If Lake Belton water levels continue to drop, the ghost town of Sparta hidden beneath may be revealed.
Drought has plagued the southwest United States for years, drastically impacting water levels at popular reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Lake Mead has started to recover after a wet winter, but Belton, Texas, a city in Bell County, has gone without rain for months. The drought has severely depleted the water levels at Lake Belton, a reservoir on the Leon River that was impounded in 1954 for flood prevention.
Today, the lake serves as recreation, a habitat for wildlife, flood prevention and a water supply for nearby communities. However, Sparta still stands beneath its surface.
The town, whose population never exceeded 100 people, existed near what used to be Cowhouse Creek. It is not known why it was called Sparta, but some have speculated that its founders may have admired the ancient Greek city’s reputation for discipline and military prowess.
The town thrived in agriculture, and a mill was built in the town in the late 1860s, according to the Texas State Historical Association. A post office opened a few years later in 1873.
By 1890 the town had 35 inhabitants, as well as a general store and a blacksmith shop, the association said. Its school had 52 pupils and one teacher in 1903. By 1933, Sparta had 84 residents, and by 1948, there were two churches, the school, and two businesses.
After Belton and other nearby cities experienced devastating flash flooding in the 1940s and 1950s, the Leon River was impounded. Water inundated the ghost town in 1954 to create Lake Belton, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages.
Grave sites were moved before the lake was created, according to a report from local news station KCEN TV on Wednesday, but old buildings still exist below Lake Belton’s waters. If the water level continues to drop, Texans worry that the town could be exposed once again.
Bell County is categorized as battling exceptional drought, the most severe drought classification by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). As of August 31, more than 98 percent of Bell County was struggling with exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor Map.
However, park ranger Arty Johnson doubts that Sparta will make a reappearance.
“It would have to come down several more feet for that to happen,” Johnson told Newsweek, adding that there’s at least 50 feet of water above the ghost town.
The lake has fallen 17 feet below conservation pool levels, putting the lake at 576.82 feet above sea level on Friday, which is only 58 percent full. It is the lowest the lake has been in nearly four decades.
Meanwhile, Johnson said the depleting water levels are caused by a lack of rainfall.
“It’s pretty much every day we are setting new records,” he said, adding that Belton did see a little rainfall last week, but it wasn’t enough to improve lake levels.
Although it’s unlikely that Sparta will ever be exposed, Johnson warned that other obstacles like sandbars, stumps and trees have appeared from the water as levels continue to drop, which could cause harm to recreators enjoying the lake.
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