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Decades after its construction, Cooper Lake State Park provides water, economic benefit to Hopkins County

Boating, fishing and hiking are among the offerings at Cooper Lake State Park.
John Kanelis
Boating, fishing and hiking are among the offerings at Cooper Lake State Park.

Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell sees lake development in general as a “net positive” for the city.

Cooper Lake has provided Hopkins County what its county judge believes is a priceless resource.

“We have an abundance of water,” said Republican Robert Newsom, the county judge who is facing an easy re-election ride this year. Newsom said no one is challenging him.

“All this water,” Newsom said, “has given us the freedom to grow.” Thus, the lake that came online in the mid-1980s, has been something of a godsend to a county that Newsom said once was considered an economically depressed county in Northeast Texas, but which now is experiencing what the judge said is “steady growth.”

Cooper Lake – which legally is known as Jim Chapman Lake, named after the former county judge and congressman from the region – was the most recent reservoir developed in Texas until the state decided recently to add Bois d’Arc Lake and Lake Ralph Hall in nearby Fannin County. Bois d’Arc Lake is nearing completion; Lake Ralph Hall has yet to receive water, but that day is coming, too.

It’s been said that Cooper Lake’s economic impact has been stunted somewhat by the fact that so much of the surrounding property belongs to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, which runs the state park that carries the name Cooper Lake.

“A lot of people come here for recreation, to hike the trails and for the fishing,” Newsom said of the lake’s attraction. Newsom said he and his wife of 50 years, Robbie, use the hiking trails frequently around the lake. “Before they built the lake,” he said, “folks would move here, but now we cannot live on public land.” He added that development of the lake and the state park has prohibited “a lot of high-end development” in Hopkins County.

“But we do love the tourism the lake brings to the area,” Newsom said. “It surely helps retail,” he added.

Hopkins County uses about 50% of the water it is allotted annually, Newsom said. He explained that the city of Sulphur Springs also relies heavily on the lake to provide drinking water to its residents.

The lake development, said the judge, has helped transform the county’s economic base over the years, adding a good bit of economic diversity. “We used to be considered the ‘dairy capital of the world,’” Newsom said. “We used to have more than 500 dairies 20 to 25 years ago,” he said. “That number is now down to fewer than a hundred.” What has replaced the dairies? Newsom said the county is welcoming new manufacturing plants, as well as a solar farm.

Cooper Lake encompasses 19,305 acres. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has built a dam with an intake structure that pulls roughly 2 million gallons daily; the intake volume increases to around 5 million gallons each day during the summer months.

The lake was authorized in 1955, but embankment construction didn’t begin until 1986. The water was impounded by 1991. The Corps of Engineers built the lake to control Sulphur River flooding and to serve as a water supply for Hopkins and Delta counties. President Bill Clinton ordered the renaming of the lake after Jim Chapman in 1998 but is still known widely as Cooper Lake, in large part because the state park name did not change.

Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell sees lake development in general as a “net positive” for the city. “We have an ample supply of water,” he said, noting that Sulphur Springs also draws water from Lake Sulphur Springs in addition to Cooper Lake. “We use about one-third of the water that’s available” from Cooper Lake, Maxwell said.

Water availability is a tremendous inducement the city can use to recruit businesses that rely heavily on water. “We don’t have anyone like that ready to come here now,” Maxwell said, although he did say the city is negotiating with a major employer; he didn’t specify the name of the prospect. What kinds of businesses depend on large amounts of water? Maxwell said, “Food processors and power generation projects use a lot of water,” he said.

Sulphur Springs’s water supply is managed by the Sulphur Springs Municipal Water District, which serves Commerce and Cooper in addition to Sulphur Springs. Maxwell said Commerce recently sold its water rights to the North Texas Municipal Water District, which also manages Bois d’Arc Lake.

“Either you have the water, or you don’t,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell noted, too, the resistance to the proposed Marvin Nichols reservoir, which he said has been in “various planning stages for years. The problem we have with some of these water plans is that they sometimes are in conflict with each other.” Maxwell said he has testified in Austin in favor of the Marvin Nichols project.

The Texas Living Water Project puts a different spin on the impact that Marvin Nichols Reservoir would have on the region, disagreeing with the positive aspects of the proposed project. According to the Living Water Project website: “The proposed massive Marvin Nichols dam and reservoir in Northeast Texas is a prime example of the unnecessary reliance on new reservoirs and pipelines instead of water conservation.” The Nichols project, it said, would flood more than 72,000 acres adjacent to the Sulphur River. “The majority of the project’s water would be piped roughly 170 miles uphill to the … Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

“Almost half the area to be flooded, 30,000 acres, is an increasingly rare type of habitat known as bottomland hardwood forests found only along rivers and streams. … These wooded wetlands, nurtured by the regular ebb and flow of a free-flowing river, are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystem types in the state.”

Maxwell noted that the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex makes demands on state water planners, who Maxwell noted haven’t dealt effectively with these conflicts. “I am sure that when the Metroplex is on the precipice of running out of water,” he said, “that we’ll get these conflicts resolved real quick.”

Despite the objections from some quarters, Maxwell said that “lake development is a plus” and he counts Cooper Lake as a boon to the city’s growth and its future.