Supporters of the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir encountered a speed bump in Austin this morning, while opponents of the project welcomed a delay of the Texas Water Development Board's final recommendation.
Haslett: The Texas Water Development Board voted today to delay a final decision on whether the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir would be included in the state’s water plan. If built, the reservoir would flood about 70,000 acres along the Sulphur River, north of Mount Pleasant. The delay was a disappointment for supporters of the project, who had hoped that the Marvin Nichols Reservoir would get the water board’s final thumbs up today. Instead, the board asked for a quantitative study projecting the economic and environmental impact of the project. The board gave November 3 as a deadline for the study to be available. The delay was welcomed by opponents of Marvin Nichols, including Brittanie Lowery of Atlanta.
Brittanie Lowery: It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. Kind of going in, I always expected the worst, but there’s a little ray of sunshine, and so we’re hopeful in the future that they could possibly decide to keep it out of the plan. Right now, it’s kind of just put on hold. To be continued.
Haslett: Lowery works for Ward Timber, one of the many timber-related businesses in Northeast Texas that oppose the reservoir. Today’s decision marked a shift in momentum around the project. Back in March, the water board’s chief executive had recommended in favor of Marvin Nichols. But the final decision lies with the water board’s three-member governing body. Here’s board chairman Carlos Rubenstein.
Carlos Rubenstein: I understand that in the drafting stage of the regional water plan back in 2010, board staff requested that Region C Regional Water Planning Group include a quantitative report of impacts of water management strategies on agricultural resources, and that Region C instead chose to rate those impacts qualitatively as low, medium, and high, but the Regional Water Planning Group did not include any explanation of quantification of those impacts. It would seem to me that we are not able to capture with any quantitative measure what constitutes low, medium, and high, in terms of those impacts.
Haslett: The Region C Rubenstein mentioned is the North Texas regional planning group. That organization wants the reservoir built to serve projected future water needs of the Dallas area. That group now has a little less than three months to come up with hard numbers for the board to consider. During this morning’s meeting, Jim Thompson of Linden expressed his view that the Region C plan was inadequate.
Jim Thompson: The Region C plan does not even treat timber as an agricultural resource, even though forestry and timber production is a vital agricultural resource in Region D. There is absolutely no assessment in their plan on the impacts on timber production. Chapter 5.2 of the Region C contains the following sentence and I quote: “The potential impacts to agriculture and rural areas are limited to the loss of land from inundation of new reservoirs.” That statement is false. We know it’s false, Region C knows it false, and anybody that has studied this issue knows that it’s false.
Haslett: Thompson is a former chairman of Region D, the Northeast Texas planning group. Today’s decision to require further study passed by a 2-to-1 margin. Texas Water Development Board Chairman Carlos Rubenstein introduced the motion, which was approved by board member Kathleen Jackson. Board member Bech Bruun opposed the measure. He said that the Region C plan was complete enough.
Bech Bruun: I would vote against the motion that would require a study and accept, or set forth, the (executive administrator’s) recommendation that the plan as it is right now stays in the plan.
Haslett: Bruun did agree with other board members that an ongoing study of the entire Sulphur River basin be continued. One point that was not in dispute today was the necessity of more water for the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in the decades to come. With the current multi-year drought rivaling that of the 1950s and climate projections looking grim, everyone agreed that the water must come from somewhere. Opponents of Marvin Nichols have said that Dallas could meet its needs with water from Toledo Bend and higher water levels at Wright Patman Lake. But Region C representative Jim Parks said that DFW needs Marvin Nichols.
Jim Parks: The proposed reservoir will account for almost 30 percent of the water Region C needs to meet the projected increase in demand over the next 50 years. No other supply strategies or combination of strategies can provide Region C with that amount of water as reliably and as efficiently as the Marvin Nichols Project can do. If Marvin Nichols Reservoir is taken off the table, Region C will be forced back to the drawing board to develop numerous replacement projects. Those projects would be much more expensive in combination, than would the Marvin Nichols Reservoir, and they would exact a far greater environmental cost than anything that would be fairly attributable to the Marvin Nichols project.
Haslett: If the Water Development Board does eventually approve Marvin Nichols, that won’t be the end of the story for the proposed reservoir. Before being built, any new lake must be permitted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.