6 On Your Side: Lake Levels

Stage Four water restrictions are inching closer to being put into effect in Wichita Falls.

In fact, the most recent projection, released Monday, estimates Stage Four could be enacted as early as mid-October.

Luke Baker, a senior pump plant maintenance mechanic for the Water Purification Department for the City of Wichita Falls, took Newschannel 6 Anchor Brittany Glas behind the scenes for an inside look at how area lake levels are measured. Levels are taken at intake centers at both area lakes.

Baker is one of ten men who measure levels weekly at Lake Arrowhead and Lake Kickapoo. He has worked for the department for nearly a decade. It's his experience that's given him a first-hand look at the drought's impact on the water supply.

"Between one time and the next, there have been times that I've seen a foot or more drop out of the lakes," said Baker.

Daniel Nix, the Wichita Falls Public Works Operations Manager, explained after measuring levels on scene, data is compiled alongside reports from the U.S. Geological Survey.

"We can calculate the percent of water that is left in the lake from those elevations... I compile those percentages into a report. They're distributed once a week to the City Manager, council, the Water Resources Committee, and our Public Information Office," said Nix.

Newschannel 6 filed an open records request with Wichita Falls to learn how quickly and drastically lake levels have dropped in recent years; specifically, since January 2011. The data showed lake levels have been consistently on the decline.

Skywarn 6 Certified Broadcast Chief Meteorologist Ken Johnson explained drought in terms of weather history.

"These droughts… in the 1930's, 50's, and 80's, they typically last about ten years," said Johnson, "I'm not saying this one will last ten years, but I don't like the way the weather patterns look."

On average, 29 inches of rain falls each year in Wichita Falls. In 2011, only 12.87 inches fell. 2012 experienced more rainfall, but so far in 2013, we haven't even hit 16 inches of rain.

July 2013 however, brought much-needed rainfall over the water sheds that successfully slowed down progression of Stage Four.

Lake residents and Texomans alike want to know a possible solution that could bring about a drought recovery.

Ken Johnson explained, "We need a disaster to happen to correct this drought. A disaster meaning a major flood event over a wide area, especially over the water sheds."

Owner of Kickapoo Fishing Camp at Lake Kickapoo in Holliday, Jim Hamill, told Newschannel 6, "I think we should have been in Stage Four months ago."

Despite devastatingly low lake levels, Hamill is positive. He said, "We suffered through last summer and it was bad. This summer's worse. But Lord willing, we'll still be here next year."

"It's a rough road at times… You have to have the water and you have to have the fishermen," said Shari Thomason, the manager at Kickapoo Fishing Camp.

Wichita Falls city leaders remain optimistic about entering into a Stage Four Drought Disaster.

"If it cools off, and that evaporation rate goes down, and we start getting some rain, it could delay it on into the winter, or possibly next year," Nix said. "We just have to wait to see what happens over the course of the next four weeks."

Lake Arrowhead, at full capacity, is 926 feet. Monday, it measured in at only 910 feet.

Lake Kickapoo stands at 1,045 feet at full capacity. At last measure Monday, it had lost 13 feet, standing at only 1,032 feet.

In July 2011, Stage One was enacted in Wichita Falls. Stage Two went into effect August 2012. Stage Three Drought Emergency was issued February 2013. Stage Four Drought Emergency is expected to go into effect as early as mid-October.

The public can view lake level information on lakes across the state of Texas by clicking here.

Brittany Glas, Newschannel 6