Nearly all of Lake Waco’s parks and boat ramps have been forced to temporarily close because of heavy rainfall and rising water levels, while several other businesses that offer water recreation also have had to suspend some activities.
The closures on the lake began Tuesday as rainstorms left many of the roads, parking lots and camping spots underwater. Access has been closed off to all the boat ramps, and by Thursday afternoon only the campgrounds at Midway and Reynolds Creek parks remained open.
The lake’s water level rose to 472.66 feet late Thursday, about 10 feet above normal elevation. That is nearly the peak elevation of 475 feet the lake reached in 2007 during a summer of continual rain and flooding in Central Texas, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Once the rain does stop, it will take some time for water to recede from the roadways and camping areas that are flooded. Jeff Boutwell, recreation business line manager at Lake Waco, said the asphalt has to dry out completely for at least 14 days before the roads can be used again.
“The parks will probably not be open, we’re looking probably not even for the Fourth of July, if it keeps going,” Boutwell said. “Once the water goes down, we have to let everything dry out, we have to let the road basins dry out . . . then we have to go in and remove all of the debris and fix any of the facilities that are torn out.
“Right now, we’re not looking very favorable for the month of June, at least.”
Waco had 8.46 inches of rainfall in May as of Thursday afternoon, more than double the average of 3.87 inches for that same period, according to the National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office.
Meteorologist Matt Bishop said the weather forecast includes a 50 to 60 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms in Waco on Friday and Saturday, but the rainfall is expected to taper off slightly Sunday.
The Lake Waco Marina and Slippery Minnow Bar & Grill also closed down earlier this week at the request of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the lake. Co-owner Melanie Chatmas said the flooding has made it impossible for visitors to drive to the marina or access their docked boats.
“We’re just at the mercy of Mother Nature and when everything dries out and they can open up floodgates,” Chatmas said. “But all the rivers and all the lakes are full, so there’s just nowhere for the water to go.”
Boating and recreational areas around Lake Whitney and Lake Aquilla also were shut down by Wednesday, with only the boat ramp at McCown Valley Park on Lake Whitney still open for use Wednesday afternoon.
Lake Whitney Manager Abraham Phillips said potential visitors should call ahead before journeying to the lake to check whether that site is still open.
He also cautioned people who might seek out unconventional boat launching sites to be careful if they opt to brave the lake waters. The higher water levels — 11 feet above normal elevation at Lake Whitney and 8 feet higher than regular levels at Lake Aquilla, as of Thursday evening — may create new shoreline access points.
“Safety is always a concern in these types of events,” Phillips said. “If you were to be out on the lake, there’s a lot of floating debris, different things that come in after a big flood event, logs. If you’re out on the lake on a boat, I would use caution. Also, always wear your life jacket.”
Businesses along the swelling Brazos River also have had to close down riverside activities. Mexican restaurant Manny’s on the River had to cancel a planned river cruise last week after its lower deck began flooding.
“We’re still using the inside and what we call the gazebo area, but we’re not able to use the lower deck,” general manager Jorge Garcia said. “We have the boat docks where they can park the boats and they’re supposed to be able to come upstairs, but right now we can’t do that. The only way you can get to us is through regular walk-ins.”
Bicycle Waco had stopped renting kayaks, canoes and paddleboards as steady rains made those activities less appealing, but the higher waters have prompted the outdoors business to suspend rentals altogether.
“The river’s been high for about a week or so now,” store director Ross Harris said. “A day like today, we could rent from a rain standpoint, but the river just isn’t in a shape where we feel comfortable doing that.
“We’ll get calls about it. I think people also understand the fact that we’ve had like six months of rain in about a week and a half, so I think they understand there’s a little bit of an issue getting on the water.”
More rainfall also could mean more complications with managing the flow of water to the already full Brazos River, since both Lake Waco and Lake Aquilla discharge directly into the river, Boutwell said.
“There’s only so much water that can pass through. That all has to be balanced out or you’ll put water into places that you don’t want it to go in Waco,” Boutwell said.
The Corps of Engineers authorized Lake Waco to release about 6,700 cubic feet of water per second out of its main tanner drainage gates Wednesday, but reversed course Thursday and ordered all discharges to cease.
Boutwell said the lake in the past has typically released water only through its discharge tower at Bosque Park, which can release 1,600 to 2,000 cubic feet of water per second, as directed by the Corps of Engineers for flood control.
“What’s happening now is there’s so much water in the Brazos downstream that we can’t let water out,” Boutwell said. “Here locally, it might not be raining, but south of us it could be raining and north of us it could be raining. We’re kind of stuck in a Catch-22. . . . Now we’re having to catch everything and hold it.”
The Brazos River Authority’s Possum Kingdom Lake and Lake Granbury water-supply reservoirs are full and must send water downstream into the Brazos, spokeswoman Judi Pierce said.
Lake Whitney is catching and holding those discharges because of flooding in lower parts of the Brazos River Basin, like the Bryan-College Station area and Hempstead.
“Lake Whitney is going to be holding on to that water for a while in their flood pool in order to allow the normal runoff going downstream to lessen before they start releasing it,” Pierce said.
“It shouldn’t cause any issues in the Waco area unless the rain just comes and hovers over our area. It won’t be due to any downstream releases.”