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The intent of the Sulphur River Feasibility Study (also known as the “Basin Wide Study”) is to develop and evaluate alternative solutions in the Sulphur River Basin for municipal and industrial water supply, and other infrastructure concerns, to support the needs of the rapidly growing North Central and Northeast Texas regions. The overarching purpose of this study is to determine what project or combination of projects would be expected to optimize the use of existing water resources projects as well as the development of new water infrastructure in order to support quality of life and economic development within and adjacent to the Basin with the least environmental and social impacts. The study is being conducted as a partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District and the Sulphur River Basin Authority. Other partners include the Joint Committee for Program Development (JCPD), comprised of the Cities of Dallas and Irving, the North Texas Municipal Water District, the Tarrant Regional Water District, and the Upper Trinity Regional Water District. The Sulphur River Basin Authority is also a member of the JCPD.
The Sulphur River Basin Feasibility study was authorized by a resolution adopted by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, United States House of Representatives, adopted March 11, 1998, as quoted below:
“Resolved by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the United States House of Representatives, That the Secretary of the Army is requested to review the report of the Chief of Engineers on the Cooper Lake and Channels, Texas, published as House Document 488, 83rd Congress, 2nd Session, and other pertinent reports, to determine whether modifications are warranted to address water and related resources problems in the Sulphur River basin, Texas.“
In response to this study authority, the Corps of Engineers conducted a Reconnaissance Study in 2004 and concluded that there was potential Federal Interest in pursuing one or more projects. A Feasibility Study Cost-sharing Agreement between the Corps of Engineers and the Sulphur River Basin Authority was executed in February 2005. However, due to the lack of Federal study funds, work pursued under this agreement was limited. A modification to the original Feasibility Cost Share Agreement was executed on 3 April 2012 allowing the accelerated use of non-Federal funds in order to move the study forward.
The Sulphur River basin encompasses some 3,558 square miles in Northeast Texas. Included in the basin are all or part of 11 Texas counties. From the eastern state line of Texas, the Sulphur River flows into Arkansas and joins with the Red River, a tributary of the Mississippi River. The Sulphur Basin has the largest average watershed yield of any major river basin in Texas (TWDB) and has more unappropriated water than any major river basin in the state with the exception of the Neches Basin (FNI, 2012). The Corps of Engineers owns and operates two Federal reservoirs in the Sulphur River Basin, Jim Chapman Lake (formerly known as Cooper Lake) and Wright Patman Lake. Together, these two reservoirs source over 85% of the authorized surface water withdrawals in the Sulphur River Basin. Major land use categories within the eleven-county area include agriculture and timber management.
According to the National Land Cover Database (NLCD) Land Classifications, approximately 24% of the basin is forested, and timber harvesting represents a major economic force in the region. The International Paper mill, located at the eastern end of the basin, is a major employer in the Sulphur River Basin. The Sulphur River Basin contains as many as 175,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods and/or other forested riparian vegetation. (TPWD,1980). Of this, approximately 100,000 acres were classified in 1984 as Priority 1, meaning that they are excellent quality of high value to key waterfowl species. (USFWS, 1984) These resources are an important component of the region’s economy as well, providing resources and raw materials for timber harvesting and production of paper products.
Due to the abundance of water in the region, the Sulphur Basin has been the focus of numerous efforts to develop new water supply projects. While the Feasibility Study Cost Share Agreement (FSCA) was signed in 2005, no Federal funds were appropriated prior to FY2013. In 2011, under authority of the Planning Assistance to States (PAS) Program (Section 22, Water Resources Development Act of 1974), the Corps of Engineers and the Sulphur River Basin Authority executed an alternative agreement to study various aspects of water supply development in the Sulphur River Basin. The primary focus of this specific study was estimation of the potential water supply yield that could be developed from a variety of alternative sources.
In addition to estimating the availability of water within the basin and estimating the yield of potential water supply alternatives, the PAS study also included an assessment of water resources problems and needs within the Sulphur River Basin. While the basic water availability modeling identified an abundance of available water on a basin-wide basis, a number of site-specific issues or problems within the Basin were identified. Additional PAS work efforts funded in FY12 and FY13 focus on developing basic cost, environmental and socio-economic information relative to water supply development in the basin. This information, along with the outputs of a variety of other studies, is being incorporated into the Corps’ Feasibility Study.
Reallocation of storage from flood control to water conservation at both existing Corps reservoirs as well as new storage (reservoirs) at four alternative locations comprise the basic alternatives framework. Several of the alternatives are capable of generating the targeted amount of water yield on their own; others would be capable of generating only a portion of the needed water supply, suggesting that combinations of alternatives might be required or advantageous. To facilitate this analysis, several scales (sizes) of the larger alternatives are being considered. While early analyses eliminated storage reallocation at Jim Chapman Lake as a practical alternative, over sixty possible combinations of reallocation/new storage may be viable. The focus of the Feasibility Study will be to develop a solid base of information regarding the potential yield, total cost (investment cost and annual cost), and environmental and social effects of each alternative in order to identify the “best” set of alternatives for detailed evaluation.
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