The War over Marvin Nichols
Tensions ran high as East Texans and Dallas-Fort Worth area policymakers spoke on Tuesday in Sulphur Springs about the proposed Marvin Nichols reservoir, which could occupy as much as 65,000 acres as soon as 2050 in Franklin, Titus and Red River counties.
According to the Bowie County Citizens Tribune, the history of the local battle against Marvin Nichols dates back at least 20 years, when it was first proposed as a solution to the DFW Metroplex's growing water scarcity issues. The plan for the reservoir, officials said this past Tuesday, would be to pipe water approximately 130 miles from the flooded East Texas lands to the Metroplex for consumption.
In 2015, water Region C (which oversees Dallas) and Region D (which oversees East Texas) reached what they admitted was a “contentious” solution: Region C would agree not to pursue creating the reservoir until the year 2070, and would not apply for any permits for the reservoir to move forward.
However, Region C chairman Kevin Ward revealed on Tuesday that the DFW group would like to push that date forward by 20 years-- to 2050--and in fact, the DFW area was in need of Northeast Texas water by as soon as 2040.
If that was the case, Region D’s Chairman Jim Thompson said Northeast Texas had “no intention of complying” with the 2015 agreement.
The two groups gathered in Sulphur Springs this week to hold a public hearing as well as try to reach a compromise regarding Marvin Nichols in front of a mediator. Over 150 citizens and local leaders were in attendance, and the public’s message was clear: they wanted no part of Marvin Nichols. Of the 20 individuals who spoke, 19 voiced they did not want to see the creation of a reservoir.
CITIZENS AGAINST RESERVOIR CREATION
A key element seemed to be different lifestyles between those who live in cities in rural areas.
“Those who live in [Dallas-Fort Worth] neighborhoods, housing authorities and gated communities… What are people doing to alleviate their high volume water usage?” Jim Begnalie asked. “They drain their pools two or three times a summer, that’s a lot of water.”
“They [East Texans] conserve the land they live on,” said DeDe Begnalie. “They don’t ravage it, they don’t overpopulate it.”
“I’m just really upset with you people,” she added. “I wish that you cared enough to plan cities around areas you could sustain, because we try and we do very well managing and sustaining our own lives. Good luck with all the money you’re going to make.”
“We don’t need the lake because we don’t need to be setting down water for someone else,” Guy Lamont Jr., of Avery, opined.
Stanley Jessee, superintendent of the Rivercrest Independent School District, said that not only would his personal land be consumed by the creation of the reservoir as a resident of Cuthand, but also his school district would be negatively impacted.
“I grew up on that land, raised my kids on that land and raised cattle on that land,” Jessee said. “We’ll lose our land, there’s no doubt about it… I’m also concerned about the school district… the lake will gash us [the district] in half.”
“The mighty footprint of Marvin Nichols is going to sit right on top of Rivercrest ISD… my concern is that will all come off the tax roll, and that’s a major source of funding for our school district,” Jessee said.
Jessee said he is also concerned that the creation of the reservoir would lead locals to move away, further dropping enrollment at Rivercrest ISD.
“I don’t know how Rivercrest is going to survive,” he said. “I see… Rivercrest dying a slow death. I just can’t see how it can’t.”
Several other citizens mentioned Texas history and heritage as reasons for leaving the land intact.
“It’s not just about a lake,” said Lindy Guest. “I call it a fight because we’re fighting for what… belongs to us.”
“This Marvin Nichols reservoir will be one for the record books,” agreed Gary Cheatwood, a member of the Sulphur River Basin Authority speaking as a citizen. “It’ll be a thousand archaeological sites gone.”
Citizen Rhonda Williams was similarly concerned, as the proposed reservoir site contains a historic cemetery and Williams was worried authorities will not relocate all graves, including her father’s, in their entirety.
And of course, citizens held environmental concerns about the implementation of the reservoir.
Cheatwood cited that the creation of the lake would make it the second largest in the state of Texas, and the only lake with a tectonic fault line running through it, making it susceptible to earthquakes.
Cheatwood stated there were “thirty species of concern” currently habiting the area including black bear, red wolf and bald eagle that would be negatively impacted by the creation of the reservoir.
From an ecological perspective, Guest and Lamont, both timber farmers, pointed out that although they could relocate their residences, they could not relocate their livelihoods.
And Hopkins County realtor Mandy Sharp had an ecological example as well: “Cooper was promised it would become a prosperous town when their reservoir was created, and Cooper is not a prosperous town,” Sharp said.
Referencing the cultural and ecological costs, Cheatwood summed up, “Marvin Nichols may be cheaper for y’all, but it’s not for us.”
EMERGENT WATER NEEDS
Ward said that DFW water officials did not consider moving the creating of Marvin Nichols reservoir to 2050 to be “reneging” on their 2015 promise, as they would not be re-approaching the creation of the reservoir so soon if they did not believe it was absolutely necessary.
“I believe they have been spending millions of dollars looking at other options for quite some time,” Ward said. “They would have been as happy as could be if something would have stuck to the wall that would have lead them away from having to build Marvin Nichols.”
According to Ward, DFW officials worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider raising water levels in Wright Patman Lake, but feel that the lake has dam safety issues, flooding issues, and is “overtopped.”
Region D member Fred Milton said “I don’t think we have the data to make that decision” regarding whether or not pursuing the reservoir was really the least ecologically damaging option for both DFW and rural areas.
Addressing citizen comments about DFW residents being more effective ecological stewards of water resources, Ward said the DFW group would need five years to study and analyze water re-use patterns among Metroplex residents, but “even with reductions per capita… you’ve got a big void in 2050 and in constructing a reservoir, you’ve got to get started 20 to 30 years ahead of time.”
“Four years ago we wanted Marvin Nichols out of the plan, they wanted to keep it in, and at that time 2070 seemed just fine,” Thompson said. “But it was all a joke on us, apparently, because they had no intention of complying… they’ll want it as soon as they think they can build the lake.”
Thompson said he believed that DFW water officials had not significantly explored other options, despite what Ward said.
“They have never stopped pursuing Marvin Nichols. It has never been put on the backburner,” Thompson said. “It’s always been the pet project.”
Region D member Cynthia Gwinn had questions for region C: “How on earth is Northeast Texas going to keep the industry they have… that is water intensive? How are they going to attract new industry if there is no water, as it’s been recommended by region C?”
Ultimately, the groups ended the meeting unresolved. They tabled their discussion, and resolved to chat amongst themselves after region C has their next meeting on Feb. 10 in Arlington whether or not to reconvene the groups for another mediation session.
If the groups cannot figure out how to move forward by March 10, state legislators and even courts could get involved, Ward said.
David Montagne of region D summed it up best: “This struggle between rural and urban areas has been going on with water since the beginning of time… they say in Texas ‘whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.’”
Region D water planners will discuss the issue and are expected to officially oppose the inclusion of Marvin Nichols Reservoir in its draft water plan when they meet next week in Pittsburg. That meeting is scheduled for January 23 at 1 p.m. at the Region 8 Education Center.
In the photo, Rivercrest ISD superintendent Stanley Jessee speaks about the impact the construction of the reservoir would have on his land and school district/ Photo and story by Taylor Nye-Sulphur Springs News-Telegram, a sister publication of the Bowie County Citizens Tribune