AUSTIN — In the midst of pouring rain, a water fight broke out on the House floor between Dallas-area lawmakers and those from East Texas.
The heated debate started when the North Texas contingent, led by Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, successfully fought to pull down an amendment that won approval earlier in the day. That measure would have meant area cities needed to get approval from an East Texas water board before tapping into the planned Marvin Nichols Reservoir.
“This would be bad for us,” Sheets said.
The amendment would have meant that a regional water plan could not include construction of a project in another regional water planning area unless two thirds of that area’s board approves.
It was added to a bill about ground water supply.
Sheets was serving as chair when the amendment was brought up and much of the House was distracted by the severe flooding that occurred in the Austin area on Monday.
Sheets said when he had time to read the amendment after it passed, he realized it would affect Dallas’ ongoing efforts to get the reservoir built.
The plan, which has been decades in the making and is still years from fruition, would flood 72,000 acres in northeast Texas to build the reservoir. Local officials say it is needed to keep up with Dallas’ water demand as the area’s population grows.
Currently, such projects don’t need approval from another regional water planning board. Generally, property is purchased or gained through eminent domain proceedings to gain access to the water as well as numerous approvals from state and other officials.
But East Texas lawmakers said landowners too often are bullied into taking deals with no consideration for their area’s needs or economic development. Loggers in that area worry about the impact on the forest, saying it would hurt the economy there.
“If we’re going to give up our property to provide water … we just don’t want to be forced to do it,” Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, said. “We want a seat at the table.”
Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said he was concerned that many legislators referred to it as “our water” though it is the state at large that has been facing significant water-supply issues.
“When we start talking about water, it’s the commonwealth of East Texas,” he said.