• Parched Texas city hopes to cut lake evaporation
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     | August 02,2014
     
    ap file photo

    Bud Gossett looks for artifacts recently near a turn-of-the-century washing machine, foreground, one of several visible signs of the town of Hasell, Texas, submerged under Lake Arrowhead for nearly 60 years and now visible due to a persistent drought.

    LUBBOCK, Texas A North Texas city already has deployed two unusual techniques to try to cope with a persistent and lengthy drought, and Wichita Falls just added a third, more extreme tool to try to deal with its dwindling water supply.

    The hope is that adding a biodegradable palm oil-and-lime-based product on the surface of a lake thats the citys primary water supply will cut the evaporation rate of 40 million gallons a day by at least 10 percent, Russell Schreiber, the citys director of public works, said.

    Were in desperate times here, he said. Wichita Falls provides water to about 150,000 people near the Oklahoma border, and has cut its usage from 35 million gallons a day to about 12 million gallons. Weve got to do whatever we can to conserve anything or as much as we can.

    Though Wichita Falls is not the first city to try the method, it is the largest of its kind in the nation, Schreiber said. Its yet another step for the city that is more than 40 inches behind on rainfall over the past 46 months and hasnt recovered from the drought of 2011. Its instituted a prohibition on all outside watering; its tried cloud seeding, sending silver iodide particles into clouds to encourage rain; and more recently it began using a wastewater reuse program.

    The 75-day pilot project, which began July 23, is costing the city $375,000. Crews will go out to Arrowhead Lake every three days thats how long it takes for the layer to biodegrade to disperse about 5,700 pounds of the mixture, which creates a one-molecule-thick layer.

    Evaporation from wind and hot temperatures can rob Texas lakes of as much as 2.3 trillion gallons a year, according to the Texas Water Developmental Board. Arrowhead Lake is about 17,000 acres when full, but its now 6,000 acres, or 22 percent, full.

    Researchers and water experts have experimented with ways to cut evaporation. Some have tried putting a layer of pingpong balls on water surfaces or laying out large tarps or plastic films.

    The anti-evaporation product, WaterSavr, has been around for about 10 years, according to Jason Bloom, a spokesman for Flexible Solutions, the Chicago company that makes the product and is handling the Wichita Falls program.

    He says its been effective in other places: A Singapore lake of about 250 acres had a 29 percent reduction in evaporation and a 10-acre lake in Australia saw a 30 percent reduction.

    A 30-acre lake in a gated Last Vegas Community has been using the product since 2012, Flexible Solutions vice president David Verlee said. In 2012, there was a 31 percent reduction in evaporation on the recreational lake over a two-month period, said Nicole Lise, a spokeswoman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

    In Texas, Barney Austin, a hydrologist and former director of surface water for the state water board, said hell be interested to see whether the method affects the lakes oxygen levels and temperatures, and if those impact fish populations and aquatic plants. The board and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are monitoring the levels.

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