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The Q&A: Walt Sears

In this week’s Q&A, we interview Walt Sears, executive director of the Northeast Texas Municipal Water District.

Walt Sears, executive director of the Northeast Texas Municipal Water District

With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:

Walt Sears is the executive director of the Northeast Texas Municipal Water District. The Tribune spoke to Sears about the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir and what is happening next in the debate over the project. As the administrator for the North East Texas Regional Water Planning Group (Region D), the NETMWD is a major player in the discussions on the reservoir project, which would provide water to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and other areas. The project, though, pits two regional water-planning districts against each other. Region C is pushing for the project, saying it’s necessary for the area’s expected growth, while Region D is against it.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Trib+Water:  The Marvin Nichols Reservoir has been a developing issue for decades now — can you recap for our readers where Texas is now with this?

Walt Sears: We’re in the planning stages of this proposal. For purposes of discussion, I would describe this as having at least three phases. The first phase is planning, the second phase is getting any necessary permits from the state of Texas and the third is getting the necessary permits from the federal government. We have been talking about it, and it has been contained in previous plans — the earliest of which goes back to the 1960s. The latest of which is the current plan that we’re operating under.

Trib+Water: The Texas Water Development Board and the Northeast Texas Water Planning Group have until Dec. 17 to respond to a 125-page technical report about the reservoir and its potential impact. Can you sum up for me what this report says about the possible impacts of the reservoir?

Sears: In August, the Water Development Board asked Region C to identify the effects that this strategy would have, and they asked them to quantify. At the end of October, Region C responded to that with a report that estimates that the lake would be approximately 66,103 acres surface area and estimated that the mitigation land would comprise 47,060 acres. The Water Development Board has provided its staff and Region D the chance to respond to that description by the middle of this month.

On Jan. 8, the Texas Water Development Board will consider all the information and will likely make a decision about the round three plan. In 2011, the round three plans were intended to be finalized. Region C’s plan included the project, Region D’s plan excluded the project. Hopefully, in January, there will be clarity from the Water Development Board on whether this project should be included or excluded from the planning.

Trib+Water: Talk about this reservoir has been ongoing for so long — why is that?

Sears: All reservoirs take a long period of time to discuss and plan. It is not uncommon for lakes to take more than two decades in the planning cycle. That’s due to the complexity of the subject. All the complexity lies in evaluating all the potential strategies that could satisfy future demand. With most projects, you have to first predict how much you’ll need in the future. The second thing you have to do is, once you establish the probable demand, is evaluate all strategies — not just the first one that comes to mind.

Trib+Water: What are the possibilities going forward — what are the different paths that could happen next?

Sears: It’s within the authority of the water development board to either include, exclude or conditionally include or exclude this water management strategy. Fundamentally, what this planning process is, is estimating how much all of our needs are going to be over the next 50 years and comparing that with our existing supply and wherever there is a deficiency, coming up with a strategy to cure the deficiency.

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