As communities across North Texas run low on water, a proposal to build new reservoirs garners renewed attention.
Recently, local cities such as Gunter have run desperately low on water as supply failed to keep pace with demand. As reported by The Dallas Express, malfunctions in several water pumps forced city officials to issue an order for citizens to stop all non-essential water usage, warning them of the possibility that they could “be without water by early morning.”
Similarly, the North Texas Municipal Water District issued a multi-county warning to residents to limit consumption due to supply issues.
Due to the influx of residents, businesses relocating to Texas, and recent droughts, water supply concerns have become more acute across the entire state. City planners have claimed the Dallas-Fort Worth area alone will require five new reservoirs in the coming decades.
One such reservoir, Marvin Nichols, has been proposed in northeast Texas. To build a reservoir, engineers dam a river and flood the surrounding land. Marvin Nichols would flood 66,000 acres of land, evicting families and permanently taking the property off the tax rolls there.
The Marvin Nichols Reservoir, however, is not a new proposal. Named after one of the founders of the Freese and Nichols engineering firm, the project was conceived in 1984 but was not officially proposed until 2001.
Preserve Northeast Texas (PNT) was formed to oppose the project and has collected 1,600 signatures from across the state petitioning against the construction of the Marvin Nichols Reservoir.
The group claims that “Dallas-Fort Worth is not in urgent need of additional water supply. If they need more water in future decades, there are cheaper, less destructive ways to obtain water supply.”
They note that the “destruction” would broadly impact the community through the loss of privately owned property and wildlife. Archaeological and historic sites and cemeteries would be flooded and no longer accessible. For example, resources and industries such as timber and logging could be significantly affected.
However, supporters argued that the loss of jobs in those industries would be “trivial” compared to the “jobs and revenue” projected to be generated by reservoir construction.
The Dallas Morning News published an editorial opinion piece, “Texas Democrats are wrong to oppose the Marvin Nichols reservoir,” in which the author explained that while conservation efforts are important for Texas’s water plan, “those strategies will not negate the long-term needs for more water supply for the region.”
The editorial states that “time has run out” and that, due to the high volume of people moving to Texas, the state and its future generations will suffer without a dramatic change: another major reservoir.
Janice Bezanson of the Texas Conservation Alliance told CBS 19 she opposed the reservoir because, “The people in northeast Texas are going to wind up losing their homes, their livelihoods, the land that’s been in their families for decades, just so people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area can water their lawns.”
“It was proposed back in 2001, and there was a tremendous fight against it, then, and it got postponed,” Bezanson explained. She argued for other options besides reservoirs to provide water for growing metroplexes, including additional conservation efforts and refilling depleted underground aquifers.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar acknowledged that while there are potential issues with reservoirs, doing nothing could be disastrous. “Yes, we need a bigger pot to be able to hold the water,” he explained, “but one of the big issues over time is there’s a continuing silting of that pie.”
Essentially, reservoirs develop problems later down the line. “The bucket may be this deep, and then every year, it gets a little shallower over time,” said Hegar. He then asked, “How do we solve a silting up of our reservoirs? Because eventually, that means in 10, 20, 30 years – the bucket’s not as big as it used to be.”
Back in 2012, some Texas lakes were said to have lost more than 10% of their capacity from when they were constructed. Reportedly, reservoirs across the state have lost millions of acre-feet of capacity. For reference, just one acre-foot of water supplies enough water for the needs of three average Austin households for a year.
A report issued by the Comptroller Office estimates that if water supplies get scarce, Texas will lose 785,000 jobs and $138 billion in income by the decade’s end.