Neches River Fight: Farms, Wildlife, a River or More Water for Dallas’ Growth? (Posted By Mike Mecke)

In almost any disagreement, especially those that go to court, there are two sides, sometimes several – as here.  In this one, the decision whether saving many thousands of acres of ancient river forest and farmlands, plus a planned national wildlife preserve, should triumph, or should the City of Dallas be allowed to take the land through purchase and emminent domain for another lake and future urban water needs?  For years this has been a hotly debated battle of  saving family farms, the river and wildlife interests vs. Dallas and the Texas Water Development Board, which has sided with the city.  Personally, I side with a healthy, natural river and the rural landowners, some of whom have been on these family farms for many generations.  I also have little sympathy for a city that for decades has regularly ranked last among Texas’ major cities in water conservation and among the highest in per capita water use.  Will we have farms, a natural river riparian system or even more lush subdivisions and golf courses?   Easy choice.  I say find your future water from smart growth planning, conserved urban water, rainwater harvesting, reuse and low water-using Audubon International-type golf courses.   Read this recent Dallas article which explains some of the issues:

“Get lost with Jim Schutze while canoeing the Neches River and find the wildlife refuge Dallas wants to dam to secure its water supply

By Jim Schultze

Published on April 22, 2009

Dallas Observer

The Neches originates in underground springs just east of Colfax, about 60 miles east of Dallas on Interstate 20, and flows 420 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. We put in yesterday where the river crosses U.S. Highway 79 between Palestineand Jacksonville, about 130 miles southeast of Dallas.

Some of the land along the Neches is in old family farms, but most of it, tens of thousands of acres in Anderson and Cherokee counties, is undeveloped because it was held for the better part of a century by timber companies and leased by hunt clubs…….

The Neches River, which lies at the heart of that rapidly changing landscape, is also at the heart of a legal battle between the city of Dallas and the US Fish & Wildlife Service.  Dallas wants to dam the river to create a reservoir in exactly the same area where the USFWS is seeking to create a national wildlife refuge.

Dallas city manager Mary Suhm told me that Dallas just needs more water. Population is slated to soar, and for that there must be water. The city has an aggressive water conservation program, she said, “but that won’t get us there.”

Chris Bowers, Dallas’ first assistant city attorney, told me Dallas’ search for water is the same basic quest for survival of all cities throughout history. “This practice goes back to ancient times when the Romans built more than 600 aqueducts to convey water to some cities, including Rome itself,” he said. An entire body of law authorizes the city to go far away and acquire land by eminent domain for water, Bowers added.

The USFWS has argued in court, successfully so far, that this part of the Neches is a unique national treasure that should be protected—and that the USFWS has first claim to the land. The USFWS says it began proceedings to create a refuge before Dallas launched its process to acquire land for a reservoir, and therefore Dallas is out of luck…………….”

What are your feelings on this water battle?

GBRA Seeks Larger Water Supply (Posted By Mike Mecke)

GBRA seeks larger water supply

Saturday, October 17, 2009 11:08 PM CDT

A new water right permit that would allow more than double the amount of water per year to be pumped from the Guadalupe River in Calhoun County is awaiting approval from the state.

Well folks, did you read the above article on using “extra”  Guadalupe River water – it is typical of the types of issues arising now across Texas from the Rio Grande to the Sabine and north to the Canadian River.  Should “excess wet year” river waters be allowed to divert for use and sale or continue to flow into the Gulf bays for our fish, shrimp businesses and recreational fishing ?  Or just merely to support a healthy Gulf ecosystem?  Or, can we have it all?

New Environmental Flow committees are being set up for the major river basins to study and decide those sticky issues with a diverse stakeholder group representing all interests and advising the state.  Issues are arising on groundwater too, such as requests to permit groundwater from the Ft. Stockton area to be pumped and used in Midland.  And it is only going to get worse we are told, as 60 Million people are projected to live in Texas by 2050!  Get informed and stay tuned. 


According to a press release, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority’s application requests the ability to divert additional water from the river for storage in “off-channel storage reservoirs” to be built in Calhoun and Victoria counties. The press release stated that water in storage would be made available to areas in need of water during drought.

GBRA is currently allowed to pump 175,501 acre-feet of water per year in the county, and hopes to add an additional 189,484 acre-feet per year in non-drought years. If approved, GBRA would be allowed to pump a total of 364,985 acre-feet of water in non-drought years………………….

