Texas: Drought Affecting State Parks

Access to water-based recreation—fishing, boating, paddling, swimming, or just sitting in the shade on the edge of a river, stream, or lake and enjoying the sound and sight of living water and the life in and around it—invariably tops the features annually drawing 7.5 million visitors to Texas’ state parks.

Guadalupe River State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most visited of the state park system’s 94 units are those with high-quality water recreation—places such as Garner State Park on the Frio River, Pedernales Falls State Park on the Pedernales River, and Inks Lake State Park on the Colorado River’s Highland Lakes chain.

But this summer camping season, with Texas and its rivers, lakes, and streams suffering through one of the most intense, long-running droughts on record, water and the recreation it supports can be a little hard to find, reports mysanantonio.com.

Parks on rivers and streams have seen the worst of it. In the middle of July in an average year, the Frio River at Concan, near Garner State Park, has a flow rate of about 50 cubic feet per second. A few weeks ago, the flow was zero.

The same applies to the Guadalupe River at Spring Branch, near Guadalupe River State Park, Pedernales River near Johnson City, and Pedernales Falls State Park, as both show no flow.

McKinney Falls State Park, near Austin. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many reservoirs adjacent to state parks also have seen their water levels drop — Choke Canyon Reservoir near Three Rivers is down almost 10 feet, and Falcon is down more than 16 feet.

In Amarillo, in the Texas Panhandle, Lake Meredith is virtually empty. The last marina closed months ago, and likely won’t reopen.

But most reservoirs and lakes within or adjacent to state parks are holding their own.

“Overall, we’re doing pretty well,” Brent Leisure, parks division director for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, said of park visitation this summer. “Despite the low water flow, Garner’s still drawing huge crowds.”

Even with the low-water issues, drought, wildfires that scorched hugely popular Possum Kingdom and Fort Davis state parks (both now reopened for business) and an even hotter than normal Texas summer, the number of Texans visiting state parks is stable and on a par with last summer, Leisure said.

“That’s a credit to the diversity of outdoor activities we offer in the parks—camping, hiking, mountain biking,” he said. “It’s not all water-based recreation.”

While almost all Hill Country waterways are too low for paddling, tubing, or much else, the South Llano River continues flowing at close to its normal rate, making South Llano River State Park near Junction a happy anomaly.

“We’re really lucky,” said Bethany Martin, office manager at South Llano River State Park. “The river’s spring-fed, and it’s still flowing good.”

Rains Bring Only Brief Relief

Palmetto State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scattered heavy rains Thursday (August 11) evening brought badly needed relief to parched north and west Texas, but forecasters said that the storms quickly passed and were not enough to break the devastating drought that has gripped the state.

Hardest hit was the town of Del Rio, which received nearly four and a half inches of rain in two hours, according to the National Weather Service. Scattered rain in the Dallas area prevented the region from hitting 100 degrees for the first time in forty days, two days shy of the record, reported Reuters.

Heat advisories remained in effect in the south central part of the state, where heat indexes were expected to reach as high as 109 degrees, according to the Weather Service.

July was the hottest month ever recorded in Texas, said state climatologist John Nielson-Gammon, and the 12 months ending July 31 were the driest since records started being kept in 1895.

The state has entered a “vicious cycle” where the heat and drought feed on each other, he said. “Usually when we see record heat, we’re seeing record or near-record dryness,” Nielson-Gammon said.

That dryness is affecting nearly all of the state. The U.S. Drought Monitor reported 94 percent of Texas is suffering from either extreme or exceptional drought, the two most severe categories.

And the worst may not have even arrived for Texas. Climatic models show there is another La Nina system, which is blamed for this drought, coming this fall.

Worth Pondering…
You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—Davy Crockett

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