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Fate of Marvin Nichols reservoir could be decided Thursday

By Glenn Evans
Jan. 3, 2015 at 11 p.m.

The fate of a disputed lake project in Northeast Texas could be decided Thursday when the state's water board takes up dueling technical reports on Marvin Nichols Reservoir.

It's a long-running tale of two regions.

The 16-county Region C Water Planning Region wants to build the Sulphur River lake and pipe water 140 miles west to meet demands of a mushrooming population.

The 18-county Region D says the lake would cripple its leading industry - timber - and wreak environmental havoc on the pristine river basin.

The three-member Texas Water Development Board gets to decide between the two arguments Thursday in Austin.

"That's when the board is likely to announce a decision," said Walt Sears, administrative director for the Northeast Texas Region D Water Planning Group.

Region D, in 2000, dropped Marvin Nichols from the 50-year outlook every planning region revises every five years.

The 60,000-acre reservoir remained in the Dallas-based region's plan. It also remained in the statewide, master water plan compiled by the Water Development Board from the state's 16 planning regions.

Stakeholders in Region D eventually sued the water development board to force it to resolve the conflict between the two water regions.

The board in August demanded the Dallas region report detail the losses to natural resources and economic development its project could cause in Red River and surrounding counties.

Region C submitted its report in late October, and in December Region D submitted a reply.

The Northeast Texas report argued that its sister region failed to adequately report the lake's effect on bottomland hardwoods downstream from the lake site.

Attorney Jim Thompson, a former Region D chairman who will represent the group Thursday, also wrote in his reply to Region C that the Dallas report ignored U.S. Army Corps of Engineers methods in estimating how much mitigation land the lake would require.

Mitigation land is acreage that must be set aside to offset the environmental loss from building a lake.

The Dallas group estimated 46,060 acres must be set aside, but the Region D reply says mitigation acres for Marvin Nichols would exceed 100,000 acres.

"The (Region C) report, however, is silent on the location of the required mitigation," Thompson wrote.

His reply also argues Region C ignored the effect the loss of those hardwoods would have on the Northeast Texas economy. The area around the proposed lake is largely dependent on timber harvesting and a paper mill that is a major employer.

Sears said the water board is likely to review the two reports during Thursday's open meeting and give both parties a chance to speak and answer questions.

"The staff of the state agency will also be given an opportunity to present information or comment," Sears added.

The agency's executive administrator, Kevin Patteson, last spring recommended keeping Marvin Nichols in the state's master water plan.

Sears finally noted that Thursday's hearing involves planning, not permitting or other steps which precede dam building.

"You need permits from the federal government, you need permits from the state government," Sears said. "And before you can get permits, that has to be OK'd for planning purposes."



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