Bonham -- In December, Fannin County Commissioners Court received an update from Mike Rickman of North Texas Municipal Water District regarding the status of the proposed Lower Bois d'Arc Creek Reservoir. Rickman explained that water districts were created by the Texas legislature in 1951 to treat and distribute potable water, and to collect, treat and dispose of wastes, both liquid and solid, in order to reduce pollution, conserve and develop the natural resources of Texas.
A group of Fannin County residents approached North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) in 2003-2004 and initiated a conversation about the possibility of constructing a reservoir at the Lower Bois d'Arc site.
"What we were doing was establishing a partnership beneficial to both the county and the water district," stated Rickman.
Fannin County Commissioners Court has voted on two separate occasions to support the construction of Lower Bois d'Arc Creek Reservoir.
"How many counties have an opportunity to guarantee water for the future?" asked Fannin County Pct. 2 Commissioner Stan Barker. "That's a good deal."
As this massive $800 million project goes through the lengthy process of acquiring a state permit and a federal permit, NTMWD has purchased 18,526 of the 22,000 acres needed for the 16,526-acre reservoir. Rickman stressed that this has all been land bought from willing sellers and he estimated that negotiations need to be completed with another 25-30 people in order to acquire all the land needed.
In addition, NTMWD has purchased the 14,958-acre Riverby Ranch as mitigation land to offset natural habitat lost when the reservoir is constructed, 640 acres near Leonard for a water treatment plant and is in the process of attempting to acquire another 400 acres at the Leonard site.
NTMWD built and now operates a $16 million water treatment plant at Lake Bonham. One provision would allow NTMWD to turn the remaining debt and operation of the water treatment plant to the City of Bonham if the reservoir project is halted.
According to Rickman, NTMWD has already invested $100 million in the Lower Bois d'Arc Creek Reservoir project and no revenues are expected until 2020.
Rickman said the water district charges two rates: one rate for members and a slightly higher rate for customers. The City of Bonham has member status, while Fannin County would pay the customer rate.
Rickman addressed two topics of discussion circulating in the community; the possibility of Fannin County being paid an annuity based on the amount of water sold out of Lower Bois d'Arc Creek Reservoir and the lack of a formal contract between Fannin County and NTMWD.
"I'm not aware of any reservoir project that has ever paid revenue to a city or county," stated Rickman.
While the concept of water annuities would obviously be beneficial to rural counties that will supply an ever increasing amount of water to burgeoning municipalities, since the state legislature created water districts, it would seem likely that the state legislature would have to address whether or not water districts should compensate counties where reservoirs are located.
If a county or city were to take on an $800 million project with no revenues expected for a decade, the impact on tax rates would be staggering. To start with, the permit process takes 8-9 years. On the legal side, any entity must prove "purpose in need" before the construction of a reservoir would be approved.
In regard to the contract, Rickman said it would have been premature to draw up a contract years before the state and federal permits allowing the lake to be built were issued. Evidently, he feels optimistic about NTMWD acquiring both permits.
"That's where we are now," said Rickman. "Yes, it is time to draw up a contract."
Fannin County Judge Spanky Carter asked Rickman if representatives of NTMWD would be willing to meet with concerned citizens.
"We are willing to speak anywhere, anytime," responded Rickman.