This week I interviewed Ronnie Bruggman, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Lake Manager of Belton Lake and Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir, concerning the flooding which has forced the closure of boat ramps on both lakes.
Please describe the upstream and downstream conditions that have led to the closure of boat ramps on Lake Belton and Stillhouse Hollow.
To clarify, these lakes are not closed, but boat access is extremely limited. USACE’s primary mission is flood damage reduction. We are required to balance water releases based on flooding up and down stream of our lakes. Texas received unusual amounts of rain this spring. This has caused flooding all along the Brazos River and record flooding in the lower Brazos River near Bryan and in the Houston area. Because the lower Brazos River is flooding, we are not able to release water. We will not release until flood waters downstream subside.
Does the Corps have any predictive tools or measuring/detection devices that allow it to predict future hourly or daily inflows into Belton and Stillhouse based on rainfall in the watershed?
USACE partners with the US Geological Survey in maintaining river gauges to monitor flows of major tributaries. These gauges report every 15 minutes. During flood conditions, we monitor these gauges and also work with the National Weather Service to perform forecasts on predicted lake levels.
Is there a “magic number” concerning elevation at which all boat ramps on Belton will be closed? And what is that elevation for Stillhouse?
There is no magic number. We manage a combined 20 boat ramps on these two lakes, and each ramp is at a little different elevation. We hold off on closing these ramps until after the water is over the ramp and covering the turnaround. At that time, there is really no way to safely launch. Most of the boat ramps at Belton Lake are nonfunctional when the elevation is between 599-606 feet above sea level. We do have a concrete roadway that is at reasonable gradation to allow boat launching in Belton Park to reopen once we hit an elevation of 611 feet. There are a few other access points/boat launch around Belton that are managed by others that may be open. For Stillhouse Lake, generally speaking, the boat ramps are nonfunctional between elevations of 628-637 feet above sea level.
There were several lakes releasing high volumes of water this week, like Possum Kingdom and Granbury, while Stillhouse and Belton’s gates were shut. How does the Corps prioritize when to release water and where water is released from?
The lakes like Possum Kingdom, Granbury and Limestone are owned and managed by the State of Texas and were not constructed for flood control purposes, therefore flood waters pass through. There are 25 lakes in Texas that are owned and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and they are managed as discussed above.
Can anglers expect to have access to the area boat ramps as soon as the waters recede?
The boat ramps will open once the flood waters are below each turnaround for at least 10-14 days. After the roadways are inundated with water, the road base under the roads must dry before allowing traffic on them. If not, the base will move and ruin the asphalt surface. Roads are very expensive to replace/repair.
Do you anticipate any Corps of Engineer access points will remain open after the most recent round of heavy rain last Thursday?
Most of the USACE boat ramps are closed, and I am afraid will be closed for a while. How long? It will depend on how much rain is received and where it falls. With this rain falling on most of Central Texas, the four lakes (Belton, Stillhouse, Georgetown and Granger) will be sharing the capacity in the Little River. USACE is only allowed to release 10,000 cubic feet per second on the Little River. That may sound like a lot of water but when considering the amount of flood water behind these lakes it could take a few months for the elevations to get to back down.