State water board OKs NE Texas water plan
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

May 17, 2006 -- The Texas Water Development Board on Tuesday unanimously adopted the long-range regional water plan for Northeast Texas (Region D), which recommends against building the 72,000-acre Marvin Nichols reservoir on the Sulphur River.

Last month the state water board also adopted the regional plan for the Dallas-Fort Worth-North Texas area, known as Region C. The Region C Plan recommends construction of Marvin Nichols Reservoir.

While the state water development board said the two plans do not conflict, Hopkins County Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker, who serves on the board of Region D Planning District, disagrees.

"I don't agree with state water development board's interpretation," Commissioner Wisenbaker said. "They interpreted it that since we don't need the lake, it would be quite OK for Region C to come over and build the lake. But when they are a commission sitting at the state level, they can interpret it any way you want to."

Janice Bezanson, executive director of Texas Committee on Natural Resources, said the finding of no conflict was beyond imagination.

"It is simply mind-boggling that the Texas Water Development Board doesn't find it a conflict to adopt one plan recommending Marvin Nichols and another plan that opposes it," she said.

The Region D planning group did not target Nichols as a needed source, but Region C wants to develop the lake in Northeast Texas.

"So that is how they are getting around saying the plans are not in conflict," Bezanson said. "But they are ignoring I forget how many pages that we put in there that said Marvin Nichols doesn't need to be built unless it is a last case scenario."

Wisenbaker said Region C needs to look more at conservation, raising water levels in lakes that already exist and a long list of other things before looking to develop water resources in this area.  Norman Johns, water resources scientist for the National Wildlife Federation, was in agreement.

"The cheapest and most reliable way to increase water supply is to reduce demand. But the Region C plan largely ignores the promise of water conservation, choosing instead to rely on outdated concrete-and-steel solutions," Johns said. 

Johns has estimated that if Region C were to follow a state task force recommendation on water conservation, the region could save over 900,000 acre-feet annually by 2060. This would save nearly twice as much water as Region C would get from Marvin Nichols, at a tiny fraction of the cost, he said.

After three years of analyzing data and taking public comment, the Northeast Texas planning group determined that Marvin Nichols should not be included in the plan because it would harm the timber industry and would destroy tens of thousands of acres of bottomland hardwood forests. Texas law requires that regional water plans protect the state's agricultural, natural and water resources.

Marvin Nichols, predicted to supply 450,000 to 490,000 acre-feet of water annually to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and its 120 to 150-mile pipeline, would cost more than $2 billion. In addition to the 72,000 acres that would be flooded for construction of the reservoir, at least an additional 140,000 acres would be required for mitigation of the site.

"Nichols will have a huge impact on this area of Texas, not to mention the change in the quality of life for a lot of people," Bezanson said.

Last month, the chairman of the water development board, E.G. Rod Pittman, voted against the Region C plan, citing the need for greater cooperation between the regions.

Jim Thompson, chairman of the Region D Planning Group, emphasized at Tuesday's meeting that Northeast Texas is not trying to hoard water that might be needed by another region. Thompson told the water development board, “Region D has said all along that we were willing to look at ways to provide water to other regions of the state that don't involve the huge economic impact of building a new dam. As an example, the Corps of Engineers has studied alternatives for increasing the yield of Wright Patman Reservoir."

With the state board's ruling that the two plans are not in conflict, the potential still exists that Marvin Nichols reservoir could still be built, something that Wisenbaker adamantly disagrees with.

"Marvin Nichols isn't good for anyone," said Bezanson. "It will hurt ratepayers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and it will force hundreds of East Texas families off their land. In a state growing as rapidly as Texas, using water more efficiently is the only logical thing to do."

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