The ghost of Marvin Nichols rose again while discussing the 2022 state water plans.
The Region D water board, which represents most of Northeast Texas, recently discussed but took no action on Region C once again including the contentious proposed reservoir in their future water plans.
“I am going to suggest we do not move at warp speed to figure out who we want on our side of the conversation until we know which ones they are most seriously interested in,” Northeast Texas Municipal Water District director Walt Sears Jr. said, arguing for a cautious, measured response. “... Let’s wait until they have internally developed their wish list before we try to delineate their response.”
The conversation started when Region C liaison and Lamar County Water Supply representative Sharron Nabors related news from the latest Region C meeting, which encompasses the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The board had added Marvin Nichols Reservoir to their list of possible future water supply sites.
“They designated seven reservoir sites, Parkhouse I, Parkhouse II, Marvin Nichols at 313, Marvin Nichols 1A at 328 A, Ralph Hall, Tehuacana and Columbia,” Nabors said. “They already have the budgets, the plans, the costs lined up for whichever they pick, and the sponsors are identified. They appointed a committee of six or seven to negotiate with Region D.”
Region C has proposed building a reservoir in East Texas and pumping the water back to the metroplex since the 1980s, according to a Dallas Morning News article from 2015, and has included it in their portion of the state water plan since the practice started in Texas. Region C representatives say they need the water to support the growing area. And, since the state started water planning, Region D representatives have just as firmly opposed it.
The proposed reservoir would cover parts of Red River, Titus and Franklin counties with a 72,000-acre lake, which was projected in 2015 to cost $4.3 billion, according to a Dallas Morning News article.
When proposing ideas for the 2017 state water plans, matters became so heated between the two regions that a lawsuit, then a paid mediator and then the Legislature had to settle the matter. The state Legislature eventually voted in 2015 that Region C could keep the reservoir in its future plans, allowing it to still be eligible for state funding, while also allowing Region D to leave it out of its future plans, despite the location of the reservoir in that region.
Later on in the meeting, Tony Smith with Carollo Engineers, presented language for the Chapter 7 draft, which included the region not endorsing any unique reservoir sites, but “excepting that the NETRWPG does not challenge Marvin Nichols as a unique site.”
Jim Thompson, with Bowie County, objected to the language.
“That was a one-time deal, where there was give and take on both parts,” he said, referencing the fight over the 2017 water plan. “I don’t see any benefit going forward leaving that language in the draft plan. It’s been my experience, and I think this is one of the things we’ve always had in the past, is that they’re always going to advertise Marvin Nichols Reservoir, which we’ve always said would be the most harmful to our region.”
Carollo said he could flag the language in an internal memo that it was dependent on the outcome of negotiations between the two regions. Sears said he wanted the board members to remember this is where the conversation starts, not where it ends.
Thompson said of what came out of the agreement in the 2017 plan, one big thing was basically ignored. Region C was supposed to help Region D with funding further independent study of the effects of the proposed reservoir.
“Our intention so someone other than they could look at those numbers and say, ‘are they accurate?’ Nothing came of it,” Thompson said.
Sears agreed and said they needed better information.
“When we’re trying to characterize what the water will do, there are going to be varying assumptions, based on who you employ,” Sears said. “The point Jim is trying to make is that we cannot rely on number generated externally to our region.”
Sears added he appreciated Region C starting the conversation this early, trying to avoid the tension of the last planning session.
Other representatives weighed in.
“Why don’t we say that, that we have an aversion, but we are open to dialogue,” said Ned Muse, the Camp County Water Supply representative.
“Appearances count,” the Upshur County representative replied.
Sears said they were talking about a conversation that hadn’t happened yet and wouldn’t happen until October.
“I accept that these are our starting points,” he said. “Today is a head-shaking kind of thing. Are we going to start with something that’s on the screen? We can start with something more severe, or we can start with something less severe.”
The board did not vote on the language of Chapter 7, but reached a consensus to leave the language as is, as a starting point for the board’s conversation with Region C.