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?

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