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Piece of Mind: Bois d'Arc Lake Fulfills Planners' Promise

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Bois d'Arc Lake will fill itself according to Mother Nature's timetable.

It’s not every day that Northeast Texas gets a new lake, providing potable water and assorted recreational opportunities to thousands of residents and visitors to the region.

That’s what the region is getting, though, with the creation of Bois d’Arc Lake, which is filling up rapidly in Fannin County just north of Bonham.

The North Texas Municipal Water District has commenced this $1.6 billion project. The plan is for the district to build a water treatment plant, then distribute the treated water to the 11 North and Northeast Texas communities that NTMWD serves.

It’s as easy as that, right? Not even close.

Jeff McKito, a public affairs specialist with the NTMWD, says the lake’s planning and development has been a “15-plus year process. We began planning for the lake in 2003. We submitted everything for the permit process by 2006 and in 2018 we were issued our final permit.” McKito said several local, state and federal agencies were involved in the permitting process, which contributed to the length of time it took for it all to get approved.

Stephen Filipowicz, an economic development adviser for the City of Bonham, said he sympathizes with those who have seen property that’s been in their family’s possession for many generations submerged under the rising water. “But overall it has to be seen as a positive for the region,” he said.

Bonham is not a member of the NTMWD, Filipowicz said, “but we’re able to purchase water at district rates.” He noted that Bois d’Arc is one of two lakes planned for Fannin County, the other being Lake Ralph Hall, which has not yet been developed.

“Those lakes are game changers,” Filipowicz said, adding that the city “generally is in support of the development” of Bois d’Arc Lake.

“I’ve given sweat, blood and tears to make this work. And it’s here and happening,” said Bonham Mayor Roy Floyd in February 2020. “And I think it’s going to be good for my children, their children, etc. I think it’s a legacy for Bonham, Texas.”

Ken Kramer, the former head of the Sierra Club of Texas – who now serves as a sort of “senior volunteer” for the organization – isn’t quite so generous in his assessment of Bois d’Arc Lake.

“As you may know, the Sierra Club is not very high on the development of surface water reservoirs,” Kramer said from his office in Austin. “It’s not an efficient use of water, given the evaporation of water that occurs during our hot Texas summers,” he said. “Plus, you have sedimentation over the course of many years” that has an adverse impact on recreational activity, such as fishing and boating and other water sports. “The sporting capacity is reduced by the sedimentation,” Kramer said, adding that the Sierra Club tends to “put emphasis on drought management and development of aquifer sources.”

Kramer said the Sierra Club over the course of many years “initially opposed the permit” sought by NTMWD to build Bois d’Arc Lake, but then eventually negotiated an agreement with the district that helped satisfy some of the Sierra Club’s initial concerns, such as ensuring proper stream flow into the lake.

“Overall, I guess you could say the economic impact of the lake is a net positive. The other elements, though, are not so positive,” Kramer said.

NTMWD has made some huge promises to Fannin County as it finishes development of this massive project, which entails 16,641 acres of surface water. The water district notes on its website that Bois d’Arc Lake is the “first major reservoir” built in Texas in 30 years. As the district said on its website: “Bois d’Arc Lake will meet the water needs and demands for our growing region of 1.8 million people until 2040. Low-interest funding approved by the state will pay for nearly all of the project and save the District and ratepayers millions in financing costs.”

NTMWD said it will consult with the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office and Texas Parks & Wildlife officials on deciding when to open the lake for recreational use.

NTMWD promises that the lake will provide water needs for the region at least until 2040. It will provide myriad recreational opportunities as well. What’s more, the water district says it will spend $50 million to rehabilitate roads in Fannin County and will extend Farm to Market Road 897 between Texas Highway 82 and FM 1396 and will build a bridge to provide north-south access across the lake.

The water district plans to deliver treated water to customers by 2022.

Is that the end of the discussion? Hardly.

McKito sought to put the size of the project in perspective. “It’s roughly the city of Allen that will be underwater,” he said. “Water drawn from Bois d’Arc will then be treated and pumped about 60 miles to be used by communities in Collin, Rockwall, Hunt and Kaufman counties.”

The length of time it takes to fill the lake “will depend on Mother Nature,” McKito said, explaining that the district had planned on filling it through “three rainy seasons. That could take longer or shorter depending on the amount of rain we get.”

McKito said the average depth the fully filled lake will be around 22 feet; the depth behind the dam be “around 70 feet.”

McKito said the district hopes the lake will “be a jewel. Something that people from Fannin County can be proud of and see there’s a benefit to them.”

Bois d’Arc Lake will be an economic and recreational boon to Northeast Texas, McKito predicted, with a projected annual economic impact for Fannin County of about $166 million.And, yes, McKito predicted that the lake will provide a “vital water resource” for a thirsty and growing region.

The lake won’t make everyone happy all the time, just about everyone agrees. Bois d’Arc Lake, though, is here to stay.

John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.

Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.

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