Conservation isn’t enough. Booming Fort Worth area needs new lake as a water source
No one builds a lake on a lark.
It takes decades of discussion and planning to designate a reservoir site, conduct extensive environmental reviews and acquire permits and property. Along the way, stakeholders at every level have ample opportunity to weigh in.
That process has been playing out for nearly 25 years when it comes to the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir. It’s a key part of the future for much of the Dallas-Fort Worth region, including Tarrant County. So, its inclusion in the latest version of the state’s master water-supply and regulation plan is good news.
Landowners in northeast Texas, the proposed site of the lake, and some environmentalists are reinforcing their opposition to the new reservoir, which still wouldn’t be built yet for decades. There’s no question its creation will be a hardship for many, and property rights deserve the utmost respect and defense.
But it’s in the best interest of the region and state to build Marvin Nichols, and it’s not a close call. The process must move forward.
Dan Buhman, general manager of the Tarrant Regional Water District, which ensures a safe and reliable water supply for the area, said that the agency always seeks first to maximize conservation, reuse water and seek other efficiencies. But the need for a new source in the coming decades is inevitable.
“We have to meet the demands of a growing region,” Buhman said. “Marvin Nichols has got to be part of our portfolio of our possible water supplies. But it’s not our only option. The first priority is always efficiency.”
Dallas-Fort Worth remains primed for huge population growth for decades. That’s a good thing: It means vitality and more opportunity for all. But growth brings challenges, including the need to secure resources and infrastructure for households and businesses alike.
There was a time when conservation efforts were insufficient. But the entire area has made tremendous strides. Per-capita water usage rates in area cities has dropped over the years. Fort Worth and Arlington receive some of the highest scores on conservation from Texas Living Waters, a coalition of advocacy groups seeking to protect freshwater sources.
Buhman said the water district’s service area conserves 20 billion gallons annually, a testament to better technology, more efficient use of resources and a constant reinforcing of the message that saving water is important.
And such efforts should continue. Buhman noted that many new arrivals to Tarrant County come from places where water is abundant, so ongoing education about the challenges of ensuring our water supply is important.
“We have to do everything we can do to use the resources we have responsibly,” said Buhman, who recently ascended to the district’s top job. But “based on all our studies, conservation is insufficient to deal with our growth.”
Even with robust conservation and reuse, the North Texas region (as defined for state water planning purposes) will see its demand increase 67 percent over the coming decades, the Texas plan notes. Where will it come from? The Tarrant district once tried to get more from across the Red River, but it lost a dispute with Oklahoma at the Supreme Court. We simply must have other options to supply and store water. Buhman noted that one of the predicted effects of climate change for the region is fewer rainfall events that are more intense. Capturing that water when it comes is important.
That’s where Marvin Nichols comes in. The state doesn’t build reservoirs on a whim. A new one hasn’t opened in decades, and the last lake built in the DFW area, Joe Pool, is more than three decades old.
Opponents to Marvin Nichols seem reinvigorated by the North Texas region’s push to include the reservoir in the long-term plan. It’s uniting property owners, environmentalists and timber interests. Federal review will take many more years, and they’ll have ample opportunity to weigh in.
No one should pretend that building Marvin Nichols comes without cost. But tradeoffs are necessary. For a glimpse of what can happen when the right decisions aren’t made decades in advance, look no further than California, where a failure of planning and worsening drought have much of the state on the precipice of a water crisis.
Elected and appointed officials alike must stay well ahead of the curve. That kind of prudence, temperament and vision necessary are a reason to pay close attention when offices such as the water district’s board of directors are on the ballot.
After all, as Buhman says, no one wants the day to come when we turn the tap and wonder what, if anything, will come out.