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Lake Ralph Hall Construction Process Inspires Wonder

The dusty bed of the North Sulphur River in September 2021.
John Kanelis
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The dusty bed of the North Sulphur River in September 2021.

Lake Ralph Hall is projected to cover roughly 12 square miles of surface area. The project expects to have 32 miles of underground pipe to transport the water to communities that will use it and will include a mile-long, pedestrian-friendly bridge.

They’re building a lake in Fannin County. It already carries the name of a legendary Northeast Texas congressman, the late Ralph Hall.

At this moment, though, it is a lake in name only. It will fill eventually with rainwater that the Upper Trinity Regional Water District hopes will occur by 2025. However, as I took a tour of the site recently with Jason Pierce, government affairs and communications manager with the UTRWD, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of awe.

As we traveled along a stretch of Texas Highway 34, Pierce told me that eventually the asphalt along which we were driving would be under “about 30 feet of water.” Yes, the lake will fill up and will inundate vast stretches of acreage that at this moment is bone dry.

Crews are building a bridge across where the water will cover the land. They’re building an earthen dam that will hold back water, creating a basin that is 90 feet deep, Pierce said.

I came away from that tour with one compelling question. How will Lake Ralph Hall acquire such a volume of water? Pierce said, without hesitation: rainfall. That’s it. There will be no stream flow. No well water. It’s coming from the sky.

Pierce noted that the farther east one travels through Northeast Texas, the more annual rainfall is projected. Still, as I looked at the dry and dusty North Sulphur River bed where the Ladonia Fossil Park lies, I could not help but wonder about all that needed to happen in a brief span of time.

Lake Ralph Hall is projected to cover roughly 12 square miles of surface area. The project expects to have 32 miles of underground pipe to transport the water to communities that will use it. It will deliver an estimated 52 million gallons of water daily to 29 North Texas communities.

The Upper Trinity Regional Water District is building a 1.1-mile-long pedestrian-friendly bridge over Lake Ralph Hall. The Leon Hurse Earthen Dam will span 2.3 miles.

The UTRWD expects the region it serves to grow fivefold over the next 50 years, requiring 140 million gallons of water each day for cities in Collin and Denton counties. According to UTRWD material I examined: “To avoid a water shortage, UTRWD is actively planning for the water it will need to support its thriving communities. A comprehensive plan to meet these water demands include ongoing water conservation and reuse programs as well as maximizing the use of existing water sources.”

Ah, yes. Water conservation. I am well aware of the value of water in a state that grapples regularly with prolonged drought conditions in many regions. I spent more than two decades in Amarillo, where water sits atop the proverbial “food chain” of resources on which residents in the region depend. Its value is, if you’ll pardon the cliché, beyond measure.

I also learned something else about the water district, which is that Lake Ralph Hall sits outside the UTRWD boundaries. UTRWD comprises most of Denton County, the northwest corner of Collin County, a tiny portion of Grayson County and a slice of Cooke County. Lake Ralph Hall will fill up over yonder in Fannin County, with the UTRWD transporting water a good distance to the communities it serves. As the water district states in its material, the project “is the most feasible and lowest cost source of new water available to the district and will be built in time to avoid a water shortfall.”

Well, there you go.

And so … who was Ralph Hall? He was a conservative Democrat who switched to the Republican Party in 2004 and who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 until 2013. He and the late Rep. John Dingell of Michigan were the last of the World War II generation to serve in the House. Hall lost his re-election bid to the Fourth Congressional District seat in 2012 to John Ratcliffe and died in 2019 at the age of 95. He lived long enough to see work begin on the project that will carry his name and honor his memory.

As we toured the site of what will comprise Lake Ralph Hall, I noticed how much work remains to be done and also noticed how little time the UTRWD is projecting it will take to complete the job. It will begin construction in the second quarter of 2022 on the pipeline, pump station and balancing reservoir. By the fourth quarter next year the district will start work on the lake office and maintenance facilities. The new fossil park will open by the second quarter of 2023 and by the first quarter of 2024, the UTRWD plans to start filling the lake and will have completed work on the lake office and maintenance facility.

By the fourth quarter of 2024, just a little more than three years from today, the reservoir construction will be finished, with delivery of water beginning by the second quarter of 2025.

From my vantage point, this seems like an ambitious schedule. I am not going to suggest it is overly ambitious, or that the UTRWD cannot realistically expect to meet it.

It’s just that Jason Pierce’s answer on filling the reservoir with “rainfall” will seem to require a lot of rain that will have to fall in a big hurry.

A brief tour of a project with the implications that Lake Ralph Hall will bring doesn’t do justice to what lies ahead. However, seeing it up close and then hearing how much water will eventually arrive certainly has a way of filling one’s mind with awe and wonder.

So it did with me.

John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, also is a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is retired but is still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.