Flood toll on Lake Waco Wetlands could take years to overcome (2024)

Nora Schell has overseen the Lake Waco Wetlands through some 20 years of drought and flood and everything in between.

But the last few weeks have given the wetlands coordinator a new appreciation of the power of water in a hurry.

A series of floods on the adjacent North Bosque River in the last few weeks wrecked boardwalks, picnic tables and other improvements that have helped make the 180-acre preserve at 1752 Eichelberger Crossing Road a destination for nature lovers.

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The constructed wetlands upstream of Lake Waco remains covered with several feet of water due to floodwater from the lake, which was still 14.6 feet above normal Friday afternoon after days of aggressive water releases from the lake’s dam. Eichelberger Crossing was closed this week, blocking normal access to the wetland.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen, in terms of being the most destructive,” Schell said Thursday. “All my boardwalks are askew.”

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The floating boardwalks came unmoored from their anchors and ended up in the wrong parts of the wetlands. Schell said the segments will require significant repair, and tractors will ultimately have to reposition them once the wetland dries out again. Meanwhile, a viewing platform between two of the main cells of the wetlands is gone, and the fate of benches recently installed by an Eagle Scout candidate is uncertain, Schell said.

Roads and paths around the wetlands have suffered both erosion and silting, and the pumps that normally divert a portion of the North Bosque River through the wetlands are submerged in water and mud and will likely need extensive work, Schell said.

The wetlands effectively dried up during a prolonged drought in 2022 and 2023, when the North Bosque slowed to a trickle and the pumps were out of service. In late October, floodwaters from a massive storm in the North Bosque watershed filled the lake. The pumps were repaired around the same time, allowing the wetlands to begin to return to normal this spring.

“The wetlands were looking beautiful and the pumps were working, and then, boom, this happened,” Schell said. “It’s famine to feast.”

The North Bosque River had three flood surges in late April, early May and the end of May, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

Schell said that in the May 4-5 incident, she got a call from the Lake Waco manager based on rising lake levels. She got out to the site in time to watch surges of stormwater fill the wetlands and flood surrounding roads.

She and nature photographer Brian Boyd stood on a lookout platform just downhill from the visitor center and saw snakes swim by, followed by an otter.

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Boyd, who visits Lake Waco several times a week, said he has seen many displaced animals with the high water, including snakes and deer.

“Wildlife is coming in closer to all of us,” he said.

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Lake Waco in early May rose to about 20 feet above its normal level of 462 feet above sea level. It has fluctuated since then as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released water or held new inflows back to protect downstream communities. It peaked again at 18 feet above normal on June 2, then fell to 14.2 feet by Friday afternoon as the Corps continued to release nearly 8,000 cubic feet of water per second.

Lake Waco Park Ranger Taylor Christian said the Corps will continue to assess its parks and roads around the lake as the level drops. For now, he is expecting significant damage.

He said the heaviest damage is at Airport Beach and Airport Park campground, followed by Twin Bridges and Reynolds Creek parks. Speegleville and Midway parks were less affected.

RV sites, grills, electrical pedestals and playgrounds have been damaged at various parks. Restrooms have been submerged, along with their water heaters and other electric equipment.

As roads emerge from the floodwater, they will have to dry for two weeks before park personnel and others can drive on them.

The cost and time to repair the park facilities are still impossible to estimate, but Christian said the 11 lake staffers are an experienced team and ready to do the job.

“We’ve been through it,” he said. “We’re subject matter experts on flood cleanup.”

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Flood toll on Lake Waco Wetlands could take years to overcome (2024)
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