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As Texas’s Water Needs Spur a Land Grab for New Reservoirs, a Boon for Anglers May Become a Bust for Deer Hunters

by Matt Williams

Water is fast becoming a very valuable commodity in Texas as many census pundits call for the Texas population to double within the next 50 years. Some experts believe Texas’s growing thirst for what is arguably the most taken-for-granted natural resource on the planet may eventually outweigh the available supplies unless measures are taken to shore things up for the future.

There’s been plenty of talk about the development of more projects aimed at looking for untapped water sources underground, as well as building more facilities for converting waste water and saltwater into drinking water.

Athough those are certainly viable solutions to help stretch the state’s water supply, most will agree a more logical alternative is to be more conservative with the water we’ve already got.Take a look around. Examine your own habits for a day or two and you’ll see what I mean.

Case in point: Little things mean a lot when it comes to water use. With millions of people being wasteful every day, the amount of water going down the drain in this state would probably be staggering if somebody could put a number on it.

In my book, soaking golf greens, street medians and thirsty lawns isn’t any more conservative than taking a 20-minute shower or using the toilet as a trash can.

We can all do better. The same is true for agricultural, mining and other industries. Although some of these operations have made huge strides in water conservation in recent times, others haven’t done so well.

Another viable solution to meeting the coming water challenge is to build more dams along creeks, rivers and other bottomland drainages. This will create more reservoirs, basins and other “holding tanks” to capture surface water that can later be used later on by residents, businesses and agricultural operations, etc.

As much as Texas freshwater fishing and boating junkies will favor that idea, plenty of folks are adamantly opposed to it. That’s because it would invariably result in the taking of hundreds or thousands of acres of private property―much of it hardwood-rich bottomlands―from folks who aren’t all too excited about giving it up.

Being from a family that surrendered a significant chunk of property to the U.S Army Corp of Engineers I can certainly feel their pain. We were paid only chump change back in the early 1950s, when the East Fork of the Trinity River was dammed up to build Lake Lavon.

Construction of Lake Lavon in the early 1950s—during a reservoir construction boom that built more than 200 major lakes—forced the author’s grandparents to sell much of the family’s land for “chump change.” Is another such boom on the horizon?

Construction of Lake Lavon in the early 1950s—during a reservoir construction boom that built more than 200 major lakes—forced the author’s grandparents to sell much of the family’s land for “chump change.” Is another such boom on the horizon?

My grandparents fought fiercely to hold on to their land, but lost. So did many other Texas landowners who were forced to sell all or portions of their family farms and homes during an ensuing reservoir boom that resulted in the construction of more than 200 reservoirs around the state in the wake of the epic drought of the 1950s.

Hunting lease operators are concerned about the topic, too. As are wildlife and environmental advocates, who say the construction of more new reservoirs would gobble up pristine bottomland habitat that is vital for deer, squirrels, turkeys, river otters, ducks and other migratory birds. Environmentalists also say it would do irreparable harm to rare forests and plant life while altering river and stream flows that are critical to maintaining ecosystems downstream.

Another argument hinges on money. Building a reservoir is a costly project that can require hundreds of millions or billions of dollars to complete, depending on its size.

To wit:

Lake Ralph Hall will be a 12,000-acre reservoir that the Upper Trinity Regional District is pushing to build in Fannin County northeast of Dallas. It has been projected to cost around $300 million to build.

Meanwhile, the North Texas Municipal Water District is recommending another Fannin County impoundment called Bois ‘d Arc at a projected cost of around $700 million. An even bigger northeast lake is being talked about by water planners. The 62,000-acre Marvin Nichols comes with a significantly higher price tag of $3.4 billion.

When lakes are built for water supply―as these and nearly a dozen others recommended by the 2007 State Water Plan would be―controlling authorities often look to local municipalities to help recoup those costs. In turn, those costs trickle down to consumers, who are largely divided on the subject.

As mentioned earlier, new reservoirs also bring a host of benefits to the table. In terms of fishing, the potential economic benefits can be extremely high because good fishing lakes attract lots of fishermen. This, in turn, spurs local economies and can drive adjacent property values straight through the roof.

One of the best examples around is Lake Fork. Built for water supply by Texas Utilities and the Sabine River Authority in the late 1970s, Fork eventually became one of the best big bass lakes the world has ever seen. It’s a driving force for local economies. A 1996 economic survey indicated that the lake generated more than $27 million annually for the three counties around it and that it attracted as many as 325,000 bass fishing visitors each year.

One of the main reasons why is that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Inland Fisheries division got involved with the lake early on. The agency implemented a fisheries management plan that came together more beautifully than any other before it, or since.

The plan involved making recommendations to engineers as to how much timber and other cover to leave in the lake (at Fork it was a lot) during the construction process. It also hinged on plentiful stockings of Florida bass (many of them retired brood fish) and a bounty of forage to support them during the pre-inundation stages.

According to Dave Terre, TPWD’s management and research chief, that pretty much summarizes TPWD’s involvement with proposed new reservoirs. He emphasized the state agency has no involvement in determining where lakes are built, which ones get built or when they get built.

“TPWD is neither a proponent nor opponent of reservoir development,” Terre said. “Our role is to provide science-based information to decision-makers on how alteration of natural landscapes will affect fish and wildlife resources. Once a decision is made to construct a new reservoir, TPWD has a role in ensuring that impact to native fish, wildlife, and their habitats are appropriately mitigated. We also take a voluntary and proactive role in working with controlling authorities to maximize habitat value to sport fishes and associated recreational benefits to anglers and other resource users of newly developed reservoirs.”

Terre added that TPWD’s inland fisheries division has a proven track record for providing quality fisheries management on public reservoirs. He added that the agency stands ready to use that experience to bolster fishing on any and all new lakes in the future. The biologist says there are numerous potential reservoir projects on the books in Texas. All of them hold promise for providing quality bass fishing, he said, especially if the department is allowed to get involved during the early stages.

“We know what to do, how to do it, and we stand ready to get working on a project once a decision is made to build one,” he said. “We will use all our existing knowledge, past experience, and hatchery resources to make sure that fishing is the best that it can be.”

Of course, the crux to all of this is rain. Water developers can throw up all the dams they want, but without rain to fill up new impoundments and recharge existing ones as well as our dwindling aquifers, we’re all going to be in world of hurt.

Some areas of the state already are.

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