Town Hall meeting
The City of Corsicana is hosting a public meeting to answer questions about the proposed power plants at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Palace Theatre, 112 W. Sixth Avenue.
What’s at stake with the sale of water to two proposed power plants is whether or not there will be another drought.
If the county doesn’t have another drought for another 40 years — roughly the span between the 1950s drought and the 2006 drought — then the city will get a water line, a second treatment plant, and a plentiful source of water, all heavily subsidized by industry. However, if there is another drought, the city has to hope it has built enough safety netting into the contract so the county doesn’t run dry.
The City of Corsicana provides water to 99 percent of the county from two sources — Lake Halbert and Navarro Mills. A third source, Richland Chambers, is not currently being used, although the city is building a pipeline out to that lake now.
Based on regular, non-drought use, the city has enough water to supply the county and the proposed new power plants for another 30 years, according to future estimates of water needs by the city, and the estimated water use of the plants.
The city is currently pumping about 7 million gallons of water a day. If both power plants are built, the plants will need between 10 million and 16 million gallons a day, depending on a variety of factors but mostly on how much they’re running. Early estimates are that they will return 20-25 percent of that water to the lake.
The city has water rights to 32,807 acre feet of water each year, or 29 million gallons a day already, with the option to buy more from Richland Chambers Reservoir, according to City Manager Connie Standridge.
The city’s eagerness to sell water to the power plants stems from pragmatism, Standridge said. Corsicana can’t control whether or not the plants come, only whether or not to sell the water. If the city does sell the water to the plants, it could settle some enormous and fast-growing debts faster, she said.
“My position with regard to water sales to the power plants has always been if they’re located here in Navarro County, the city would like to sell them water,” she said.
The city’s utility fund owes $47 million now, including the $17 million it borrowed to build the new pipeline from Richland Chambers. It could cost another $21 million to expand the Lake Halbert Treatment Plant, for a possible debt of $68 million. That debt is unrelated to the city’s recently approved bond sale for streets and a fire station. That debt will be paid out of a separate fund.
Based on a preliminary cost of $1 for every 1,000 gallons of untreated water, the power plants would buy $1.8 to $5.8 million in raw, untreated water from the city each year, money that would be used to offset the debt, Standridge said.
“The final cost of the raw water has not yet been determined, but it would be very beneficial to the utility fund,” Standridge said.
One of the principal arguments against the power plants’ purchase of water is whether or not the water supply can provide water for both the county and the plants in case of water shortages. In 2006, the state experienced a dramatic drought, which resulted in tight watering restrictions and water surcharges.
Vicky Prater opposes the sales because of the threat of drought. She is co-chair of the Citizens Opposing Power Plants, a group formed to fight the plants.
“That’s 50 percent of our free water rights from Richland Chambers lake,” Prater said. If a drought does happen, and the city has to rely on Richland Chambers, it could have to buy more water, at a higher cost.
“They’re attempting to sell away our free water rights. If they do that, eventually they’ll have to go back to Tarrant County and negotiate a new water contract,” Prater said.
The city argues that the 2006 drought never put the county in danger of running dry.
“During the drought, it was never a question of whether we had enough water supply, the problem was we didn’t have it in the right places,” Standridge said. “Our treatment capacity was at Navarro Mills.”
If the Lake Halbert Treatment Plant is expanded, and the pipeline completed, the city will have treatment capacity at Lake Halbert, and a deep source of water in Richland Chambers, Standridge said.
Over the next 20 to 30 years, the county’s use of clean water is expected to increase about two or three million gallons, according to Billy Flowers, with Flower and Leist, an engineering consultant for the city.
If the city’s growth exceeds expectations, the city can buy more than it currently has rights to, according to both the city and Tarrant County. The negotiating contract approved by the city council in January includes a contingency fee of $3 million from the power plants to pay for additional water if the city needs to purchase more.
Prater recognizes that the city will sell the water, if the power plants come. However, she wants the money used for the taxpayers first.
“If these power plants are forced upon us, I want to see these power plants pay more money for the water rights, and I want them to pay for half of this water line,” she said. “Then, when that water hits the city’s coffers I don’t want them to have free reign on that money. I want to see the county and city roads brought up to excellent standards, and I want to see more money for economic development.”
If the city does make money from the sales, it will be used to pay off the debt for the water facilities, Standridge said.
“Those revenues would be used to offset the construction of the raw water line to Richland Chambers, and to expand the Lake Halbert Treatment Plant, and to maintain the water rates for commercial and residential customers.”
The county’s water customers will have to pay those debt costs if the power plants don’t build, Standridge pointed out.
Tarrant County Regional Water District probably will sell the power plants water if the city doesn’t.
Tarrant County Regional Water District, which built Richland Chambers Reservoir and owns the bulk of water from the lake, sells water to 11 counties, and a host of industries, including other power plants.
“We’re a wholesale water supplier. Obviously, we can’t be discriminating towards our customers,” said Chad Lorance, spokesman for Tarrant County Regional Water District. “The only reason we’d say ‘no’ is if it were a danger to the environment or some other red flag.”
In addition, Tarrant County sells its water cheaper than Corsicana’s proposed rate of $1 per 1,000 gallons. Tarrant County’s rate is 56 cents for 1,000 gallons, Lorance said.
The only reason the power plants might choose to buy from Corsicana, even though the price per gallon is higher, is because Tarrant County won’t provide an intake or pipeline, which are multimillion-dollar projects. Corsicana is already building those.
For many residents on the lake, however, it’s not so much an issue of drinking water, but aesthetics. Lake-front properties were high and dry during the drought.
Tarrant County considers that a secondary issue, Lorance said.
“We get a lot of calls from people worried about lake levels and boat ramps and that stuff’s great, but we think of it as a water supply,” Lorance said. “We look at it from a water supply standpoint, whether we can meet customer need. Recreation is a great side benefit of our lakes, but our first objective is to be able to service our customers.”
Neither of the power plants has received permission from the state to emit air or water yet. Both would be on the southwest side of the county, near Richland.
One of the plants had requested permission to build west of Corsicana, and even had an option on the land, but the city refused to sell water from Navarro Mills, the county’s main source of drinking water.
“They wanted to be on the banks of Navarro Mills, but we were not receptive to selling any amount of water from Navarro Mills,” Standridge said.
Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Water storage in local lakes, in acre feet, and the amount Corsicana may take out per year. An acre foot is the amount of water that covers one acre, one foot deep, or 325,851 gallons. Corsicana’s water rights are also shown in millions of gallons per day (mgd).
Lake Total capacity Corsicana’s mgd
Richland Chambers 1,103,816 13,650 12.1
Navarro Mills 55,817 17,813 15.9
Lake Halbert 6,033 4,003 3.5
Total 1,165,666 35,466 31
Source: Texas Water Development Board, City of Corsicana
Water use now, and in the future
The City of Corsicana provides almost all of the clean water in Navarro County (NC). The following shows how much the county currently uses on average, the maximum the proposed power plants would use, and how much would be used in the future, based on population projections.
Source Acre feet/year Million/gallons/day
NC current use* 7,841 7
Power plants** 17,922 16
Total 25,763 23
NC use in 2030 11.8 10
Power plants** 17.0 16
Total in 2030 29.7 26
* Average daily use. Water use spikes in summer, declines in winter.
**Maximum use for both plants. The average would be 10 mgd for both plants.
Source: City of Corsicana
Planning for future water use with presence of power plants is key
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