Receding water is beginning to reveal the tolls of a month of flooding at Lake Waco, and it’s not a pretty sight.
All lakeside parks and boat ramps remain closed this week as soggy park roads continue to dry out, many of them covered with logs and debris.
At Airport Beach, metal picnic shelters lie in ruins from wave action, and the courtesy dock has been dislocated and damaged. Campsites at Airport Park have been eroded away.
Previously submerged restrooms still have to be pumped out, and damaged electrical and sewer infrastructure in some park areas is still inaccessible for repair.
“Until the last couple of days, we couldn’t even get out here and see,” said chief Lake Waco park ranger Randall McCartney of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said many roads still need a week or two to dry out before they can be used.
“We can’t put heavy equipment on this yet,” McCartney said during a stop at Reynolds Creek Park on Wednesday. “Give it a couple of more days. . . . It’s not that we don’t want to do anything or don’t care to do anything. We have our hands tied.”
Lake levels Wednesday stood more than 4 feet above the normal of 462 feet above sea level. Levels have been declining slowly since they peaked April 25 at 478.25 feet — more than 16 feet above normal and almost as high as the peak in last year’s Memorial Day floods.
For Corps personnel who have spent the last year cleaning up from that destructive flood, the scene at Lake Waco is one of futility. The parks just reopened in early April, only to be closed in mid-April because of flooding. Now they will spend much of 2016 cleaning up and repairing the same parks, McCartney said.
He said he hopes to have some boat ramps open, including those at Speegleville and Koehne parks, open by Memorial Day if more rain doesn’t raise lake levels again before then. The National Weather Service predicted that up to 3 inches of rain could fall in the area late Wednesday and Thursday.
McCartney doesn’t yet have a time frame or a cost estimate for the ravaged recreation areas at Reynolds Creek, Airport Beach and Airport Park.
In the meantime, he said lake users have been calling and complaining that they’re unable to use the lake and its parks.
“They’re frustrated with us, and we’re frustrated too,” he said Wednesday, standing on a debris-covered road at Reynolds Creek Park. “But they weren’t the ones out here sweating and doing all the work.”
The lake was closed for weeks last year after the Memorial Day weekend floods, and park attendance for the year was about half its usual range of 800,000 to 1 million visitors.
Most of the work was done by the Lake Waco Corps staff, which includes five rangers and two civil engineering technicians. Local Corps officials estimated that the total cost was about $250,000, coming out of the lake’s normal budget.
McCartney said he’s not counting on any extra money this year for the park repairs. But he said everyone will work hard to get the repairs done quickly.
“We don’t gain anything by having these parks closed,” he said. “Closing parks is not a goal of ours. We’ll do everything we can to try to keep as much open as we can.”
McCartney pointed out that the purpose of Lake Waco is flood control, and in late April it did just that, by closing floodgates to keep the Bosque and Brazos Rivers from flooding.
“This lake was meant to help stop flooding from reaching Waco and downstream,” he said. “We’re in our main mission right now. Recreation and other things are secondary.”
The flooding also closed the Harbour Texas Marina and the Lake Waco Marina starting in mid-April.
Rich Chatmas, owner of the Lake Waco Marina and its Slippery Minnow restaurant, said he lost a third of his peak-season business because of last year’s floods.
Chatmas said he has lost prime restaurant and marina business with the closures this year, but he hopes to reopen by Memorial Day and make up lost ground.
“It’s going to be very difficult, but it looks like we’re going to pull through,” he said. “Our customers work with us, and our bank works with us. And I think we’ll be able to make it.”
Chatmas said he doesn’t fault Lake Waco officials for the flood problems.
“We think the Corps is doing everything they can,” he said. “We all wish they could open the dam quicker, but they have to take care of all their lakes. The Corps sacrifices, and I sacrifice.”