Developing New Water Supplies

Once-in-a-lifetime reservoir project will slake fast-growing region’s thirst for more water

Developing New Water Supplies

“This the biggest infrastructure project in our history.”

Ed Motley

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The Upper Trinity Regional Water District is about halfway finished with building an estimated $490 million water-supply reservoir that will help meet ever-increasing demands for water in a fast-growing region of North Texas.

When completed in late 2025 or mid-2026, Lake Ralph Hall — named for the late congressman who helped spearhead the project — is expected to supply 35 million gallons of raw water a day to the 29 communities the utility serves in Denton and Collin counties.

An allocation of another 19 mgd of reuse water will also be available for the communities, which are located some 60 miles northeast of Dallas and have a total population of around 400,000 people, says Ed Motley, the utility’s project manager for the huge undertaking.

“This the biggest infrastructure project in our history,” says Motley, who joined the UTRWD, a wholesale water and wastewater utility, in 2019 after 43 years as a civil engineer. “It’s also one of only two major new water supply reservoirs to be built in Texas during the last 30 years.”

The other reservoir is 16,641-acre Bois D’Arc Lake, which is located about 20 miles north of the site of Lake Ralph Hall, near the town of Bonham. It was completed in 2021.

About 80% of the project is funded by a loan from the Texas Water Development Board. The balance is funds the district has saved and municipal fund revenue bonds. The bonds and loans will be paid off by user-rate revenue, Motley says.

MASSIVE PROJECT

At 7,600 acres, Lake Ralph Hall will cover about 12 square miles of land and hold about 180,000 acre-feet of water — about 59 billion gallons. It will be created by damming the North Sulphur River.

The river only flows when it rains; the area receives an average of about 34 inches of rainfall annually.

Aside from supplying drinking water, the lake also is expected to provide a big economic boost to the area by providing a myriad of recreational opportunities, including fishing, boating, hunting, hiking and camping. Officials expect the project will generate billions of dollars in economic benefits to surrounding counties and communities.

Furthermore, the project also includes taking steps to rejuvenate about a mile of the North Sulphur River, located just downstream of the dam. The river channel is more than 20 times its original size due to significant erosion, stemming from channel alterations made in the 1920s, Motley explains.

The utility currently depends on three water sources: Lake Lewisville and Ray Roberts Lake in Denton County, under a contract with the cities of Dallas and Denton; and Jim Chapman Lake, under a contract with the city of Commerce, located about 15 miles south of Ladonia, the closest town to the Lake Ralph Hall site.

MAJOR COMPONENTS

The 2.3-mile-long Leon Hurse Dam is currently under construction and should be completed in 2025. It’s named after the late Charles Leon Hurse, who served as the mayor of Ladonia for 17 years. Hurse also tirelessly championed the reservoir project with Hall.

Building the dam will require moving 5 million cubic yards of soil and pouring 136,000 cubic yards of roller-compacted concrete. Making the concrete will require 9,000 tons of cement and 9,000 tons of fly ash, Motley says.

To supply water for construction purposes, two 2,000-foot-deep groundwater wells were drilled. Each well produces about a half million gallons of water a day, he says.

Another major component of the project is already completed: a 1.1-mile-long bridge that currently spans the North Sulphur River and will eventually allow drivers on State Highway 34 to cross part of the lake. The bridge features a 10-foot-wide pedestrian/bicycle lane on its western side.

The last major piece of the project is a 32-mile-long, 66-inch-diameter steel pipeline that will deliver water to the Upper Trinity’s treatment plant in Lewisville, a northern suburb of Dallas. The pipeline will be fashioned from roughly 3,400 sections of 50-foot-long steel spiral-wound pipe, made by American SpiralWeld Pipe Company, based in the nearby city of Paris.

The first 27 miles will convey water from a pump station at the dam to a two-part balancing reservoir located on one of the higher points along the route; there the pipeline will transition from pressurized to gravity flow, Motley says.

From there, water will travel through a 5-mile-long, 72-inch-diameter steel pipeline that will connect to an existing pipeline owned by the city of Irving, which currently delivers water to the UTRWD from Lake Chapman. That pipeline will carry water to the treatment facility.

Construction of the pipeline began in spring 2023 and is slated for completion in spring or summer of 2025.

LONG TIME COMING

Planning for the project began back in 2000, when utility officials started doing long-range planning because they saw that current water supplies would eventually not meet the demands of the rapidly growing region, Motley says. 

Utility officials determined they’d need additional water resources by 2025 or 2026 to meet fast-growing demand.

“The area we serve includes two of the fastest-growing counties in Texas,” Motley explains. “During the last decade or so, about 100,000 people a year have been moving into the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, most of them from out of state.

“And none of them bring water with them.”

A flurry of constructed lake reservoirs were built in Texas during the 1960s and 1970s in the wake of a historic drought in the 1950s. In fact, more than half of the state’s available surface water is in reservoirs — 8.9 million acre-feet per year out of a total of 13.3 acre-feet per year, according to statistics from the TWDB.

“Basically, we’ve all been living off that infrastructure for 50 years,” Motley says. “And now we’ve run out of lakes — the population growth has caught up with our water supply.”

PATIENCE PAYS OFF

After developing about 20 different options in what Motley calls a “vigorous evaluation,” the utility decided that from a cost and an environmental-impact standpoint, creating a reservoir was the most desirable strategy.

The utility submitted a water-rights application in 2003 and received it in 2013. It submitted a federal permit application in 2006 and received it in 2020.

“We thought the permitting processes would take 10 to 15 years, but here we are,” Motley says.

Permit approvals take so long because utility officials had to negotiate with the United States Army Corps of Engineers and three other federal agencies, plus two Texas agencies, the Texas Water Development Board and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Motley says.

“We spent hours and hours in conference rooms, negotiating with all these agencies. We had to work with input from all of them and try to satisfy the desires of these multiple agencies and many times those desires didn’t align.

“In the end, it took a lot of patience and persistence — and Pepto-Bismol.”

The utility also had to deal with objections from two local environmental groups. But overall, the project received strong support from the communities the utility serves, he says.

A LANDMARK PROJECT

Looking back, Motley is proud of what’s been accomplished. And despite being past retirement age, he plans to stick with the project until the lake is filled with water, hopefully by mid-2026, depending on how much rain the area receives.

“This is my legacy project and I’m committed to finishing it,” he says. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime project, so it’s very hard to walk away from.”

On the other hand, water from Lake Ralph Hall is projected to handle the region’s water needs only until the middle 2040s.

“At that point, we’ll be going through this planning process again,” Motley says. “We’ve already started thinking about what our next water source might be.

“As long as this area keeps growing, our work will never be done.”



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