Monday, January 14, 2013
Flower Mound mayor crusades against Lake Ralph Hall permit
Proponents argue that the expensive project is desperately needed, but others are concerned about who will foot the bill.
FLOWER MOUND Flower Mound is making one last attempt to slow down the approval process for Lake Ralph Hall.
Thursday, Flower Mound Mayor Tom Hayden made a plea to the Upper Trinity Regional Water District board to seek alternative ways of providing water to the region and to not continue with its plan to build the lake until those efforts have taken place.
Lake Ralph Hall is a 30-million-gallons-per-day (mgd) lake proposed for Ladonia in Fannin County, located northeast of the Metroplex. The lake would not serve Flower Mound, though Upper Trinity customers would fund it.
The estimated cost for the lake in 2006 was $211 million, but today it's expected to cost $275 million according to Upper Trinity. Hayden said estimates from independent engineering firm KRB projects the lake to cost $460 million.
The cost would come from each of the 25 district members, and since Flower Mound is Upper Trinity's biggest customer at 42 percent, the town will be impacted more than other district members.
Flower Mound gets 73 percent of its water from Upper Trinity and 27 percent from Dallas Water Utilities.
Flower Mound has contested the issuing of the permit, which then sent the case to Austin for a hearing before the project can proceed.
Hayden spoke to the board as the clock is ticking for the permit approval process. Tuesday, a hearing will begin in Austin in which administrative law judges will hear the merits of the case from both sides before making a recommendation to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) about issuing a permit for the lake.
“We don’t want to oppose Lake Ralph Hall,” Hayden said. “But there are a couple of things we would like you to do. We would like you to go ask the Dallas Water [Utilities] district, ‘Can you supply water to Upper Trinity?’”
Upper Trinity gets 31 percent of its water from the city of Denton, 30 percent of its water from Dallas Water Utilities, 29 percent from Lake Chapman and 10 percent from reuse.
Jason Pierce, manager of watershed and contract services for Upper Trinity, said Upper Trinity’s planned water sources for 2060 include Chapman Lake and Reuse (12.7 percent), Lake Ralph Hall and Reuse (31.3 percent) and city of Dallas and other joint regional projects (56.0 percent).
Hayden said Dallas Water Utilities is a key place to explore alternative water sources before building Lake Ralph Hall.
He said the fixed cost per 1 million gallons of subscribed water is $200,000 from Dallas and $370,000 from Upper Trinity. The variable cost per 1,000 gallons purchased is 35 cents through Dallas and 86 cents with Upper Trinity.
Hayden said Dallas Water Utilities can provide more water to Upper Trinity because of the future Lake Palestine.
He also pointed to Dallas Water Utilities’ multi-decade plan, which includes conservation efforts that would also allow the district to provide more water to Upper Trinity.
“[Lake Palestine] will be able to supply not only Dallas but also Denton County for decades to come,” Hayden said. “I don’t understand why Upper Trinity won’t go to Dallas and ask them objectively, ‘Can you supply water to Denton County?’”
Hayden also asked the board to put parameters on when the lake would be built.
“Your debt is currently $290 million,” Hayden said. “You’re estimating that building the lake is going to cost $270 million. We’ve done an analysis that shows it could cost as much as $450 million. Somewhere in that range, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Pierce responded by saying, “Upper Trinity has considered all feasible options for additional water supplies, including the acquisition of additional water from Dallas. Lake Ralph Hall is the right size for the needs of Upper Trinity, and can be completed in time to avoid a future water crisis.”
Pierce stressed the importance of Lake Ralph Hall in a statement.
“Lake Ralph Hall is a critical project, necessary for Upper Trinity Regional Water District and the North Texas region to avoid a future water supply crisis,” Pierce said. “The state of Texas has confirmed in the Texas Water Plan the need for Lake Ralph Hall. Just look around Texas and the Midwest -- at the severe drought now underway. There is overwhelming support for this vital project.
“Next week, the merits of the Lake Ralph Hall project will be subject of hearing before administrative law judges in Austin,” Pierce said. “Based on evidence submitted at the hearing, these judges will hear all sides and make a recommendation on the merits of Upper Trinity’s application to the TCEQ. With the critical need for this project, and the overwhelming support it has across Texas, Upper Trinity is confident of the outcome for the Lake Ralph Hall project.”
In previous interviews with The Leader, Upper Trinity Executive Director Tom Taylor pointed to projections that illustrate the need for the lake.
Taylor said projections from the Texas Data Center have Denton County more than doubling in population by 2040.
"People who say Denton County isn't growing must have their eyes closed," Taylor said. "Even during this severe recession, we are still growing. Flower Mound is still issuing building permits, right?"
Hayden argued that the increased debt will fall on the individual homeowners.
Upper Trinity says the cost of raw water from Lake Ralph Hall will cost $1.45 per thousand gallons. But KBR said it would cost $3.65 per thousand gallons. Flower Mound officials say water from Dallas Water Utilities would cost 50 cents per thousand gallons.
“Our water rates are already some of the most expensive in North Texas,” Hayden said. “I worry that we’re going to see a 10- to 15-percent increase.”
Taylor has previously said the reason Flower Mound’s rates are so high is because in 1999 the town subscribed to 30 mgd over a five-year period, which tripled its previous amount. Flower Mound had anticipated growth in the west side of town. Taylor said the extra 10 mgd cost the town $3 million each year.
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