THEIR WATER, OR OURS? (Posted By Mike Mecke)

by   Mike Mecke


Well, that time of the year is here again – hot, dry summertime in Texas.  Adding interest to this picture is a serious drought in several regions of Texas.  Virtually every part of the state as viewed on the Palmer Drought Index shows rainfall shortages, but central and south Texas are by far the hardest hit. 

Cities and water utilities have started water use restrictions and counties are enforcing burn bans.  Water planners increase their push for “new” water resources and check out supposed surpluses elsewhere.  No river, lake or aquifer is left out of these searches.  No river bottom forestland or irrigated region escapes review, study and possibly planning.  Computers know no boundaries!

Water resource planning becomes a classic case of the “have-nots” hankering for the water of the “haves.”  In most cases across Texas, that means trying to figure out how to get the water from irrigated agriculture or sparsely populated counties with good groundwater or a lake or river.  And, man, have we gotten good at that!  Immense growth often has and is still occurring in our driest regions.  Think L.A., Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, etc.  In many rapidly growing areas or in cities exploding at the seams – developers and builders entice their favorite politicians into getting them water, no matter what the cost in dollars, environmental concerns or losses to Texas agriculture.  All in the name of “All Growth is Good!” and “We must either keep growing or die!”  No thought as to what may be lost forever in these mercenary transactions or whose ox is gored.

Some more enlightened utilities and political leaders are beginning to realize that Texas must grow smart – not just fast.  Texas counties, long weak on any ability to properly manage and plan growth, are beginning to band together to get the attention of a largely urban Texas legislature.  Planning commissions and regional water planning groups now have some rural and environmental representation considering the total picture and providing some protection to rural interests and concerns. Someone must speak up for the small percentage of Texans actively involved in agriculture and for rivers and wildlife which often have no voice at the bargaining tables. Foreign food is becoming an option.

 It is in everyone’s best interest to maintain healthy, somewhat normal flows in our Texas creeks and rivers.  The rivers with their lush green riparian vegetation are critical not only for quality livestock grazing, but wildlife habitat.  Fish and other vital aquatic life are found in river waters.  Ever try hunting along a dried up, parched river bed or fishing with your kids in it?  No bueno!

Then, another major part of the picture is our rivers providing timely amounts and quality of fresh waters to our beautiful and economically valuable bays and estuaries.  As go our creek and river flows, so goes our Gulf of Mexico and the billions of dollars in recreational and economic income produced for the benefit of all Texans.  Creeks and rivers with ample, clean waters are an economic necessity to small towns and cities across the state for drinking water, tourism and other aspects of their economy.  A healthy Gulf is a whole lot more than the tremendous Texas seafood industry.  Consider recreation, tourism and a whole lot more – now consider that the Gulf is going to be a major source of drinking water for several Texas towns and cities in the future through desalinization.  So, keeping it healthy and full of life is important to all of us clear up to Amarillo, Dallas or El Paso.

Ecological, geological and range management studies have shown conclusively that the stewardship of our farms and ranches can drastically affect not only the quality of the water infiltrating into aquifers or flowing into rivers, but also has the ability to greatly increase the amount of water available to urban or downstream users.  This is a win-win for everyone from increased ag income to reduced urban water costs.  The healthier farmland and rangelands or riparian areas produce more income for our ever stressed agricultural community and this translates into a healthier Texas economy.  It is common for landowners to know what is needed to better manage their irrigated farms, watersheds or catchments, but not to have the economic resources required for often very expensive practices.  It is clearly in the interest of urban and rural residents to jointly encourage and promote the research or even applied management needed to wisely manage and treat rural watersheds.  More rainfall in = more water out!

Dr. Thad Box, a prophetic Texas rangeman, once stated to the effect of “…the most valuable product of rangelands will someday be pure water!”  That time is now!  So ideally, rangelands should be managed not only to provide livestock forage, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities, but perhaps most of all, to produce sufficient quantities of clean water throughout watersheds (catchments). This is the water which maintains creek and river flows and recharges aquifers.  Often, the management is complimentary.  If rangelands do not receive good land stewardship they soon lose some of the beneficial watershed characteristics so desired by hydrologists……and needed by livestock and wildlife.

These watersheds and water resources are found largely in our rural regions, but remember, water markets, much of the needed funding and the votes are in the cities! So, we all need each other and we must cooperate as friends, neighbors and fellow Texans in order to achieve many of our goals.  As any good Texas farmer or rancher can tell you – seldom does anything come easily or automatically in agriculture!

                                    Remember – Water is Life! Or Agua es Vida!