The Fort Worth-area cities are set to acquire a new source of water, marking the first time since 2005 that a reservoir will not be required for procurement. This is a groundbreaking development, thanks to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality granting a permit to the Tarrant Regional Water District, enabling it to sell flood water from Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Benbrook to multiple cities across 11 North Texas counties. Eagle Mountain Lake is located in northwest Tarrant County, while Lake Benbrook is situated on Fort Worth’s southwest border.
Previously, the water district could only withdraw water from the reservoirs themselves. However, in situations where these lakes were at full capacity, any surplus water, or “exflow,” would overflow and flow downstream into other reservoirs, including Lake Livingston. Woody Frossard, the water district’s environmental director, confirms that the stipulation was set up to maintain the water quality and ecosystems in the Galveston Bay, the location where the Trinity River flows to in the lower basin on the Texas coast.
The new permit grants permission to divert excess water from Eagle Mountain and Benbrook to municipal, industrial, and agricultural customers. However, this is only permissible when Lake Livingston is also full. Though there is no guarantee that the environmental conditions will occur each year, this development serves as an ideal way to keep the reservoir full without taking water out of it and draining it down. Frossard confirms that the benefit is to maintain the reservoir’s fullness, and the exflow water usage will only occur during flooding situations in wet years.
The maximum amount of excess water the water district can take annually is 63,899-acre feet from Eagle Mountain Lake and 78,653-acre feet from Lake Benbrook. That amount will not count toward the total already allowed to be drawn from those lakes by the water district.
Aside from providing more resources to support Fort Worth’s booming population, Frossard points to the financial benefits of the new permit. Neither the water district nor its customers will need to build new pipelines or storage to accommodate the extra water. From a water supply perspective, it is cheap water because they don’t have to do anything other than tell their customers to continue using the water like it has already been provided.
In addition to the cheap water supply, collecting the excess water will have some flood reduction benefits, according to Frossard. The project’s chief goal is to increase the supply available to the water district. The cities closest to the lakes, such as Azle near Eagle Mountain Lake or Crowley near Lake Benbrook, will be the most frequent customers. Buying water locally will reduce the amount of money and time the water district spends on pumping water from the larger Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers reservoirs in East Texas.
Dallas-Fort Worth water planners have been vocal about the need for new water resources to keep up with the region’s explosive growth, including the construction of the controversial Marvin Nichols reservoir in Northeast Texas. However, the permitting process can take years or decades, even without the need to excavate dirt to collect more water.
Frossard’s “exflow” permits took almost a decade to get approved, or 18 years since the Cedar Creek wetlands project was approved in 2005. Nevertheless, it was worth the effort, considering the state’s process protects both the existing water rights holders and the public in general, from a reservoir recreation and environmental standpoint. Frossard acknowledges that he wishes the process were shorter, but that’s the nature of the problem as all projects receive thorough scrutiny.