- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

LAKEHILLS, Texas (AP) - Jason Polanco drove the 30 miles from San Antonio just to see Medina Lake, greatly replenished by recent rains after dropping to only 3 percent of its capacity during the drought.

“It looks awesome,” said Polanco, 38, peering at the half-full reservoir through the closed gate at Bandera County Park. “I want to bring my WaveRunner. It’s been in storage for years.”

Docks are again afloat. Boat ramps actually reach the water. The lake’s precipitous rebound - rising more than 60 feet since May 1 - has residents and merchants along its 110-mile shoreline along Bandera and Medina counties feeling upbeat about the summer.

“It’s good for everybody when the lake has water in it,” Bandera County Judge Richard Evans said. “This has a great impact on our ecotourism.”

The boat launch at Red Cove Cafe & Marina technically never closed, but the waterline had receded far from the paved ramp.

“Anybody with a four-wheel-drive vehicle and experience could do it,” said Chance Heyen, 19, whose parents, Debbie and Chris Heyen, own the business in Mico. “Now, pretty much it’s no problem to launch anything.”

They’ve been restocking shelves and hiring staff to restart the cafe June 12, he told the San Antonio Express-News (http://bit.ly/1ALg2DP), adding, “A lot of our old employees moved on since we haven’t been open in three years.”

The water remains murky, raising health concerns for some. Boaters and water-skiers need to watch for flood debris, including logs and other half-submerged obstacles.

“If it doesn’t rain and we don’t get any more runoff, I think the water quality ought to be fine by this weekend,” Bandera County Commissioner Bobby Harris said. “A lot of the flood debris has sank to the bottom.”

Hoping to reopen the county park by the weekend, Harris has been tackling maintenance and repair issues at the mothballed facility on Park Road 37.

He said constituents can’t wait to launch boats and get wet, now that the lake had swelled to 53 percent of capacity, reaching a level just 23 feet below the dam spillway.

“Everybody is excited,” Harris said. “I’ve had a lot of people driving through just to look at the lake.”

Recreational returnees need to use common sense, said Ernie Lerma, a former state game warden.

“Anytime you have flooding, there’s safety hazards; debris, snakes and possible dirty water,” he said. “I’d try to use some discretion. You’re not going to jump into murky water.”

Also urging caution was David Mauk, the general manager of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District, which routinely tested the lake’s water quality until the waterline dropped so far that it was hard to reach. Testing will resume next week after the sediment has settled, he said.

“I’ve been in it every day, and I’m still here. My personal opinion is it’s fine,” said Mike Crandall of Wallys Watersports in Mico. He said the lake level is “like night and day from a month ago. It’s great. Fantastic.”

The Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control & Improvement District No. 1, which manages the reservoir and supplies water from it to downstream irrigation farmers through its canal system, cut off those deliveries in August 2012 and stopped its sales to the San Antonio Water System in April 2013 as the water level plummeted.

“It looks great,” BMA General Manager Ed Berger said of the revitalized lake. “Maybe these irrigators who have been hit so hard economically can get some of their water this year, hopefully.”

He said the district’s board of directors would discuss that issue Monday.

County Commissioner Harris, who also is president of the Lake Medina Conservation Society, hopes that ongoing talks with BMA and others yield a lake management plan that forestalls another severe depletion.

“I’m trying to figure this out so everybody gets water and the lake never gets dry again,” Harris said.

Jim Gallagher, having survived in business for 28 years through big floods and drought, was ready to welcome returning anglers to Jim’s Rebait and Tackle Shop.

“You don’t see a lot of activity out here when there’s no water. Nobody’s on the road. The county park has been closed for years. A lot of businesses here closed, mostly restaurants,” he said. “Tourism keeps this town afloat.”

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Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com

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