November 10, 2022

White Lake Drought Update

We’ve received some questions and understand park visitors are concerned about White Lake, one of the favorite features of Cullinan Park. Most of us expected the lake to recover by now, but the drought persists. This is a statewide problem as shallow lakes and reservoirs across Texas have dried up due to the current drought that began in September 2021, spurred by a La Niña climate pattern that resulted in drier and hotter conditions across the southern United States, which persisted through the end of 2021 and ended with the hottest Texas December on record. 

April through July 2022 was the hottest stretch on record for those months in Texas. In addition, triple-digit temperatures and below-normal rainfall dried out soils and increased evaporation from water bodies and the landscape. By early August, drought had intensified across most of Texas, and rainfall deficits in much of Southeastern Texas were between 11 and 16 inches.

We’ve had some brief rain showers recently, but not nearly enough to alleviate the drought. Deep soaking and multiple rain events over several months are typically needed to reach lower levels of the soil and to break a drought. But rainfall isn’t the only factor involved in a drought’s demise—cooler temperatures can reduce the evaporation of water from the soil and surface water reservoirs.

We know it’s tough to see the dried-up lake bed, but we will have to wait for sizable rains to help White Lake recover. We have no way to add water to the lake. It’s a very shallow wetlands lake that refills via rainwater and surrounding storm drainage from the park and neighborhoods. It’s not unusual for the lake to go up and down in water levels, although it hasn’t completely dried up since the drought of 2011. 

The Parks Department regularly monitors the lake and is aware that land vegetation has grown up. This will die off when the water levels come back up since it is not aquatic vegetation. The Parks Department has asked the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to add White Lake to their emergency fish restocking plan, and they have confirmed it is on the list. The birds and alligators normally utilizing White Lake will migrate to other water bodies as needed. Both Oyster Creek and Red Gully flow through the park. 

While we are beyond ready for the lake to return to normal, the drought has had one interesting impact. In 2022, 18 new species of birds have been added to the park’s bird list. Many of these were added during the summer when the receding lake created mudflats that attracted new shorebirds to Cullinan, including 4 sandpiper species, semipalmated plovers, a reddish egret, and a willet. The grass seed heads that grew up in the lakebed in September and October attracted many indigo buntings, warblers, and sparrows, including a rare clay-colored sparrow.

Also, the low water has afforded us the opportunity to clean up trash from the lake bed. Both Parks staff and volunteers have removed lots of debris. Nonetheless, we hope Mother Nature will send White Lake some much-needed rain soon.