Texas lake conditions good for holiday

WYLIE, TX It's a much better feeling than she had three years ago, when drought conditions forced officials to move Collin Park Marina into the main part of Lavon Lake before the cove where it normally sits turned into a maze of dried, cracked mud.

Wiley said the marina wasn't deserted when Lavon was at a paltry 35 percent of capacity in 2006, but she figures the phone "ringing off the hook" this year has something to do with ideal lake levels that are showing up in other parts of Texas, too.

"You give us sunshine and you give us water and the people come," she said. "That's all they need."

Wiley's marina store, a restaurant and several boat docks are back in their cove, floating on about 20 feet of water. The scene about 30 miles northeast of Dallas is probably similar elsewhere in lake-rich northeast Texas.

John Rael, who monitors lake levels for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said lakes from the Dallas area eastward are in good to great shape, with some overflowing and implementing controlled releases. Numerous lakes that Rael said always see significant holiday traffic are either full or close to it, particularly in areas close to Houston and westward toward Austin.

"If you haven't made reservations or planned for that area, it's too late," Rael said. "We're just expecting overflow crowds at our facilities this weekend."

Lake levels aren't as high as they were last year across much of Texas, but most of the bigger lakes are within 20 percent of conservation, or what is considered the optimum level. Two lakes in Central Texas are exceptions: Travis and Buchanan. Travis was at 62 percent of capacity in the latest monthly report from the Texas Water Development Board. Buchanan was at 69 percent.

"They are below conservation, but they're not in dire straits by any means," said Greg Shelton, who monitors river and lake levels for the National Weather Service. "With the recent rains in that part of the state, especially in the Austin and San Antonio areas, I'm sure those reservoirs have rebounded somewhat."

Although the latest drought map released Thursday showed that conditions have eased in South Texas, parts of that area remain the only ones in the country in exceptional drought. The impact on water recreation is minimal because there are only a few of what the state calls major lakes in those areas. Still, weather officials are watching rainfall closely.

"The long-term forecasts are indicating for that drought to persist in deep South Texas especially," Shelton said. "That would be an ongoing concern."

The opposite is true in North Texas. Flooding along the Red River has some resort owners at Lake Texoma expecting their Memorial weekend turnout to be lower. Several Texoma parks are closed because of flooding, and Wiley said she's had calls from people looking for alternative sites.

"With us, since everything floats, too much water is not a problem," Wiley said.

Good weather forecasts also are playing a role in officials expecting large crowds. The chances of rain around most of the state don't exceed 30 percent through the weekend, said Victor Murphy, a National Weather Service meteorologist. He said normal conditions, which means temperatures in the 80s, are expected across most of the state, although later weather forecasts called for increasing possibilities of rain.

"We do not see any significant impact weather for the weekend across Texas," Murphy said.

In West Texas, Lake Brownwood was to reopen this weekend after storms earlier in the month destroyed up to half of the lake's approximately 1,000 docks.

Rob McCorkle, a spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said his agency had no forecasts for the volume of traffic this weekend. But he said there was a 5.1 percent increase in park visitations from September to April compared to the previous year.

Rael, the Army Corps of Engineers official, said authorities are prepared for a jump in attendance.

"I'm sure the marina operators and the concessionaires, they're as happy as can be. They're walking around with ear-to-ear smiles," Rael said. "I know our rangers, they're just geared up. Law enforcement is ready for the teeming masses."

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