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By Paul Stinson
Jan. 13 —In a move with the potential to affect the extent to which planning regions can influence the water supply development of their neighbors, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) voted to retain plans to build a rural reservoir that mostly benefits the populous Dallas/Fort Worth area.
By keeping the often contentious 72,000-acre Marvin Nichols Reservoir in the State Water Plan, the project, which would provide nearly 500,000 acre feet annually for the Dallas/Fort Worth area, known as Region C, is eligible for state funding. The regional planning district in northeast Texas, where the reservoir would be located, and environmental advocates opposed its development because it would flood “valuable habitat,” among other reasons.
Hailed by metro planners as a means to bolster needed water supplies for a ballooning Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, the reservoir has long been a flashpoint between the dry sprawling urban area and its less populous Northeast Texas neighbors.
“I expect there are planners and water suppliers all over the state that are grateful for the sound decision made by the Board,” Martin Rochelle, a water lawyer who chairs the Water Practice Group at the Austin law firm of Lloyd Gosselink Rochelle & Townsend, said, telling Bloomberg BNA that a difficult precedent would have been set had the northeast planning district, known as Region D, been successful in challenging the right of the urban area to develop the reservoir.
He said that allowing one regional planning group to dictate to another which water supplies it can develop—particularly if it's a state-owned water resource instead of one owned by the region—“doesn't seem to be very good public policy.”
The rural northeast region had attempted to thwart the development of the reservoir within its boundaries initially by challenging the plan through the TWDB and then in the courts. The issue arrived back before the board.
The reservoir was included in the 2012 State Water Plan at an estimated $3.4 billion cost and would have a firm yield of 612,300 acre-feet per year, of which 489,840 acre-feet per year would be used to meet needs of the Dallas-Fort Worth region that includes all or part of 16 counties and more than one-quarter of the state's population, according to an analysis prepared for the board.
In addition to the opposition from environmental groups, residents in Franklin, Titus and Red River counties in northeast Texas balked at the prospects of seeing their land flooded to create a space for the reservoir.
“Construction of the Marvin Nichols Reservoir as a water source would flood valuable habitat and alter the natural flow of the river that is critical to maintaining ecosystems downstream,” Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, told Bloomberg BNA in a Jan. 9 e-mail.
State Rep. David Simpson (R), author of a bill (H.B. 632) filed Jan. 8 that could effectively deter the reservoir from staying in the State Water Plan, said he disagreed with the board's decision.
“When the Texas Water Development Board dictates outcomes, there is no reason for having a local planning board in place or inviting the public to comment,” Simpson told Bloomberg BNA in a Jan. 13 e-mail.
H.B. 632 would require that a regional water plan may not include the construction of a water project in another regional water planning area unless two thirds of the members of the regional water planning group for that area have consented to the proposal.
“Such requirement would respect our diverse regional economies and environments,” said Simpson, who serves as chief executive officer of Avinger Timber LLC, which, according to the representative's website, owns and manages timberlands in several counties in northeast Texas.
The creation of the reservoir is by no means certain, Ken Kramer, water resources chairman of the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter, told Bloomberg BNA.
“This decision by the Water Development Board is by no means a green light to proceed with Marvin Nichols,” Kramer said in a Jan. 13 e-mail.
“In my opinion this reservoir will never be built. If it is pursued, there will be major fights over state and federal permits needed to authorize it and heated controversy over the financial and environmental costs of such a monstrous project,” he said. “That is likely to sink the reservoir, especially since continuing progress on water conservation and other supply options will take away any rationale for the project.“
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