New lake would provide water for Houston area
By Joe Southern
If you tell anyone who has been around Houston’s west side for any length of time – and in Austin County in particular – that the Allens Creek Reservoir might actually be built soon, they will most likely look at you like you’re a little wet behind the ears.
It’s a story locals have heard for more than 40 years and to date not one drop of water has come even close to being the first to fill the 9,000-acre site along the Brazos River between Wallis and Sealy. Officials with the Brazos River Authority (BRA), however, say something is about to happen soon and they’ve committed $86 million to start the process.
“This will be one of the biggest projects our agency ever does,” said David Collinsworth, lower basin manager for the BRA.
If all goes as planned, construction could start within six years and by 2025 the reservoir could be a reality.
The reservoir was permitted in 1974 by Houston Lighting and Power (now Reliant Energy) as a cooling reservoir for a nuclear power plant. The plant was never built and the City of Houston and the BRA purchased the property in 1999. Houston owns 70 percent to BRA’s 30 percent. The proposed use changed to providing surface drinking water for Houston and area communities and businesses. Last year Houston made a deadline extension to begin the project but the BRA doesn’t want to wait.
“Houston isn’t interested in starting the project right now,” Collinsworth said.
He said the BRA and Houston have been negotiating to allow the BRA to move things along.
“We’re still talking to Houston about reimbursement and moving forward,” he said.
Houston Public Works Department spokesman Gary Norman said the city is in favor of the project moving forward.
“We’re supportive of regional water planning and the project moving forward,” he said.
He said the city is currently working on other water supply projects in the north and east of Houston and that the city remains committed to securing adequate water supplies to support anticipated growth.
The BRA officials said growth is what is driving the agency to push ahead with the project.
“The purpose of the reservoir is water supply, water supply, water supply,” Collinsworth said.
Matt Phillips, government and customer relations manager for the BRA, said growth is the engine pushing the 42-year-old project into gear.
“Everybody’s going to need more water,” he said. “We’re contracted out. We cannot meet more needs until we have more water.”
The BRA is the state’s largest and oldest river authority. Going from the state line with New Mexico west of Lubbock to the Gulf Coast at Freeport, the BRA owns three reservoirs and operates nine others with the Army Corps of Engineers along the Brazos River and its tributaries. It collects and releases water from those reservoirs to meet the needs of customers downstream. Among those customers are several cities, including Rosenberg and Sugar Land in Fort Bend County.
Collinsworth said there are three major criteria that have to be met in order for the reservoir to be built. They have to own the property, which they do. They must have the water right, which they also have. The third part is obtaining the 404 Clean Water Act permit from the federal government, among other permits.
“We’ve committed $86 million to start the permit and design process of building the reservoir,” Collinsworth said, adding the whole project will take 10 years to complete.
“We want to be in construction by 2022,” Phillips said.
Collinsworth said the BRA will need to work with about a dozen or so state and federal agencies and other stakeholders to obtain all the necessary permits. Among the things to be done include soil testing, environmental impact assessments, flooding impact studies, archaeological studies and more.
“Anything in the local ecology that we will impact,” he said.
According to the BRA’s website (www.brazos.org), “The reservoir will provide 95,000 – 100,000 acre-feet of water per year of firm water supply – the annual water use of over 150,000 families. The cost to build the reservoir is estimated at $300 million in 2016 dollars.”
The reservoir will be off-channel, meaning it will be built near the Brazos River on Allens Creek, a tributary of the Brazos.
When it’s complete, Wallis will become a waterfront community. The BRA said swimming, boating, and fishing facilities should be available to the public. Because the primary purpose of the reservoir will be for water supply, there will be years that the water levels will fluctuate significantly.
“Water levels in Allens Creek Reservoir will not be constant and will vary greatly, particularly during times of drought,” the BRA website says. “The reservoir’s primary benefit to the citizens of Texas is to provide water for municipalities, industry, agricultural producers, and electric energy generators.”
The reservoir will have a five-mile long embankment dam between it and the Brazos with two intake sites on the river and outlets and spillways that return water to the river as needed. The reservoir will have a depth of 40 feet.
Collinsworth said heavy machinery will be on site within a few weeks or months to begin the soil sampling and other studies.
“It will look like construction,” he said.
That little bit of turning dirt may be what it takes to convince locals that the project will actually go from and old rumor to reality. For more information or to watch a new video explaining the project in detail, visit www.brazos.org.