Lack of rain, leaky dam leaves Lake Tyler with dropping water levels

TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - Lack of rain, rapid evaporation, a small drainage basin and a slightly leaky dam have again left Lake Tyler with dropping levels.

Lake Tyler as of last week was 2.82 feet below its full capacity, and that already has affected recreational activities.

The leak itself is not a new development. Seepage in the dam has been present since 1978, but the leak was not discovered until a routine inspection in 2005. It did not become a problem until 2009 with the discovery of a "boil," which is water bubbling up with soil.

"As soon as we found it, we installed a V-notch weir to measure it," said Greg Morgan, director of Utilities and Public Works. "Right now, it's leaking at a rate of about 30 gallons per minute. That means, at this rate, Lake Tyler would lose about a foot every 91 years."

Still, it is problem they thought worth fixing.

"Since the water was carrying soil, we were concerned it would widen itself," Morgan said. "It's a problem we wanted to get taken care of before it gets worse."

Working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Tyler Water Utilities Department expects to have plans to stop the leak approved by the end of July. They will bid out a contract in August, and begin construction of a "deep soil cutoff wall" in September. The entire process, from approval to completion, is expected to take about six months, with 90 days of construction. The process involves using a machine that works around the clock.

"This project should cost about $4 (million) to $5 million. That money will be coming from the Tyler Water Utilities Capitol Fund," Morgan said. "That doesn't come from tax dollars or anything. We get that money from water utilities bills and revenue bonds."

Still, the leak is not the primary cause for such low water levels in Lake Tyler. The real culprits are the small amounts of rain this year, substantial evaporation caused by sunny, cloudless days and Lake Tyler's small drainage basin. Morgan said it only measures 114 square miles, compared to Lake Palestine's 839 square miles.

Already, these factors are combining to have an effect on water recreation.

"It's not so bad yet, I guess," said Steve Hancock, harbormaster for the Tyler Yacht Club, which has sailboats docked at three piers. "The last few years have been so dry, that's the standard by which everything is judged, but we are worried. Already, about 20 percent of my slips are unusable. If we get to 5 feet down, about 40 percent of my slips will be unusable. Our shallow slip is unusable now, and our deep one will be that way, too, by the time we reach 5 feet. We're getting really concerned."

A slip is the space between two piers where boats are kept.

Yacht club Commodore Bob Horick added, "All you can really do is pray for rain. Then, you can either remove your boat while you wait, or run the risk of hitting ground. It becomes a personal preference. As the saying goes, ‘You can't fight Mother Nature.' All you can do is work with her."

That is what happened last time. In 2006, Lake Tyler was 8 feet below capacity. During the course of one three-day weekend, though, a tropical storm brought it to 3 feet above capacity.

"It's all just a matter of getting the right rain in the right place," Morgan said.


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