Developers say the site for proposed Lake Columbia reservoir in East Texas isn’t much to look at now.
“They call it the Mud Creek flood plain,” Fred Brown, a partner at Tomlin Infrastructure Group, said of the site, about 120 miles southeast of Dallas. “I’d say it lives up to that name.”
But if it is built, the 15-mile-long reservoir–which would cover more than 10,000 acres and hold more than 64 billion gallons of water–could be a model for the changing way Texas is financing water projects.
Tomlin, a private infrastructure company, intends to take a major stake in what would traditionally be a public project. It is part of a trend spreading across the state as cash-strapped municipalities and public agencies call on the private sector for financing and management. Advocates say private-sector involvement is the only way to meet Texas’ growing water needs, but critics worry about how accountable private firms will be to the public, and about the possibility of higher water rates.
“In the public system, elected officials are held responsible,” said Ken Kramer, the recently retired director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter. “Private entities are not necessarily very accountable to public attitudes. You might lose some ability for the public to have a say in decision-making around water.”
Nonetheless, he acknowledged the need for new water sources and for a private-sector role.