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Central Texas waterlogged: Heavy rains replace drought danger with flood risk

Central Texas waterlogged: Heavy rains replace drought danger with flood risk

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Heavy rains overnight left Central Texas waterlogged Monday, filling lakes, swelling the Brazos River over Waco’s Riverwalk and leaving some Limestone County residents flooded out of their homes.

And with the ground saturated and more rain predicted, authorities are warning of further flood dangers.

The Brazos River at Waco rose 14 feet to a height of 16.21 feet Monday, racing by at 18,000 cubic feet per second.

While Waco Regional Airport logged only three-quarters of an inch of rain overnight, much of the watershed upstream of Lake Waco got between 2 and 7 inches, causing the North Bosque River to crest with 17,200 cubic feet per second by midmorning Monday.

Lake Waco rose to 2 feet over its authorized level and was making major releases downstream toward the Brazos.

Even heavier rain east of Interstate 35 was causing more serious flooding of the Navasota River and Lake Mexia, which spilled over U.S. Highway 84.

As Lake Mexia rose several feet Monday, Limestone County emergency officials were helping evacuate some of the hundreds of residents who live around the lake.

“We were extremely concerned because of the rain last night,” said Matt Groveton, director of the Limestone County Office of Emergency Management. “The water rose extremely rapidly. . . . With the ground being saturated and the rivers and lakes full, if we receive any more significant rain, it could be a tremendous problem for us.”

Groveton, Limestone County Judge Daniel Burkeen and game warden Trent Marker waded through high water to persuade a reluctant couple to evacuate.

“They were not wanting to leave, which I understand, because they’ve been there a long time,” Marker said. “But if it gets much worse, first responders would have to risk their lives to get in there. . . . Our main goal is making sure that life prevails, because that’s what matters.”

One of the displaced families was camping in an RV Monday at Fort Parker State Park, which itself was seeing some flooding, Park Ranger Dan Clute said. The park is downstream of Lake Mexia on the Navasota River.

“Some campsites are underwater, but so far we haven’t had any damage,” he said. “The campers are not in any danger. The five sites we have open are high enough that we don’t consider that they’re going to get flooded.”

The flooding in Limestone County came mostly from the upstream watershed around Corsicana, where 10 inches of rain fell overnight, according to the National Weather Service.

The NWS is predicting more storms in the region in the next few days. In Waco, the agency showed a 40 percent chance of rain Monday night and 60 percent Tuesday and Wednesday. A 50 percent chance of rain is predicted for Wednesday night and Thursday, dropping to 30 percent Thursday night.

Much of the Brazos basin has been affected by the recent rains, but the most significant flooding has been around Limestone County, said Brad Brunett, water services manager for Brazos River Authority.

For most of the basin, the recent rain has been a blessing, filling Lake Granbury and bringing Lake Possum Kingdom and Lake Whitney closer to full after several years of drought.

“We’ve had a lot of improvement,” he said. “We’ve gone from being extremely dry to being extremely wet above Granbury and Possum Kingdom.”

The Texas Water Development Board on Monday declared that the statewide drought that began in 2011 was officially over, though 30 percent of the state was still in drought or abnormally dry conditions.

Lake Whitney on Monday stood at nearly 532 feet above sea level, just a foot shy of its authorized level. It has risen 4 feet in the past few days, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is not making flood releases from the lake, lake manager Abraham Phillips said.

He said Lake Aquilla did open its flood gates Monday morning after rising 6.5 feet over its authorized level.

It appeared Monday that the high river levels in Waco were largely the result of releases from Lake Waco and Lake Aquilla, as well as the flow from local streams.

The high levels covered the downtown section of the Brazos Riverwalk on both sides of the river.

City parks Superintendent Burck Tollett said once waters subside, crews will have to clean mud off the Riverwalk, but he does not expect to see lasting damage. In addition, he expects crews will soon be out in a work boat to clear logjams at the Brazos low-water dam south of LaSalle Avenue.

Brunett, the BRA official, said it would take a huge amount of rain upstream for the Brazos to flood Waco, given the flood control capacity of Lake Waco and Lake Whitney.

Even after it reaches its authorized water level, Lake Whitney could rise another 40 feet and hold back 1.3 million acre-feet of water.

Still, Brunett said, localized flooding remains a risk in Waco and anywhere else where the ground is saturated.

“If we were to have a repeat of yesterday, you could easily see flooding in Waco,” he said. “People don’t need to have a false sense of security.”

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A National Weather Service map shows that some of the highest rainfall was around Stephenville and Corsicana.

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