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Water Use

Additional Information

Reservoirs or

Reservoirs or Conservation?

The 2007 State Water Plan proposes building sixteen major dams and hundreds of miles of pipelines to move water to cities. These dams, many of them proposed for east Texas sites, would have harmful effects on the local economies and environment. Many of these dams could be avoided with responsible water conservation measures that would also save money.

Dams are Destructive

Damming a river destroys the wildlife habitat in the flooded area, but the impact of a reservoir doesn't end there. Dams also alter the natural flow of the river downstream and affect wildlife habitat below the reservoir. Dams trap waterborne sediments that are important for replenishing ecosystems downstream. Water in a reservoir generally has a more constant temperature than water in a free-flowing river and water released from a reservoir can change the temperature in a river, potentially impacting native fish and vegetation.

Statewide, the amount of forested river and creek floodplain vegetation has declined from an estimated 16 million acres to 6 million acres. Some significant portion of this loss is due to the roughly 200 major reservoirs that have already been built.

Visit our section on Environmental Flows to learn more about the impact that reservoirs and pipelines have on rivers and wildlife.

Water Efficiency is the Future

Efficiency programs generally cost far less than new reservoirs, pipelines and treatment plants. For every $1 the San Antonio Water System spends on conservation, they avoid $7 in new water supply costs. A 2009 planning effort by the Lower Colorado River Authority estimated that conservation programs would cost roughly $400 an acre-foot while the river authority's options for new pipelines and reservoirs would cost roughly $2000 an acre-foot.

The 2007 State Water Plan underestimates the amount of water that could be saved through simple water efficiency measures. The 2007 report, "Save Water, Save Rivers, Save Money", shows that Texas cities could save 1.65 million acre-feet of water every year if they used water at similar rates as El Paso and San Antonio (140 gallons per capita per day). The 2007 State Water Plan includes just 613,000 of conservation savings and plans to construct 16 new reservoirs that would create 1.07 million acre-feet of water supply. Read the report to learn more about how saving water could save money and preserve some of Texas' wild places.

Visit our section on Water Conservation to learn more about the potential for water conservation in Texas.

Case Study: Marvin Nichols

The proposed massive Marvin Nichols dam is a prime example of the unnecessary reliance on new reservoirs and pipelines instead of water conservation. This dam would be one of the largest reservoirs in Texas, flooding over 72,000 acres on the Sulphur River in rural Northeast Texas. The majority of the project's water would be piped roughly 170 miles to cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Many of the cities looking to build this project have high rates of water use.

Almost half of the area to be flooded - 30,000 acres - is an increasingly rare type of habitat known as bottomland hardwood forests. Over the past two hundred years, over three-quarters of East Texas' bottomland forests have been destroyed. These wooded wetlands, nurtured by the regular ebb and flow of a free-flowing river, are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystem type in the state. Consequently, the construction of Marvin Nichols would have statewide implications for wildlife habitat.

The construction of Marvin Nichols Reservoir would eliminate many local jobs in farming, ranching, logging, and livestock because so much working land would be flooded by the reservoir. In addition, the reservoir would flood several family cemeteries and historic Native American sites. There is strong opposition to the project and the Northeast Texas (Region D) water plan recommends against building the dam because of its negative environmental and economic impacts.

The North Texas area can have the water it needs without building this massive and damaging reservoir. Additional conservation over and above the conservation recommended in the state water plan would save 278,700 acre-feet annually - allowing Marvin Nichols to be avoided and even providing the potential to avoid other expensive and damaging reservoirs.

Marvin Nichols reservoir
The Marvin Nichols reservoir would flood 30,000 acres of
bottomland hardwood forests, one of the most biologically
diverse ecosystem types in the state. Photo by Norman Johns, NWF.


Map of 16 New Reservoirs Proposed in the State Water Plan State Water Plan map
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Large Map

(JPG: 256 KB)

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