Belton Lake and Stillhouse Hollow Lake are both more than 100 percent full after steady rainfall over the past several days, according to federal and state sources.
Belton Lake was 4.68 feet above normal as of late Wednesday, while Stillhouse Hollow was 3.74 feet above normal, according to the website of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which manages the lakes’ dams.
Several courtesy boat docks are closed due to flooding, according to the website.
Water levels in both lakes rose close to 8 feet in the past week, and the lakes had not been full since the summer of 2017, according to the Texas Water Development Board website, which tracks Texas lake data.
Light rainfall continued Wednesday in the Killeen area, and rain is expected to continue with a 70 percent chance forecast today.
“The Killeen area has seen about 5 inches of rain since Monday, and is expected to receive another 1 to 2 inches through Saturday,” said meteorologist Jennifer Dunn with the National Weather Service station in Dallas/Fort Worth. “We aren’t forecasting any heavy rain threat or thunderstorms, it is really just going to be rain through Saturday.”
Rain chances will again be 70 percent on Friday before falling to 50 percent Saturday. On Sunday, the clouds will finally make way to let some sunshine through, according to the forecast.
Temperatures are expected to hit a high of 57 and a low of 51 today. Friday will also see slightly higher temperatures, with a high of 60 and a low of 55.
Past lake levels
While the recent rains have swiftly increased lake levels, the lakes are still lower than they were two years ago when late spring rains caused both lakes to swell to near-record levels set more than 20 years earlier.
In early June 2016, Belton Lake was about 20 feet above normal, while Stillhouse rose about 18 feet above normal, canceling events and causing damage to the parks that dot the borders of the lake. Several of those parks were closed most of the summer.
Meteorologist for the National Weather Service of Fort Worth Ted Ryan said Texas has experienced more rain than usual over the last couple years.
“Since 2015 we have generally been in a pretty wet pattern,” he said.
One of the factors for this phenomenon is the current El Niño cycle, which is associated with warmer waters along the Equator and in the Pacific Ocean.
Experts are not sure when the next drought will occur but expect a wet winter and spring.
“We can say with reasonably high confidence that there probably won’t be a drought within the next six months,” Ryan said.
While ongoing rain is not everyone’s favorite, the weather conditions do have their advantages for the region.
“Most of Central Texas reservoirs are just about topped off by now from this rain, which is certainly good news,” Ryan said. “Even if we had a drought that started tomorrow, the population could survive off that water for a good couple of years.”
Floods and droughts
Dirk Aaron, district general manager for Clearwater Underground Water Conservation, said the interchanging drought and flood cycles have been characteristic for the Central Texas area over the last century.
“We get really deep into the drought condition and then it gets resolved by a flood,” he said.
Central Texas was in a moderate drought during the summer, but it was washed away with the recent rains that began last month.
After experiencing an extreme seven-year-long drought in the 1950s, the government developed a flood control plan for the area with the solution of building lakes like Belton and Stillhouse to collect the excess water.
“What could be done actually was done,” Aaron said. “Over the years, the people that use and enjoy the lakes aren’t aware that the lakes were originally built to protect human lives, control floods and capture the water so it can be used for future development in the region.”
While the plan originally succeeded, steady development made many safety procedures not as effective.
“I wish we were better adjusted,” Aaron said. “We were very well adjusted until we saw economic development … in a flood zone or a flood way.”
According to Aaron, original flood maps provided by FEMA are no longer accurate.
“Development has changed the flow of Mother Nature’s water in storm events and that is why cities and counties and government have to develop storm water control features just so people’s homes don’t flood. It gets more and more complicated the more streets and rooftops and parking lots we add.”
Experts are working on developing new solutions to keep residents and property safe while capturing as much rain water as possible for the next drought.
“Now we are experiencing the next phase of collecting and adding infrastructure, adding dams, adding engineer solutions where we can capture the extra water before it ends up in the ocean,” Aaron said.
The solution could be aquifer storage and recovery, a system that captures, treats and injects water in the ground to store it for future use.
“We are not there yet,” Aaron said. “That needs to be in place for the continued growth of Central Texas.
Road closings and river levels
At Fort Hood Wednesday, tactical low-water crossings for military vehicles were still closed, but all low-water crossings for regular traffic on post roads were back open.
The Leon River in Gatesville was still in moderate flood stage at 29.8 feet, but was expected to start gradually falling today through the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.
In Belton, Nolan Creek had fallen to about 6 feet Wednesday after flooding to more than 13 feet on Tuesday, according to data on the Texas Water Development Board website.
Herald writers Maria DiMichele and Jacob Brooks contributed to this report.