Country World Archives 2001-2008


Plans for Lake Marvin Nichols stir controversy

Groups, individuals cite differences of opinion regarding necessity of proposed lake along Sulphur River

By LYNN MONTGOMERY | East Texas Edition

Click for larger image
Click for larger image.
Red area is the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir Site

March 14, 2002 -- The patriotic song may say "this land is your land; this land is my land ..." but controversy floods the idea when the land is set to be covered in water.

A lake, to be called Lake Marvin Nichols, has been planned for the Northeast Texas area since the '60s, and the proposal calls for it to be built within the next 20 years. Lake Marvin Nichols would cover approximately 62,000 acres, with an additional 10,000 acres for flood stage, and would stretch along the Sulphur River where it flows between Highway 259 and Highway 37.

Controversy has surrounded the proposal for the lake's construction. Some say the lake would be an economic boost for the area and would help supply water for residents in the growing Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Others say the plan just pipes away Northeast Texas' precious water supply and would cause landowners, many who have owned the land for many generations, to lose a piece of family heritage.

The Sulphur River Basin Authority (SRBA) oversees the Sulphur River basin. SRBA would also oversee any construction and development within the river and/or its basin.

"The Sulphur River Basin holds 58 percent of the undeveloped water in Texas," said Mike Huddleston, SRBA president. "This may not seem like a lot, but if you take the size of the state of Texas, and say 58 percent of all future water is in the area, that is a huge, huge amount of water.

"And when you realize Texas cannot go anywhere else and get it, it becomes a fear for Northeast Texas with the growth record for the Dallas area and the metroplexes."

Some of the latest forecasts indicate that within the next 50 years, parts of Texas will be without water. One area will be the fast-growing Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, reports indicate.

The proposal calls for Lake Marvin Nichols to supply water to the Dallas area, and the lake will be available if Northeast Texas should ever need water. The water would be piped to Cooper Lake in two 108-inch pipelines.

But "Dallas doesn't need water and is not going to need water for at least 30 years, possibly not going to need it at all," commented Janice Bezason, executive director of the Texas Committee on Natural Resources.

Bezason pointed to other avenues that could be taken for supplying water for Dallas. "One way is piping water from Lake Texoma to Lake Ray Roberts and/or other area lakes and use it to keep them full. Water from Lake Texoma would cost from one-tenth to one-fifteenth as much to develop as water from Marvin Nichols," she said. Or, "water from Toledo Bend Reservoir, on the Sabine River, could be piped to Lake Fork and Tawakoni for storage, creating additional yield without building Marvin Nichols or any other reservoir."

Huddleston responded that "they are already getting water out of Lake Texoma, all they can get. The Dallas-Fort Worth area has a pipeline. They can't get anymore. The answer to that is no."

Huddleston adds that "everyone seems to think that Marvin Nichols is the 'cure all' for the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but it is only one of 27 strategies that they (state water planners) are trying to implement for the next 50 years to meet water demands. Marvin Nichols is the only one on the Sulphur River that they are looking at in the next 50 years."

But one Northeast Texas resident remembers a time when water needs were a big concern. Max Shumake, president for the Sulphur River Oversight Society (SOS), remembers though that in 1950, "when Texas had the big drought, they went all over the state making projection sites on every creek, river and stream. They went out here north of town (DeKalb) on Mud Creek and put a projection site. That doesn't mean they have to build a lake there; it's just a projection site. (But) they built Lake Texarkana. It was a projection site. They built Cooper Lake. It was a projection site. Now, they are wanting to build Marvin Nichols because it's on the plan. It's a projection site," he said.

The proposal for the lake is not all about developing a water source for the growing Dallas metroplex area. SRBA points out that the lake's water source is key for enticing industry to an area, thus boosting the local economy.

Huddleston made an example of one Northeast Texas town. "Clarksville is needing water now. There is no industry in Red River County because there is no water. ... Clarksville had the opportunity to build a lake 15 or 20 years ago, but no one wanted it. They were going to raise taxes in order to build the lake and they voted it down. That's their right. Paris (nearby town in adjacent county) built the lake. ... I'm sure if you talk to individuals in Clarksville, I'm sure the majority would tell you ... they have missed opportunity after opportunity to get industry in Red River County (because) there is no water."

Another opposition issue for the lake was pointed out by SOS leader Shumake. The SOS group is strongly opposed to the construction of Lake Marvin Nichols. One reason is the loss of land. Shumake and his family have 800 acres that has been in the family for generations. The land is in the proposed lake area.

Another controversial issue is the value of the land that will be used for the proposed lake. Huddleston said the agricultural land (the majority of what's out there along the Sulphur River Basin) generates only about $100 of income per acre.

But Bezason pointed out that if 72,000 acres are taken out of production, "that is over $7 million taken out of the local economy in the Northeast Texas area. Not only is this very negative for the wildlife habitat that is in the area (but also) the hardwood forests that are so important to wildlife."

"It's not right," Shumake added. "No way (should they) expect people to give up 70,000 to 200,000 acres of land so that people out there (the metroplex) can continue to water their grass."

Shumake noted he has talked to many of the state's representatives and senators in the Dallas area and "they are not in favor of building this lake and destroying our ecology and our rivers. Some of them understand there is water that could be gotten in other places. All of them realize that they need to practice some conservation and not let water run down the streets year around. By their own admission, 60 to 65 percent of the water goes to water grass (in the metroplex)."

"We have an obligation to build this reservoir," said SRBA's Huddleston. "If people (in Northeast Texas) have the attitude that 'we don't want to plan our future'‚ why would a person in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have the same right to say 'if the people in Northeast Texas don't want to share the water resources for our kids and for us to have a job and be able to support our family, why should we care whether their kids have a decent education? Just give me back my tax dollars and I can go build plants on the Gulf and I can have all the money to pump water back to Dallas-Fort Worth.' ... I think it's fair to say we are all Texans and Americans and we should do everything to help each other if it's humanly possible."

On the other hand, Bezason said, "The people who are comparing education to water are not comparing apples to apples. If Dallas really, and I mean really, needed the water, and it's speculative to when they need it, I would be for this project. As far as being a good neighbor, Dallas doesn't need the water and therefore they are exploiting the resources -- the water, the land, the wildlife, and the people."

Huddleston also noted that maybe about 30,000 acres around the proposed lake site would be included in the migitation of the area's wildlife.

Also, cemeteries in the proposed lake site would have to be relocated, according to SRBA Administrator Mike Burke. "This can only be done after every surviving member of the deceased's family has been contacted and they have given their okay," he said.

Construction of Lake Marvin Nichols and its dam would not come cheap. Huddleston said the cost would be about $550 million.

"We are a state agency and we can hire a bonding company to do a bond. Northeast Texas will not pay for this lake. The Dallas Alliance (North Texas, City of Dallas, Upper Trinity, City of Irving and Tarrant County water districts) will pay 100 percent of the building of the lake and dam," Huddleston said. "In addition, they will pay 100 percent for the maintenance, operation and debt service to the lake. In return, they get 80 percent of the water and Northeast Texas gets 20 percent at no cost."

An engineering firm has also been established for the lake's proposed construction. The firm is called the Sulphur Basin Group, a newly-formed corporation between Murray, Thomas, and Griffin (MTG) of Texarkana and Freese and Nichols of Fort Worth.

At this point in the proposal, the lake still needs to be permitted, which, according to SRBA, should take around 13 years. Permitting is granted or denied by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC).

Several meetings by the various groups interested in the proposed lake are scheduled for the coming weeks and months. Groups which submit information may have their meeting time and place listed in Country World's Country Calendar.