North Texas Water Plans for the Future
by Sheila Julson
When sipping a cool glass of water, it’s easy to forget about the path water takes from lakes and rivers to our taps. As population growth continues at a rapid pace throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex region, challenges to providing that plentiful stream of clean water have arisen.
Mike Rickman is the deputy director of operations and maintenance for the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD), a wholesale water, wastewater and solid waste management provider serving 1.8 million people in 80 communities across 10 North Texas counties. Rickman has been with NTMWD since 2002, and before that, he was employed by the city of Dallas Water Utilities Department for 33 years. Rickman says at the time NTMWD formed in 1956, the current service area population was about 30,000.
He is passionate about assuring that NTMWD is able to meet the region’s growing water needs in an environmentally sustainable way. “Texas has only one natural lake (Caddo Lake),” he says. “We have about 200 major reservoirs, but they’re manmade, and most of those reservoirs are spoken for, in terms of drinking water purpose or other uses. To get a large quantity of water, you have to build another reservoir.”
Rickman notes that water from Lake Texoma, one of the largest reservoirs in the country, is high in salts, so it needs to be blended with other fresh water sources. He explains that it’s also costly to comply with federal and state regulations. Invasive species such as zebra mussels have added more expense to the regional delivery system and treatment processes, but no additional water.
To meet 21st-century water challenges, Rickman says the North Texas Municipal Water District began permitting for the Bois d'Arc Lake, in 2003, and construction in 2019. Two permits were needed; one from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and one from the Corps of Engineers. They were granted in 2015 and 2018, respectively, after years of testing, analyses and studies. “We also worked with the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club in regard to permitting issues. This will be the first major reservoir built in Texas in nearly 30 years,” he says.
This manmade reservoir project under construction on more than 16,000 acres in Fannin County will produce about 100 million gallons of water a day and help meet North Texas water demands through 2040. There are a number of agencies involved in making the project a reality for NTMWD, including the Texas Water Development Board, which Rickman says financed the project; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which approved the required federal permit; the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality; and Texas Parks and Wildlife. Bois d’Arc Lake water will also be blended with water from Lake Texoma to maximize existing supplies and meet the water needs of NTMWD communities through 2040.
The Bois d’Arc Lake project also includes an adjoining 17,000-acre mitigation site. “We’re planning to compensate for the reservoir development by planting five million trees. We are restoring more than 70 miles of waterway streams, creating 8,500 acres of wetlands and planting 3,200 acres of native grassland,” he shares. “Once this entire area is developed and matures, we’ll work with federal agencies to turn it into an area for public access.”
The Bois d’Arc Lake project should be completed by spring 2022. In the meantime, Rickman and NTMWD continue to educate the public about conserving and protecting water resources. “It’s important to know that whatever is washed down storm drain pipes—used motor oil, pesticides or grass clippings—ends up in a lake somewhere,” he affirms. Oil and other toxins should be disposed of at designated hazardous waste drop-off sites. Grass clippings can be left on lawns. Leaves can be turned into garden mulch.
Instead of chlorine, NTMWD uses ozone as a primary disinfectant, which Rickman says kills most infectious byproducts and results in consistent taste year-round. Their Wetlands Project removes discharged wastewater from the East Fork of the Trinity River and pumps it through an 1,840-acre swath of constructed wetlands full of plants that absorb nutrients like phosphates, thus keeping them from the water supply. The water is then pumped back into Lavon Lake for future treatment at the Wylie facilities. “That project produces about 90 million gallons per day,” Rickman says. “It’s a conservation strategy because you’re using the water for a second time.”
In addition, NTMWD promotes a program called Water My Yard, developed by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, that allows users to sign up and learn when to water—or not water— their lawns, as opposed to having sprinkler systems automatically turn on at scheduled intervals. “In our part of the world, that’s where most of the water is used. The demand for water more than doubles in summer because of lawn irrigation,” Rickman says. So far, nearly 15,000 residents in North Texas have signed up to use Water My Yard. “Conservation is 25 percent of our water supply—it’s ultimately our cheapest source of water,” he advises.
For more information, visit NTMWD.com and BoisdArcLake.org.