AUSTIN — Voting on a state construction loan, expected Thursday, should begin flowing money into what will be Texas’ first new major reservoir in decades.
After 15 years of permitting and planning, construction is slated to begin this spring on the Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir.
But being able to turn on the taps for the project along the Oklahoma border in Fannin County won’t come without costs that go beyond the state’s $1.1 billion in construction loans.
“I’ve got some cousins that are losing land that’s been in the family since 1865,” to reservoir construction, said Harold Witcher, who expects the lake to cover his home and over 400 acres. “It’s a crooked deal.”
Experts say the reservoir will help meet the state’s growth, but Texans aren’t through building lakes, given a projected 50 million population in 2070, up from 28 million in 2017.
The most recent reservoir built for municipal supply was Lake Gilmer in northeast Texas, completed in 1999, said Matt Nelson, assistant deputy executive administrator of water supply and infrastructure for the Texas Water Development Board.
Nelson said that “quite a few,” reservoir sites have been identified but not yet developed.
Also in Fannin County, plans call for construction of Lake Ralph Hall, a reservoir of more than 11,000 acres to be built by the Upper Trinity Regional Water District.
Larry N. Patterson, the Upper Trinity Regional Water District’s deputy executive director, said construction should begin on the project in 2019 and wrap up in 2025.
His organization will tap the North Sulphur River, “the last major river with potential for water-supply development,” in Texas, Patterson said.
The Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir — the creek is a tributary of the Red River — will be more than double the size of the planned Lake Ralph Hall, and its builder promises a significant revenue stream for the county.
“Construction of the dam, intake pump station, pipeline, water treatment plant and other infrastructure is expected to increase economic activity in Fannin County by at least $509 million over the construction period,” according to a study for the North Texas Municipal Water District, which was updated in 2015.
“This will support over 5,000 person-years of employment (a person-year is the equivalent of full-time employment for one person for one year), and pay more than $165 million in salaries, wages and benefits.”
The estimated cost is $1.2 billion, with service to 1.7 million people in 80 North Texas cities when completed in 2022.
About 75 miles northeast of Dallas in Bonham, the Fannin County seat, City Manager Sean Pate said he’s taking a “reserved approach” in assessing Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir’s economic promises.
“It has had its fair share of opposition,” including environmental objections,” Pate said. “I couldn’t truly answer what it does for our community.”
“We’ll have to take a wait-and-see approach.”
Pate noted that reservoir construction will take taxable bottom land that’s filled with wildlife off the county’s rolls.
“How do you keep something whole while you build around the lake?” Pate said. “It’s a legitimate concern.”
Population growth or as Pate said, “infiltration,” is inevitable, given Bonham’s proximity to downtown Dallas, making a 60-minute drive easy for some commuters.
The city is planning for development around the reservoir, with rules to make it what Pate said will be the first zoned lake in Texas.
“You’re going to see extremely nice homes out there,” Pate said.
Still, Janice Bezanson, executive director of Texas Conservation Alliance, said there were alternatives, such as a proposal for a smaller lake and using water from Lake Texoma.
“North Texas Municipal Water District does need more water, but there are other ways to develop it that have lower impacts than the reservoir,” Bezanson said. “That would have lowered the impact and forced fewer landowners to sell their land.”
As for Witcher, he said nobody has yet contacted him about selling his place, 150 acres of which have been in the family for a century.
But, Witcher said, like the thirsty millions who are headed his way, when he pulls up stakes to move, “I’ll stay in Texas.”
John Austin covers the Texas Statehouse for CNHI LLC’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com.