In Fannin County, construction of what would be the newest lake in Texas is a year behind schedule. Supporters of the Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir say that delay is bad news for the communities north of Dallas that would get water from the lake. But for some North Texas families, it's borrowed time to save their farms and livelihoods from the coming floods. KETR’s George Hale reports.
Wayne Ryser: See those trees way down there? That’s where the dam will be. Straight north of us. That’s where the dam will be. So, you can see, there’s 400 acres in this plot right here. You can see how much is going to be covered up.
George Hale: 75-year-old Wayne Ryser is a farmer and landowner in eastern Fannin County. His family’s property and business would be under water in less than five years if a plan to create a new reservoir receives final approval from federal authorities in the coming months. Ryser and the other farmers whose land will be flooded are holding out hope that the delay will continue indefinitely. Supporters of the Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir say they sympathize with the plight of Ryser and other landowners. They also insist the holdup is a mere formality, that the feds will come through any day now. Construction would begin the day after. Ryser is contemplating that day.
Ryser: I hate to see this kind of stuff covered up. Not just for my sake but this is a unique place. I mean, the wildlife is incredible down here. Our farming and the wildlife, and ranching goes ... it goes good together. And, well, we’re going to lose all that. We’re going to lose every bit of it. And in the place of it, we’re going to have a reservoir that the water is going to go south. And they like to use water south of here.
Hale: “South of here” means the affluent and ever-expanding suburbs north of Dallas. I asked Ryser if he thought the lands his family has farmed for a century were being sacrificed to keep the price of water low for people living far away from Fannin County.
Ryser: Oh, sure. Sure. Their green lawns is worth a lot more to them than what we raise. They don’t think nothing about what we’re raising -- our food and fiber. I mean, a lot of the steaks that they eat come from down here. The clothes they wear come from down here. That’s my point. You could get water somewhere else if you really wanted to.
Hale: State officials insist that’s not the case, at least not at current budget levels. Janet Rummel is an official at the North Texas Municipal Water District. She and other North Texas officials say they sympathize but the water district is out of alternatives. The district says it already serves 1.6 million people, and its projections say the region will increase by nearly a million by 2040. In light of that, Rummel and others say the district is already conserving water.
Janet Rummel: I showed you the growth projections that we’re expecting. And while conservation is a key component, we can’t conserve our way out of the need for additional supplies. So, we have to bring on a new project to meet those needs. And that solution is the Lower Bois d’Arc Creek reservoir to meet the needs over the next 40 to 50 years.
Hale: The district also says the new lake would benefit the region’s economy, which is why they’re investing millions of dollars throughout the county.
Rummel: We have done multiple updates to an independent economic study. And they have produced the data for the projected economic benefits for the region and that it will boost the net taxable real estate value for Fannin County by an estimated $316 million. And, also, the recreational amenities provided by the reservoir could generate up to $166 million of annual revenue, economic activity per year in the county.
Hale: But none of this can happen until the North Texas Municipal Water District receives a federal water rights permit. It got one from the state last June. But it also needs the federal 404 permit, under the Clean Water Act. That permit requires that any environmental loss is replaced by conservation elsewhere. The Environmental Protection Agency has a veto authority over these kinds of projects. So, if the EPA disagrees with the district’s plan to mitigate environmental damage, they can veto it, and then the project can’t be built. Officials say that’s the holdup now – waiting for the EPA. For KETR, I’m George Hale.
Mark Haslett: We've received an update on this story from the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA’s downtown Dallas office responded over the weekend in an emailed statement, saying:
"We continue to work with the U-S Army Corps of Engineers to foster cooperation and our continued commitment to Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir project. We recently formed an interagency workgroup to identify ways to improve the permit review process for large water projects in Texas. Additionally, the North Texas Municipal Water District is also working to obtain additional land for mitigation of impacts."
KETR will continue to follow this story.