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East Texans Don't Want Marvin Nichols Reservoir Included In State's Water Supply

Shelley Kofler
East Texans opposed to the Marvin Nichols Reservoir testified Wednesday before the Texas Water Development Board.

The Texas Water Development Board will soon decide whether to continue planning for the controversial Marvin Nichols Reservoir or take it out of the state’s water plan.

The decision is just the latest in a water battle that pits the thirsty Dallas-Fort Worth metro area against rural residents in East Texas.

On Wednesday, a bus carrying dozens of East Texas land and business owners traveled to Arlington for the last public hearing before the water board makes its decision.

Most have been battling for years to take the 70,000-acre Marvin Nichols Reservoir off the table as a future water supply.

Reservoir would damage East Texas, opponents say

Cass County Commissioner Paul Cothran told water board staff the reservoir would damage the natural environment, swallow agriculture and timber property and result in the loss of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in the area’s tax base.

“The potential for job loss will cripple our economy beyond recovery,” Cothran said. 

Bill Ward, who owns a timber company based in Linden, said paper mills are among the region’s biggest employers and at least one of the big mills will close if the reservoir is given a green light.

Ward says his own business is already affected.

“We can’t bring in new industry and new jobs because we have this hanging over our heads,” Ward said.  “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

North Texas needs water from beyond the region

Texas is divided into 16 regional water planning groups, each with its own list of water sources that could be developed. The Texas Water Development Board folds the regional recommendations into one big state plan.

So what do you do if two regions disagree?  That’s what’s going on here.

Region D, which plans for rural East Texas, where Marvin Nichols would be constructed, opposes the reservoir. But Region C, which plans for Dallas-Fort Worth and its growing population, wants it kept as an alternative. 

Region C Chairman Jim Parks says Dallas-Fort Worth may need to develop water supplies outside its boundaries to keep up with growth.

“There are a limited number of possible water development options across Texas,” Parks said. “We know the population is going to double in a very short period of time. What we would like is the opportunity to simply have enough time to vet all the alternatives.”

Parks says leaving Marvin Nichols in the state plan doesn’t mean it will be built, just that it will be considered.

'We've been bamboozled'

Max Shumake, a sixth-generation landowner who lives near the Sulphur River, doesn’t believe that.

“We’ve been misled, we’ve been bamboozled, we’ve been lied to,” Shumake testified, saying Dallas-Fort Worth water planners pledged to take Marvin Nichols off the table if opponents came up with other alternatives.   

Shumake says they've suggested expanding the use of current reservoirs, more reuse and recycling of water and using improved technologies. But that hasn’t been enough.

“Region C isn’t interested in buying water,” Shumake claimed. “They want to take our land. They want to take our mineral rights. They want our oil and gas and our 20-something foot of coal under our land.”

Ward, the timber company owner, says opponents are ready to take the next step if the state decides on May 19 that planning should continue for Marvin Nichols. 

Ward says opponents will sue the state board for violating a law that says agriculture and natural resources must be protected when water supplies are developed.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.