What a difference a few glorious days of rain can make.
Lake Brownwood had risen just over four feet as of Wednesday afternoon, with more runoff flowing into a drought-stricken lake that's still expected to rise another half-foot to a foot. That puts the lake into the Stage 2 level of the Brown County Water Improvement District's Drought Contingency Plan, although officials are still maintaining Stage 3 water restrictions.
The lake had reached 1,416 feet Wednesday afternoon, still nine feet below the spillway — but nothing like a week ago, when officials were weeks away from declaring Stage 4 restrictions.
"One little cold front, unexpected in July, comes through and changes everything," water improvement district board member Dennis Graham said.
But this isn't the time to lessen water restrictions, as the drought isn't over, representatives of treated water customers and water district general manager Dennis Spinks agreed when they met Wednesday at Brownwood City Hall.
"The level of Lake Brownwood is actually above the trigger point of Stage 3, but I think everyone here is in agreement that we are going to Stage 3 … because we still have August coming up," Spinks said. "We don't know what that's going to be as far as weather (and) evaporation.
"The public is used to Stage 3 at this point and we'd like to keep it that way until we know for sure the drought has ended."
Spinks and the water customer representatives worked out a uniform Drought Contingency Plan they will take to their respective councils and boards for approval. "That way we'll all be on the same watering schedules, same days, same plan," Brownwood City Manager Bobby Rountree said.
The plan includes Stage 4 restrictions, which previously had been something of a mystery. The water improvement district's Stage 4 restrictions had specified that there would be no outside watering allowed, but officials had said that's too drastic.
Under the uniform Drought Contingency Plan agreed on Wednesday, outdoor watering will still be allowed one day a week as under Stage 3. But there will be a difference. The morning watering time won't be allowed under Stage 4, just evening watering.
And no one at the meeting believed the drought is over, despite the longed-for and welcomed rains that began Sunday night and have captivated Brown County.
"I saw Spinks smile for the first time today," Rountree said.
"Yes, that's true," Spinks replied. "But we want to keep everyone aware that this rain that we've had does not end the drought that we're in. Until that lake gets up above 1,420 elevation, I would still consider that we're in a moderate to severe drought. … That (four-foot gain) can be gone in two or three months if we get a lot of evaporation through high temperatures and high winds."
Rountree said he sees the rains as "a reprieve. Until that lake is full, we're going to need to stay in Stage 3. I don't think any of us have a question about that. This isn't just a Brownwood-Brown County problem. The state of Texas has a water problem, period. What we're seeing today makes us feel better, but we know the water seriousness is still there. We've still got to look for water, whether it's through wells or whatever that source may be."
Early City Administrator Ken Thomas said Brown County has seen the weather pattern in previous years. "It would start raining and fill up," Thomas said. "It's just that it hasn't gone this long (previously), and you kind of get scared after awhile that maybe it won't rain for awhile. But it's sure nice to have it."