Image: Lake Bryson
Donna Mcwilliam  /  AP
City employee Cliff Smith walks near Lake Bryson, a manmade lake originally supposed to supply water for 2,000, on Tuesday. The lake shrank due to droughts.
updated 2/8/2006 7:38:15 PM ET 2006-02-09T00:38:15

Water is so precious in this little town that elementary school students have to wash their hands with pre-moistened wipes instead of turning on the restroom faucets.

Folks haven’t turned on their lawn sprinklers for three years. And some people have abandoned their swimming pools, draining them, filling them in with dirt or letting the water go stagnant.

The problem: The sole source of water for Bryson’s 550 residents is one small well that is pumping a drought-constricted 38 gallons a minute.

But help is on the way. The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week approved the city’s $500,000 grant application to build a six-mile pipeline to another community’s water supply, and the project should be completed by June.

Now the race is on to finish it before the water runs out.

“I believe we can hang on if it’s the good Lord’s will,” Bryson Public Works Director John Walden said Tuesday.

Lake shrunk by drought
For 25 years this oil-and-ranching town got its water from manmade Lake Bryson, which was supposed to be able to supply a population of 2,000. But the lake has been shrinking from years of drought, slowly dropping from 28 feet to 8 feet deep, and last year some of the aging dam equipment broke, preventing water from flowing out.

While the equipment was being repaired, the town relied on two wells. But one went dry in December, and the other is pumping far short of the necessary 100 gallons a minute. The town is still hoping to fix the dam, but the lake has only 60 days of water left anyway.

Bryan Daniel, state director for USDA Rural Development, said Bryson’s application was approved in a quick two months because of the town’s critical need for the pipeline. “There was no time to consider other options,” Daniel said.

Walden said he does not know how long Bryson, about 70 miles northwest of Fort Worth, can hold out with just the well. “It could be five minutes from now or six months to a year from now,” he said. “If we lose the well, we lose our water.”

Dana “JoJo” Thornburg, a teacher’s aide, said she has grown accustomed to washing laundry less often and driving to a town nearby to wash her car. She has not had flowers in her yard for years.

Last summer her husband hauled water from his company and filled their above-ground swimming pool. This year, though, they plan to dismantle it, over the protests of their teenage daughter.

“She’s upset, but she’ll get over it,” Thornburg said with a laugh. “We’re all kind of worried about the water situation, but everyone’s done real good with conserving. It makes you realize how precious water is.”

Bryson is about 45 miles east of Throckmorton, which was within 60 days of running out of water in the summer of 2000. Volunteers streamed in to help build a 21-mile pipeline to hook Throckmorton into the city of Graham’s water supply. Bryson will also tap into Graham’s water.

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