Updated: Aug 23
Wetlands, underground storage and filtration can address North Texas water needs.
Solutions to major challenges are rarely simple, especially in a world rife with the difficult issues that we face today. The solution to the long-term water supply needs of North Texas might seem to be a choice of either conservation or building reservoirs, such as the which would dam the Sulphur River in the northern reaches of East Texas.
Fortunately, we have additional means of addressing these needs. We have constructed wetlands, underground storage in aquifers and filtration systems that can clean polluted water, including wastewater, to potable standards. We have advances in building technologies, landscaping with native plants and educational initiatives to teach about water usage. In Texas, we can also filter the vast amounts of brackish water that exist under much of our state. Indeed, for much of Texas, the future of water is filtration. For those of us in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we can also bring water from under-utilized existing reservoirs, such as Lake Toledo Bend.
To be clear, I am not proposing that North Texas should stop growing because of our water challenges. A dynamic economy is a good thing, but we must be realistic about what we are doing to our watershed and the land we live on. We must embrace a challenging future that cannot be met with solutions from the past.
Reservoirs have serious drawbacks, such as loss due to evaporation. Building a reservoir today is like opening a store knowing that half of your inventory is going to be shoplifted on the day you open. During hot weather, lakes lose as much water to evaporation as they do to usage. With summer in Texas now lasting from May until October, that means we are investing billions of dollars in a way of thinking that no longer — pun intended — holds water.
Were reservoirs once the solution? Yes, they were. They were close to major population centers and much more economical to build. The proposed Marvin Nichols would cost us billions of dollars and be 150 miles away.
There is also a moral question to be reckoned with. Building the Marvin Nichols Reservoir will flood 66,000 acres of productive agricultural land, including thousands of acres of hardwood forest. It would inundate rural school districts, displace families that have been on that land since the 1830s, destroy their homes, and wash away the graves of their ancestors. In addition, it would require at least another 130,00 acres of land to be set aside to meet federal mitigation policies so that, in total, building that reservoir would take more than 200,000 acres out of production. This would have a devastating effect on northeast Texas’ economy.
Roughly half the water we use in our region goes to watering our lawns and irrigating landscapes. That alone should call into question how we use our water, how we plan to use it in the years ahead, and how we plan to procure it.
As an act of conscience, I am not willing to force people off their land and out of their homes to solve a problem that we can address in other ways. Moral questions cannot be set aside. In fact, considering the state of our nation and our culture, they might well be the most important questions of our time.
A challenging future is coming at us hard. If we put ourselves above others, if we value our community more than others, then we forfeit our very humanity. Family, culture, religion, history and land all tie people together. But there is one thing every human must have each day: water.
Surely in this new world of technology and possibility, of challenges and change, we can find ways to secure for ourselves this precious, life-giving resource without devastating the lives of others, their economy and heritage, and the beauty and worth of their land.
I want my grandchildren to enjoy the blessings and resources that those who have come before them enjoyed. And I want them to be able to do that without denying those same resources and blessings to the grandchildren of others.
David Marquis is an author and conservationist. His latest book, The River Always Wins, was published by Dallas-based Deep Vellum. He wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.