Fort Worth-area cities in North Texas have been granted permission to purchase water from a new source without having to build a new reservoir. This marks the first time since 2005 that there has been an opportunity to do so. The Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) can divert and sell flood water from Lake Benbrook and Eagle Mountain Lake to 11 North Texas counties, including Fort Worth, Mansfield and Arlington. Lake Benbrook sits on the southwest border of Fort Worth and Eagle Mountain Lake is in northwest Tarrant County. The permission to do this has been granted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality after a permit was approved late last year.
Previously, the TRWD could only draw water from the reservoir itself, as any excess water or exflow from Lake Benbrook or Eagle Mountain would uncontrollably flow downstream to another reservoir. Now, the TRWD can divert excess water from both lakes to their municipal, agricultural and industrial customers. This is intended to only occur when the third body of water, Lake Livingston, is at full capacity, in order to protect water quality and ecosystems in Galveston Bay, the location in the lower basin on the Texas coast where the Trinity River flows to.
Woody Frossard, the TRWD’s environmental director, stated that there is no guarantee that environmental conditions will occur each year or that TRWD can collect the maximum allocation of water. Frossard also highlighted the financial benefits of the permit in addition to providing more resources for the Fort Worth areas burgeoning population. As neither the water district nor its customers will need to build new pipelines or storage, it will cost very little, making the water supply economic. The excess water collection will also have some flood reduction benefits, he added.
The maximum allowance permitted to be taken from Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Benbrook is 63,899-acre feet and 78,653-acre feet annually, respectively, and this will not count towards the TRWD’s total draw from these lakes. Those customers closest to the lakes, such as Azle near Eagle Mountain Lake or Crowley near Lake Benbrook, will be the most frequent customers.
Moreover, TRWD is expected to finalise two more exflow permits later this year for Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers. The water district will likely draw more flood waters from these East Texas lakes because they typically experience wetter conditions than their Tarrant County counterparts. Water planners in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have been vocal about the need for new water resources in the region to meet the needs of the expanding population, such as building the Marvin Nichols reservoir in Northeast Texas. The permitting process for these reservoirs can take years or decades, even when no dirt needs to be turned to collect more water.
Getting the exflow permits approved was not an easy process as it took nearly a decade for Frossard to achieve this. He stated that although the process was lengthy and difficult, the outcomes were worth it. Frossard’s challenge was made harder by the state having a process in place to protect the interests of the existing water rights holders and the public, both from a reservoir recreation and environmental standpoint.
Haley Samsel is an environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. The publication is editorially independent of its board members and financial supporters.