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Petitioners oppose building reservoir in Northeast Texas

by Andrew Bell | November 20, 2021 at 10:00 p.m.

NORTHEAST TEXAS -- More than 1,000 Texans have signed a petition created by Preserve Northeast Texas condemning the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir.

If built, the reservoir would consume a vast amount of acreage in Red River County and spill over into Titus, Morris and Bowie counties. It's primary purpose would be to provide for burgeoning water needs in the the Dallas metroplex that officials there have long said they can't provide for within their own region.

Preserve Northeast Texas is a growing group of landowners, business owners, community leaders, conservationists and local elected officials who have banded together to voice their opposition to what they deem one of the biggest transfers of private land to public in modern history.

The petition reads: "The proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir would rob Northeast Texas of land, valuable jobs, and precious water, devastating the region's economic vitality, heritage farmlands, and natural resources. I stand in opposition to this project and call on policymakers to put a stop to this costly, unnecessary and damaging project."

People signed the petition at PreserveNortheastTexas.org online, and PNT has begun sharing paper petitions as well.

PNT Steering Committee member Janice Bezanson, who is also the Executive Director of Texas Conservation Alliance, said the number of signatures is indicative of how pressing an issue this is and how many people are involved.

"I think 1,000 signatures is just scratching the surface of how many people oppose this reservoir," Bezanson said. "I have talked to people all over Northeast Texas for 20 years on this issue, and they are passionately opposed to it. What we're doing with this petition is just having something we can kind of show to community leaders and other people to say 'You see how easily we got 1,000 signatures?' I mean people really care about this."

Bezanson said the group has held town hall meetings in small cities all over Northeast Texas, and they are all well-attended with people who vehemently oppose the reservoir.

The proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir, located on the main stem of the Sulphur River would flood more than 66,000 acres of heritage farmland, hardwood forest and wetlands in Northeast Texas to pipe water 150 miles back to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

In addition to the land that would be flooded, the proposed reservoir would require that at least another 130,000 acres be taken from private ownership to mitigate wildlife habitat losses created by the reservoir. Thousands of Texans will be forced to sell their lands, some of which has been in their families since the 1800s, opponents say.

"This will damage the economy," Bezanson said. "It will be horrendously damaging to the wildlife environment. It will harm so many people that we feel strongly it should only be done if absolutely necessary. But in fact, most of what the water would be used for would be watering lawns in the DFW area. Because they already have enough water now for their projected demand for essential functions like drinking, cooking and bathing."

At a Town Hall meeting this fall, U.S. Congressman Pat Fallon, who represents the area that would be flooded under this plan, voiced his strong opposition to the project. "I'm happy to be opposed to Marvin Nichols," he said. "It's a land grab .... I do not like it as an American. You're talking about Freedom of Liberty, property rights. Just grabbing someone's land."

Water planners in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are predicting a strain on that region's future water supply, based on expected population growth and continued high per capita water use.

And while opponents of Marvin Nichols say there are less costly and more environmentally-friendly solutions to the problem, the target date for completion has recently been moved forward in the State Water Plan.

"In order to build the reservoir, they have to have both a state permit and a federal permit, under the Federal Clean water Act," Bezanson said "Theoretically, these permits are based on the science, the demand for water and the alternatives. But there's always a very strong political aspect to these issues.

"Ultimately, the statewide leadership will have a lot of influence in this. And the leadership of Northeast has a lot of influence on the statewide leadership. And so does the DFW leadership. That's why raising this issue and creating attention alerts people to the fact that this isn't something simple. This isn't just another project. It's one that will really hurt a lot of people."

The current cost estimate for the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir is $4.4 billion, with costs rising steadily over the past 20 years.

Opponents say there are untapped water resources that are cheaper and less environmentally damaging than this reservoir, which is the costliest water supply project being proposed in Texas.

In addition to the petition, Preserve Northeast Texas's website offers downloadable information for advocates, and tips on how those who are opposed to the reservoir can get involved.

(The group can also be found on Facebook and Instagram at @PreserveNortheastTexas. The Preserve Northeast Texas Steering Committee includes: Bill Ward, Jim Thompson, Max Shumake, Shirley Shumake, Linda Price, Richard LeTourneau, Cynthia Gwinn, Gary Cheatwood and Janice Bezanson.)

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