Water Needs Threaten Family Ranch

Photo by Melissa Crowe for Tyler Morning Telegraph
photo by Melissa Crowe for Tyler Morning Telegraph

Lawrence Greer’s old black truck rattles across the cattle guard into Twin Mills Ranch.

It is an overcast day, filled with emotion, fear, uncertainties and suspicions.

“There’s no need to create such a division between residents,” Greer said.

Though he does not own the ranch, its existence is invaluable to him. His great-grandparents settled north of Canton along Grand Saline Creek in 1876. Eventually, the ranch sold to a man who neglected the acreage. In 1994, Doug Beaty purchased and restored it.

In mid-February, Beaty and Greer attended the first meeting of the Concerned Citizens against the Proposed Grand Saline Creek Lake. The proposed lake, estimated to cost about $50 million, could require condemning more than 4,000 acres, forcing at least 75 landowners off their property.

City officials said the lake is crucial to address a water demand they think will quadruple in the next 50 years, based on growth in Forney and Terrell, about 40 miles northwest. They ask what is worse: Losing your land or running out of water?

While Grand Saline Creek landowners empathize that people have to have water, they say the city is not in short supply of water or options.

“What do they know they’re not telling us?” Beaty asked. “Where’s the need for the lake?”

City officials say they have to focus on the needs of 3,400 people before the wants of 75.

BUILDING WATER

If growth from the metroplex spills over into Canton’s 3,622 residents, there could be a water shortage, city officials say.

The city’s current maximum daily water usage is 1.8 million gallons; however, it is projected to increase to 7.4 million gallons in the future.

“Based on population estimates that fall in line with our census, we will probably have a water deficit by 2030,” Mayor Rusty Wilson said.

While Canton’s water study estimates its population will reach 34,000 by 2065, which includes increased monthly traffic from First Monday Trade Days, this year’s Regional Water Plan by the Texas Water Development Board, has a more conservative estimate – about 4,613 in 2060 with a county population of 40,959.

According to the state, Canton is projected to have a water supply deficit of 29 acre-feet per year, or .026 million gallons a day beginning in 2030 and increasing to a deficit of 161 acre-feet per year, or .144 million gallons a day by 2060.

Cities that appear to have sufficient water supplies into the future, because of a stable population or plentiful water supplies, still might develop and implement additional strategies to prepare for uncertainties, according to the Texas Water Development Board.

“The water industry is not an industry that you can wake up one day and say, ‘I need water’ and go get it,” said Gregory Morgan, director of Tyler’s utilities and public works. “There’s a lot of long range-planning necessary,” including substantial financial and time investments “to approve, design and construct a water source.”

He said cities that have not planned the next 25 years are “already behind the curve.”

To address short-term water needs, Canton is drilling a third well into the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer and looking at purchasing water rights from the state to build a lake sometime in the future.

While Wilson said he is confident wells will carry the city through 2030, it “still doesn’t relieve us from future issues of water shortages.”

San Antonio and Houston, which primarily use groundwater, show that depending on the water level, wells are “certainly a viable strategy,” said Kevin Kluge of the Texas Water Development Board.

The Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer, upon which Canton sits, in 2010 had availability of 116,759 acre-feet per year, or 1,006.8 million gallons per day, of water in the region, according to the Texas Water Development Board.

The water board projects that availability to remain stable in the region, but availability throughout the state from the aquifer will decrease from about 1 million acre-feet to 994,367 acre-feet.

Canton’s public water wells produce 60 to 400 gallons per minute, with an average capacity per well of 186 gallons per minute, according to the city’s water study.

According to Canton’s website, its maximum daily water usage to-date is 1.8 million gallons a day, and the water system is capable of producing 2 million gallons a day.

For “an extremely small city with very limited potential for growth,” drilling wells can be an economically feasible solution, Morgan said. However, “a progressive city with needs in the future” should consider surface water or contracting out water, he said.

Canton city officials said a lake is the best, most affordable, long-term option.

“All we’re trying to do at this point is acquire water rights,” City Manager Andy McCuiston said. “It will be up to the next generation to build the lake.”

Wilson said the city simply is laying the groundwork to face potential problems and developing a plan for Canton’s future generation.

