West Texas lakes almost tapped out

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JUSTICEBURG, Texas (AP) - Lake Alan Henry lost roughly 4 billion gallons of water to evaporation in 2011 before the city of Lubbock took a drop.

That’s twice as much as the city takes from the lake in a year.

Just four years ago, heavy summer rains flooded the lake. But that banner year was followed by the driest year on record and quickly receding water levels. Today, the city’s only reservoir is a little more than 60 percent full.

Evaporation has licked up more than expected, thanks to a lingering drought and sweltering temperatures. Still more water is simply missing, according to federal government data. The water in the lake is a costly commodity for Lubbock - more expensive than most cities throughout the state.

“I’m worried, from a scientific standpoint, about the sustainability of the reservoir,” USDA soil and water management researcher David Brauer told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (http://bit.ly/1koKRFt).

With $245 million invested in Lake Alan Henry, could the city’s investment turn into a mud hole as Lake Meredith did?

“If we continue with this drought, I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson said.

“We’ve paid a lot of money and continue to pay a lot of money for that water.

“I don’t think anybody thought we’d be here this quickly.”

Calculating the water loss is tricky because the length and width of Lake Alan Henry changes as the lake level drops. No two feet of water yield the same volume.

If the six feet lost to evaporation in 2011 were equal - doing some quick and dirty math - that means Lubbock lost 4.4 billion gallons of water from Lake Alan Henry. That’s roughly a third of what the city uses annually from Lake Alan Henry and the Roberts and Bailey counties well fields, combined.

But that’s not even the most troubling.

The U.S. Geological Survey has been monitoring evaporation, stream flow and rainfall at Lake Alan Henry as part of its mission to collect data on the nation’s water resources. It’s this data that worries Brauer.

“The statistic analysis shows only about half of the water is getting into the lake for storage,” he said.

This finding is critical because the model city planners have used is based on storing all the water they calculated should be captured at Lake Alan Henry.

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