FORT WORTH - One visit to Lake Worth, and the signs of drought are obvious. What used to be under three feet of water is now dry, cracked earth.
Fish flop in shallow puddles, looking for deeper waters. Deer walk across sand bars to find new habitat.
The Fort Worth Nature Center said it may take years for the lake to recover.
"Every time it does go dry, you need a couple of good years to follow along behind," said Rob Denkhaus, a Nature Center spokesman. "But the way we're taking water and using it elsewhere, it's going to affect these natural bodies. We're going to pay a price for it."
Lake levels in North Texas hit 72 percent of capacity this week. Restrictions have slowed usage by 334 million gallons for 10 days, but the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) said levels are still dropping.
Tuesday's 107 degrees and strong winds may have evaporated 400 million gallons, but it's not all about temperature. Cooler temperatures will slow evaporation, but water utilities said daily irrigation is by far the biggest consumer of water.
TRWD engineers expect Stage 1 restrictions to extend through spring 2012, unless there is a dramatic climate change.
"The ground is so dry and every stock tank is dry, that it's going to take five or six inches of rain to see any runoff into the reservoirs," said TRWD Engineer David Marshall.
Water utilities aren't counting on the rain.
They said Stage 2 restrictions could be enforced next summer - maybe sooner. If you think about watering your lawn more than the allowed twice per week, TRWD officials want you to consider what's left of Lake Worth.
"Every drop of water you're taking out for any nonessential use, is a drop of water that's lost to the system," said Denkhaus. "And we need every drop we can get."