County water supply ‘on tap’ to thwart drought

Fishermen have a bit more "beach" since Wheeler Branch Reservoir is down 5 feet. Photo by Kathryn Jones

Fishermen have a bit more bank to fish from now that Wheeler Branch Reservoir is down 5 feet.  Photo by Kathryn Jones

By Kathryn Jones

Editor

The recent headlines about the water scarcity in Texas have been downright scary. Some Texas communities face such severe water shortages that their water supplies could run out within several months or even 45 days.

Wichita Falls has even looked at recycling its wastewater for drinking water.

Thankfully, Somervell County residents won’t have to resort to such extreme measures. Wheeler Branch Reservoir, which supplies water to residential and commercial customers through the Somervell County Water District, was down 7 feet until recent rains reduced the deficit to 5 feet.

Still, that’s enough to supply the county with water for several years.

“That leaves us with a three-and-a-half year supply of water,” water district General Manager Kevin Taylor said. “We don’t like to be down at all, but we’re in better shape than a lot of communities.”

As Texas’ population continues growing in urban areas and is on track to at least double by 2060, the state is grappling with how to supply water to more residents in the midst of a prolonged drought.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map released last week shows about half the state remains in severe to exceptional drought. Somervell County is in “extreme drought,” the Drought Monitor map indicates. Drought Monitor map

The Texas Water Development Board’s website Water Data for Texas (www.waterdatafortexas.org) reports that Texas reservoirs monitored for water supply are 66.6 percent full as of June 16.

Squaw Creek Reservoir is one of the fullest — 99.4 percent. The board does not monitor Wheeler Branch Reservoir. In the Brazos River basin, Lake Granbury is at 49.9 percent, Possum Kingdom Reservoir is 60.2 percent full and Lake Whitney is at 61.9 percent.

The live weather station set up at Wheeler Branch Reservoir (check its website, www.somervellweather.com, for current temperature, wind speed and water data) so far this month the station recorded 1.44 inches of rain and only 8.09 inches for the year.

The water district was created in 1987 to raise money to construct a dam. The water development board provided more than $32 million in grants and low-interest loans. Those funds were used to build a water treatment plant, distribution system, elevated storage, pump station and ground storage.

The board calls Wheeler Branch one of its “success stories” and featured it and the water district in a recent report.

Now that the Chisholm Trail Parkway is complete, “the commute to the metroplex will become easier. And that means communities like Glen Rose will likely experience an increase in population,” the board said in the report.

Getting ahead of expected growth led the county to build the Wheeler Branch Off-Channel Reservoir, one of the few off-channel reservoirs in Texas (meaning it’s not actually on a river, but pumps water from one – in this case, the Paluxy).

Before the reservoir was built, the county relied on groundwater.

“The groundwater table was dropping an average of four feet per year and wells were drying up,” Taylor said.

The reservoir provides residential water for the city of Glen Rose, all of the potable water for offices at Luminant’s Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant and 70 to 75 percent of the county.

Workers have been busy this year extending water lines to the southern part of the county and constructing a second elevated water storage tank.

“We’ve got close to 90 miles of pipeline in the ground,” Taylor said.

Eventually, the county will need another water storage tower at Chalk Mountain and one on the eastern side of the county in the Nemo area, he added.

In hindsight, the county’s water planning and completion of capital projects look especially wise given the crisis facing many other communities in dry areas of the state.

“We’re in really good shape, especially in these circumstances,” Taylor concluded. “Plenty of water is available to us.”

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