The water is coming down, but the work is just beginning.
Levels at Lake Waco have dropped 16.4 feet from their high point June 7 and are now about 6 feet above normal. The Lake Waco Wetlands’ boardwalks have re-emerged from floodwaters relatively unscathed.
Flooded parks, roads and boat ramps are starting to emerge from the water, but they will need drying time and lots of work before they can reopen to the public, said Lake Waco manager Heath McLane of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
McLane said he hopes to open the boat ramp at Airport Park by July 22 and Speegleville Park and Midway Park by early to mid-August.
But he said recovery will be slow at Lake Waco’s flood-damaged parks.
Half of the hundred or so covered picnic shelters at Airport Park and Airport Beach have been heavily damaged or destroyed, and erosion and wave action have ruined several screen shelters at Airport Park, he said.
“The park has sustained some significant damage,” McLane said.
He said the Twin Bridges day use area saw less damage to picnic structures. It may be open toward the end of summer, but the guardhouse is destroyed and the beach is likely washed away.
“There’s a lot of unknowns,” McLane said. “Our goal is to get as much open as we possibly can.”
Lake Waco and Lake Whitney both held back massive amounts of water in early June to prevent further flooding downstream on the Brazos. The Corps has been releasing water steadily during the past few weeks, causing high water to swamp the river trails in Waco and forcing the closure of public boat ramps on the river.
As of Tuesday, Lake Whitney was releasing nearly 10,000 cubic feet per second, and Lake Waco was releasing about 3,800 cubic feet per second. McLane said he expected the high levels on the Brazos through Waco to drop as the remaining floodwater cycles out of the upstream dam.
City parks director John Williams said city officials haven’t been able to assess the damage to the riverwalk yet because of the high water. He said the boat ramps remain closed because of the dangers of swift water, but boats can still be launched from private docks.
Meanwhile, some Lake Waco boaters may not have to wait for the Corps ramps to open.
Lake Waco Marina owner Rich Chatmas said he hopes to reopen his 200-slip marina and Slippery Minnow restaurant Friday. Chatmas said he thinks his customers are eager to get back on the lake, even though the hotter part of the summer has arrived.
“I think people will come anyway,” he said. “A lot of houseboats have air conditioning, and other boats have canopies.”
Chatmas said the restaurant suffered little damage, but parts of the marina and some campsites remain damaged and unusable.
“When water is that high and there’s no protection from the wind, and we have storms like we did, unfortunately, some things break,” he said.
It’s the second year in a row that flooding has damaged his facilities and cost him the prime part of the summer, but Chatmas said he expects to survive.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough few years, but we have figured out a way to manage and pull it through,” Chatmas said.
Further upstream at the Lake Waco Wetlands, water that covered boardwalks and other facilities has now mostly retreated, and the damage appears to be small, coordinator Nora Schell said.
Schell said the problem now is digging out underwater pumps that divert part of the North Bosque River’s flow into the wetland for the purpose of water purification and wildlife habitat. She said it could be a couple of months before the pumps are running again, which could crimp the growth of aquatic plants this summer.
But no permanent damage has been done to the nature preserve, Schell said.
“My opinion, having been here 12 or 13 years, is that it bounces back pretty quickly,” she said. “Flooding is a desirable function for wetlands in nature.”
Schell said the flooding has had the benefit of suppressing the aggressive growth of cattails in favor of other species such as bullrush and duckweed.