Wilson said, “The absolute worst thing we can do for our community is to not secure rights for future needs.”

LAND WORRIES

Some Grand Saline Creek residents fear that if the city acquires water rights, they will lose the future use of their land.

City Council member Charles Huddle said he is the only councilman who does not want to push forward.

“I think there are other options rather than spending $50 million on a lake,” Huddle said. “I’m like a lot of people, I think we could drill a couple more wells, build a water tower and take care of ourselves for 50 or 60 years.”

The state owns all the surface water rights in Texas. To apply for the water rights, Canton must put up $550,000. If the water board denies the request, Canton loses the money.

Huddle said that even though the city is in “good financial shape, we don’t have that kind of money to waste, to throw around.”

Although the council unanimously voted for a lake site at Grand Saline Creek, Huddle and other city officials say they are not to the point of discussing where a future lake would be located.

However, city officials already speak about taking the next step at Grand Saline Creek – a $30,000 to $50,000 flyover next fall or winter to get detailed elevation data for the lake.

Dr. Henry Estess, who has owned his Grand Saline Creek property for almost a half-century and might lose it to the proposal, said a lake is not fiscally responsible.

“We’d like it to make sense economically,” Estess said. “When you look at cost versus benefits, there are alternatives that would cost less with the same benefits.”

Canton owns water rights to Mill Creek Lake, constructed in 1975, which yields about 1,500 acre-feet per year. Estess said wells and the reservoirs around the area lend themselves as viable water sources.

“There are options that are more economically feasible and less disruptive to the agriculture potential of the county,” Dr. Estess said.

MILL vs. SALINE

In addressing future water needs, the city’s water study outlined three options: buy treated water, purchase raw water or build a lake.

According to the study, purchasing treated water from Tyler would cost about $45.2 million, including the construction of a metering station, pump station and ground storage tank. Currently, Troup and Whitehouse purchase Tyler water.

Canton could purchase raw water from the Upper Neches River Municipal Water Authority for about $46 million including the construction of a metering station, pump station and transmission line. Or, the city could construct the Mill Creek Reservoir, which would cost $54.6 million and create $4.7 million in debt service and $1.84 in annual operating costs. The original site outlined in the city’s long-term water study, published in December 2008 by Tyler-based Gary Burton Engineering, reported that Mill Creek was the preferred lake site if the city chose to build.

However, the City Council unanimously approved Grand Saline Creek as the preferred site at its December 2009 meeting despite the fewer number of land owners and lower appraised value on Mill Creek.

Land owners have said they will not sell. To build, the city will need to condemn, buy or take by eminent domain several thousand acres along the Grand Saline Creek.

“It’s not a pleasant thought. Nobody likes the idea,” McCuiston said. “It’s not pleasant but it’s necessary … (The council has) been elected and tasked with providing long-range water for the city.”

He sees the economic possibilities a lake could bring.

It could be a “regional lake that may affect the other cities because they’ll also need water coming forward,” McCuiston said. “We can sell them water out of it before our city needs it.”

According to the city’s water study, the dam sites on Grand Saline Creek were “investigated and eliminated from further consideration based on excessive relocation costs for gas well and pipelines.”

The study also looked at sites on Kickapoo Creek, Lacy Fork Creek and Caney Creek.

In spite of the increased estimates for Grand Saline Creek, McCuiston said concerns about a water treatment facility at Mill Creek were the deciding factor.

Although the water released into the creek is “in better condition than what is in the creek,” he said, “a group (of Mill Creek residents) convinced the council that it was a bad site.”

In a site comparison study, Mill Creek had 32.7 square miles of drainage area to Grand Saline Creek’s 29.7 square miles. While Grand Saline Creek would have a surface area of 1,644 acres to Mill Creek’s 1,460 acres, Mill Creek was estimated to have a potential depth of 32 feet to Grand Saline Creek’s 30 feet, as well as a greater yield per day: 5.7 million gallons a day yield in drought to Grand Saline’s 5.2 million gallons a day.

Council member Ross Maris defended the decision. He said the water facility would be “right at” the lake, “not upstream, flowing into it.”

