In an historic move, directors of the city of Texarkana and Riverbend Water Resources District sat down at the same table for a meeting Tuesday to discuss both the past and the future of water rights in Wright Patman Lake.
Noticeably absent was the Sulphur River Basin Authority Board of Directors, which was on the tri-agency agenda but bowed out last week just prior to Board President Mike Sandefur resigning his governor-appointed position.
Ward 6 Councilman Josh Davis said he was pleased to see people from the region attend and give feedback during the hourlong public comment period, something Sandefur opposed putting on the agenda before SRBA pulled out of the meeting.
"I was very pleased with it personally, although I think the end of the table speaks for itself," Davis said. "We had so much feedback. That's what personally I think we've all been looking for is more feedback from the community."
That feedback included comments from George Frost, vice chairman for the Region D Water Planning Group, and input from several landowners in Cass County whose property adjoins area waterways.
Cass County resident Charlene Granberry, whose family has raised cattle along the Sulphur River for four generations, thanked both boards for staying on top of water planning for the region. She said there was a time when she was sure the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir would be built in the upper Sulphur Basin, but now she hopes it won't.
"If it is built, mitigation would take it all," she said of the state possibly taking land along Wright Patman to compensate for that taken to create the reservoir. "We'd be glad to give some more. Just don't take it all from us," she added. Many landowners in Bowie and Cass counties had land taken from them in the mid-1900s to create the lake, and she said they don't want it to happen again.
Steve Mayo, water liaison for the city of Texarkana, refered to the study the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting in Wright Patman. That study will determine the possibility of raising the lake, and reallocation, which is converting the lake's purpose to water supply instead of flood control, as it was originally designed.
The Corps is conducting the studies through a contract with SRBA, which is solely funded by the Joint Commission for Project Development. JCPD is comprised of five water districts in the Dallas Metroplex that are all seeking water for their growing populations. SRBA has also offered to partner with Riverbend on a volumetric study of Wright Patman to determine the extent of sedimentation in the lake, which could affect how much water the lake holds.
Riverbend Board Member Marshall Wood spoke about these partnerships, stating he doesn't have a problem working with anyone, but Riverbend and the city need to be treated equitably in the process.
"When you go back to the key ingredients that makes a true, successful partnership, you've always got to come back to things such as honesty, transparency, sincerity, and so on and so forth, which circles us back to this meeting," Wood said. "Because before you offer us to help sponsor studies for you on Lake Wright Patman, when we already know what's been going on, and we know you already have a contract obligating yourself to turn water rights over to the Metroplex, before you ask us to sponsor things, we need you to come to a meeting and state publicly that you're going to support our water rights in that lake. That's bringing full circle what tonight's purpose was intended to be."
SRBA was created in 1985 to conserve and develop natural resources within the river basin, which covers 11 counties. It's come under fire with a Sunset Advisory Committee staff report released in April, which brought to light the organization's lack of transparency, improper meeting procedures and ineffective leadership. Sunset's process includes investigating and reviewing all state agencies and reporting their findings to the Advisory Committee, which, in August, recommended a "full reset" of SRBA, including a full sweep of the board. The final decision will come before lawmakers during the 85th Legislative session, which began Tuesday.
Another change proposed by Sunset includes SRBA's 2013 funding agreement with JCPD, which states the river authority will give 80 percent of the water reallocated in Wright Patman to the Metroplex, leaving the remaining 20 percent to current stakeholders. Those stakeholders include both the city and Riverbend, which was created in 2009 to assist wholesale water customers who purchase water from Texarkana Water Utilities. Those include member cities throughout Bowie, Cass and Red River counties. The organization has taken a leadership role on regional water issues and has been working with the Corps to protect water rights in Wright Patman.
For the past several months, Riverbend has undertaken a $500,000 regional water master plan to look at the infrastructure needed in its service areas and also projected population growth.
Mayo thanked those gathered Tuesday for keeping pressure on both Riverbend and the city to stay on their toes in the multi-layered water game.
"This has got to stay at the forefront of every city and county government in the area" he said. "We have to keep fighting. We are committed in the fight. We are not going to stop. If we all stay together, we've got a good chance. If we fight each other, we will fall apart."
Susan Roth, the consultant conducting the RWMP, will give updated data on the project during Riverbend's meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 31 in Texarkana.