By CLINT FOSTER
PALO PINTO – As a result of the drought that has held an iron grip on Palo Pinto County for the past several months, Palo Pinto County Commissioners unanimously voted to approve a resolution to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality opposing the Brazos River Authority's sale of any additional water out of Possum Kingdom Lake.
The decision came during a regularly scheduled meeting of the court on Monday morning in the Palo Pinto County Courthouse.
Commissioners were motivated not only by the low amount of water left in the lake, but also by the impact continually lowering lake levels will have on the many residents that call PK home.
"Although Possum Kingdom Lake was not built as a recreational lake, it has become one," Palo Pinto County Judge David Nicklas read from the resolution during the meeting. "Many businesses depend on the lake... We ask that TCEQ seriously consider the effects that drastically lowering the level of Possum Kingdom Lake will have on Palo Pinto County and Possum Kingdom."
After opposing approval of the BRA's request to sell additional water from the Brazos River Basin in court, Nicklas explained to the Index the significant importance of PK Lake. He said that the many houses and developments around the lake – ranging from modest homes to million-dollar mansions – support about 48 percent of Palo Pinto County's tax base. He added that commissioners are concerned that if the BRA is allowed to sell more water, on top of what is already coming out of the waning lake, property values would plummet right along with the dangerously low lake level.
Nicklas said what was additionally concerning about the BRA's request was that they never specified who or what these additional water sales would be to or for.
"They just gave a carte blanche: 'We want to sell this additional water,' without any indication of what it would be going for," Nicklas said.
"We're very concerned about where the water is going. Are they going to sell it to West Texas to drink? Are they going to sell it down south for other businesses? If it's to support businesses downstream from us, then they need to consider the businesses at Possum Kingdom as well as the business of operating our county in their decisions."
The dire state of the lake because of the extended drought has made the decision to restrict additional water sales all the more paramount.
BRA Public Information Officer Judi Pierce said that even recent rains in the area have not been sufficient enough to bring the lake up at all.
Last month, she told the Index that PK Lake is suffering from "literally the worst amount of inflows we've ever seen in recorded history." A month later, she reiterated that the same holds true.
"At this point, the drought conditions are for a number of reasons: No. 1, those inflows, No. 2 evaporation, and No. 3 water use," she said. "Quite honestly, the releases that have been made within the last year from Possum Kingdom have been extremely low. Basically the minimum.
"The BRA wants very much to keep the lake as full as possible, but without any inflow, that's simply not possible. Of course, we have to continue providing water to the contracts that we have. We certainly couldn't cut them off just because the lake levels have dropped. We have to continue to provide water to those people that have a need for it."
Nicklas said the project to build the Turkey Peak Reservoir in the coming years next to Lake Palo Pinto will provide an economic boost and do a lot to alleviate the county's need for water, but it won't help Possum Kingdom's grim predicament.
If droughts and water sales weren't enough, further complicating PK Lake's situation is the City of Abilene's plans to build the Cedar Ridge Reservoir in the area of West Texas that flows to PK. Nicklas explained that the project will involve damming up part of the Clear Fork tributary that runs to Possum Kingdom, not only confining additional water coming into the lake, but also likely adding to its salinity.
"The 600,000 acre-feet [of additional water the BRA wants to sell] plus the potential of the dam in Abilene would have even more of a dramatic impact on the recreational and economic impact out at Possum Kingdom," Nicklas said.
The BRA issued this statement to the Index in response to the commissioners' decision:
“The Brazos River Authority’s mission is to develop, manage and protect the water of the Brazos basin and to make that water available for beneficial use. We understand the concerns of Palo Pinto County residents regarding reservoir levels as they relate to recreational opportunities. However, our first priority is to fulfill our mandate from the Texas Legislature to ensure that water continues to flow from the faucets of homes and businesses basin-wide. To withhold drinking water in any amount in order to provide recreational opportunities in any portion of the Brazos basin is not an option."
In other business, commissioners unanimously:
• Approved monthly reports for the County Auditor, Sheriff, emergency management, Public Works and Information Technology.
• Accepted a bid from ABM Building Services in Fort Worth for HVAC, electrical, insulation and solar system for the Records Retention Facility in Palo Pinto.
• Awarded a bid to Newark Energy for the lease of mineral rights for 4.51 acres of right-of-way on State Highway 254, three miles west of Graford. The price is $500 an acre, for which Newark will provide 22 percent of royalties during the span of the one-year agreement.
• Approved the award of a construction contract for TxCDBGP Sewer Project No. 712270 and signed order.
• Approved Indigent Defense Grant Program Resolution – a formula grant for fiscal year 2014.
• Adopted a resolution casting votes for Palo Pinto Appraisal District Board of Directors.
• Approved bid specifications and re-advertisement for bids for Life Safety and Electrical Renovations for the Palo Pinto County Courthouse.
• Approved an agreement with Perdue, Brandon, Fielder and Collins for the collection of fines and fees and terminated contract with GHS. Commissioners specified that "each entity can either accept or reject the contract" with the collection agency.
• Approved an agreement with Bennett's Office Supply for maintenance of District Attorney's copy machine.
• Approved Boyle & Lowry, LLP, for review and revision of Palo Pinto County Subdivision Regulations.
• Took no action on a burn ban.