the entities can pump. As a result of that, North Texas Municipal Water District is pumping from Cooper Lake all the time.

The new agreement, however, would provide for enforcement of the water rights of each of the participating entities.

"When it comes down to it, if one of the parties violates the agreement, they get sued," Maxwell said. "We will  just drag them into court.

But he added, "I don't think that will happen. The agreement is pretty air-tight."

The city manager said the level at Lake Sulphur Springs was two and a half feet below the full mark, which means the city has roughly a one-year supply of water if there is no appreciable rain.

There are two sets of pumps at Lake Sulphur Springs. One is on land with intake lines extending into the lake. The other set of pumps is out in the lake.

"The set that on land, we have access to with the flip of a switch," he said. "We have 150 days water supply as it stands right now."

In order to use the pumps in the lake, the city will have to do some of its own dredging.

"We can get another 150 days out of that with no rain," he said.

While Dallas-area cities that use water that comes from Cooper Lake are into their respective water conservation plans, Sulphur Springs does not plan to implement the first phase of its conservation measures until early in 2007 if Cooper Lake does not catch any water from fall and early winter rains.

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