“Every now and then, you have problems where raw sewage is dumped, and it’s not uncommon to have that,” Maris said.

According to the comparison study, Mill Creek has fewer parcels of land and landowners: 75 parcels and 50 property owners compared to Grand Saline’s 104 parcels and 75 owners.

Mill Creek also had a lower appraised value per acre: $2,704 to Grand Saline Creek’s $3,426.

The potential Mill Creek Lake would affect fewer miles of road: 0.6 miles compared to 1.4 miles at Grand Saline Creek.

No power lines would be affected by a lake at Mill Creek, while the proposed site at Grand Saline Creek would affect nearly 12,000 feet of power lines.

Although the council approved the site, Wilson said, “Nothing has been determined exactly.”

“It may never happen if somebody comes up with another feasible solution to the problem that was cost-effective,” Wilson said. “We’re willing to look at anything.”

ROOTS OF A CREEK

Should plans for the Grand Saline Creek Lake move forward, it would drown Doug Beaty’s hills, wrap behind his house and swallow his ranch.

Looking across an open pasture sprinkled with ponds, trees and miles of new power lines, he said his property would be the “shallow end of the lake.”

In 1994, he stood with his late father atop the same hill. He recalled the story slowly and fought back emotions.

“I said, ‘Dad, right here’s where I’d like to build a home: a two-story with a balcony all around,'” Beaty said.

All that was before the Public Utility Commission came knocking about using eminent domain to install the power lines.

Beaty cooperated. He reasoned that it was for the good of the people, that people have to have power. His dream home is still just a dream.

“We’re in limbo. I can’t say if this land is going to be under water,” Beaty said. “I don’t want my children to have to live wondering if they could build their house or lose what Mom and Dad have worked hard for.”

McCuiston said Grand Saline Creek residents have presented many ideas and explained “why we shouldn’t pay for their land, why other options are better.”

Those options include buying water from other cities, drilling more wells and dredging the silt from the current lake to bring it back to its original design.

McCuiston said piping would be more expensive, and dredging is not a long-term solution.

“For the citizens of Canton, it’s not necessarily better, in my mind,” McCuiston said.

The city wants water rights first and if there is a need, build a lake later, he said.

Wilson said the city is exploring locations away from Grand Saline and Mill creeks, which “would be very conducive for lake sites,” but would not elaborate on specific locations or details.

As for who will pay for a lake, McCuiston said no one has to pay anything until they start pulling water from it.

He said the city would apply for grants and have assistance from the Texas Water Development Board.

The city would not “strap the citizens with a tremendous burden,” Maris said. “If the financing isn’t available, we simply won’t be able to do it.”

Maris said the city should try to acquire water rights from the Sabine River Authority because someone else could take them first.

“If you don’t do it now, the next generation may not (have) it,” Maris said. “We’re still exploring options; we’re not ruling anything out. But we have to start at some point to acquire water rights.”

But, he added that Canton needs to take care of itself.

“If we don’t provide for ourselves (now), nobody’s going to come to our rescue,” in the future, he said.

Published May 1
Tyler Morning Telegraph

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Published by

Melissa Crowe

I’m Melissa, an adventure-seeking, budget-crunching, internet-loving journalist. Along with covering local government at Victoria Advocate, I write a weekly music column for Get Out and freelance for University of Houston-Victoria in my spare time. In this year’s Texas Associated Press Managing Editors awards, I won first place for star breaking news report of the year, first star online package of the year, first community service and first deadline writing. I also won third place for team effort, honorable mention for freedom of information, and honorable mention for star investigative report of the year. I also took first place for best breaking news story in the Local Media Association Editorial Contest, a national contest. Last year, I won second in the TAPME contest for star online package, third for star breaking news report and honorable mentions for star investigative report and team effort. The Local Media Association awarded me with an honorable mention for best breaking news story. I grew up in rural northern Texas and graduated from the University of North Texas. After working for a family-owned paper in the eastern corner of the state, I took an opportunity to move south. When I’m not filing FOIA requests, I enjoy spicy Bloody Marys, kayaking the Guadalupe River and exploring South Texas. Would you like to hire me to write or edit something? Or ask me a question? Or send me a link to a funny GIF? Email me!

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