Tucked away in Northeast Texas, Lake Gilmer was the last major reservoir built in the state, more than a decade ago. Local officials said they intended to share construction costs and water with a new power plant, but the power company backed out, leaving the city of Gilmer with the bill.
Rather than serve city or industrial customers as a water source, the lake is mostly used for bass fishing.
Despite this cautionary tale, Texas' interest in reservoirs is reviving as the drought persists and growing cities scramble for new water supplies. The state's water planners envision 26 new large reservoirs over the next half-century, at a cost of $13.6 billion. Though few analysts think all of those will be built, a handful of reservoir proposals are inching forward, according to the Texas Water Development Board.
Reservoirs are an "efficient way to capture storm water," said Thomas Taylor, the executive director of the Upper Trinity Regional Water District, which wants to build a $270 million reservoir known as Lake Ralph Hall northeast of Dallas. They provide a reliable water supply, he said, adding that many farmers have built mini-reservoirs on their land.
But environmentalists say reservoirs are unnecessary, expensive and damaging to the land.
"If we build this huge infrastructure and that demand isn't there, that can be a really poor investment," said Myron Hess, manager of the Texas water program for the National Wildlife Federation. Already, more water evaporates out of some major West Texas reservoirs than people use.
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