1. What is the background on the Lake Ringgold project and how was the decision made to pursue it?
Lake Ringgold has been an identified reservoir site since the 1950s. It is designated as a “unique reservoir site” and is the last viable reservoir site for Wichita Falls and our surrounding areas. During the 2010 to 2015 drought, the City came close to running out of water. The total capacity of our supply was below 19%. This is the lowest that lake supplies have ever been since they were built. Residents were selling their homes and moving, industries began closing their doors and Sheppard Air Force Base was considering and planning to move missions from Wichita Falls to other bases. The City had enacted draconian water use restrictions, to a point that the daily water demand was cut in half of what was normal. The City had to do something to shore up the overall water supply, so we implemented the Direct Potable Reuse project to get us through the drought. Once the drought ended, the Public Works Department constructed and implemented the Indirect Potable Reuse project which went online in January of 2018. However, additional water is still needed to meet the demands of our future supply.
With Lake Ringgold having already been identified as a water management strategy, in 2013 during the height of the drought, the City decided to perform a Ringgold Feasibility Study. This was to determine and verify the viability and costs to construct the reservoir. The City then performed a Long-Range Water Supply Plan in 2015 to identify any other options potentially available and weigh them against Lake Ringgold. The City of Wichita Falls wanted to be certain that Lake Ringgold was the most economical option. The study identified and investigated ten different water supply alternatives. Some of the options included buying and piping groundwater from the panhandle of Texas, to purchasing and piping water from Lake Texoma. All options were evaluated on their maximum supply available and their overall costs. Keep in mind, the costs in the plan are based on 2015 dollars which are over five years old. Construction costs have since increased and will only continue to increase as time progresses. Lake Ringgold was recommended by the study as the most economical supply.
To read the full Long Range Water Plan click here: City of Wichita Falls Long Range Water Supply Plan Study.
2. Who all does the City of Wichita Falls supply water to and how much is used daily?
Wichita Falls is the water provider for the 104,000 residents and businesses in our own City, but we are also the regional water provider for most of the North Texas Region. That means water from our system serves 15 wholesale customers, from Olney to Burkburnett and from Electra to Byers, with an estimated total population of people served of 150,000. The total amount of water utilized by Wichita Falls and the North Texas Region last year was 6.4 billion gallons.
3. Our lakes are currently full, so why is the City of Wichita Falls still pursuing the Lake Ringgold project?
The state of Texas plans for future water needs by preparing the State Water Plan. This plan considers many elements, but the most important is the current and future water demands and the current available supplies to meet those demands based on the drought of record (DOR). This plan is prepared on a regional basis and approved and adopted by the Texas Water Development Board. It is also updated every 5 years, with the plan currently in the process of being updated and completed this year.
The updated Regional Water Plan, which will be published this year, will indicate that if we were to enter another drought that was comparable to our worst drought of record (DOR), Wichita Falls and the North Texas Region, even with our available supplies and full lakes, would still have a shortage equal to 815 million gallons of water on an annual basis as of 2020. Without an additional future water supply, that shortage increases to 11,000 acre-feet or 3.5 billion gallons annually by 2070. This is why, even though our lakes are full, the City of Wichita Falls must plan accordingly for potential future droughts and consider where the water will come from. Lake Ringgold is the most feasible option both economically and financially.
To read the full Region B Plan click here: Texas Water Development Board Region B 2021 Initially Prepared Plan.
4. If the City of Wichita Falls did not move forward with the Lake Ringgold project, what could happen?
If we were to experience a drought as severe, or worse than our last one, we can expect people to move, businesses to close and possibly Sheppard Air Force Base to move missions and/or close entirely. The City would not be able to grow economically, nor attract new business and industry. Water is essential to the survival of our City, we cannot live without it. Therefore, we must have a plan in place to meet our future water supply needs.
The Department of the Air Force recently released the 2021 Air Force Installation Energy Strategy. The plan outlines the path for greater mission assurance through the realization of more resilient energy systems. This protects installations against failures in the power and water systems. The Department of the Air Force has recognized the need to consider how water is mission critical and must be reliable in order to perform missions. If we were to experience a drought as severe, or worse than our last one, the missions at Sheppard Air Force Base could be severely negatively impacted to the point of moving or closing missions.
To read the Air Force Mission Assurance through Energy Assurance Installation Energy Strategic Plan 2021 click here: Air Force Installation Energy Strategy
5. What is the timeline for the project?
Projects such as Lake Ringgold take decades to develop, which is why the City has already begun. There are three major steps to develop a reservoir. The first step is to secure the state water rights permit, which gives the entity (the City of Wichita Falls) the right to use and impound the water. This is currently the step we are working on. The second step, once we have a state water right permit, is to apply for a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These permits, if issued, will give the City the authority to commence construction of the reservoir. The last step is the actual construction of the reservoir. Together, the entire process can take 15 to 25 years to complete.
To read the City of Wichita Falls Water Use Permit Application click here: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Water Use Permit Application.
The City of Wichita Falls Water Use Permit Application includes an entire section on environmental impact. To read that section click here: City of Wichita Falls Permit Application - Environmental Review Section.
Public Works Director Russell Schreiber said, "One of the many services Wichita Falls provides to the region is water supply. Without a reliable sustainable water supply, growth in our region will not occur and our current economy will become stagnate and shrink. Residents and businesses expect to be able to count on a safe reliable supply of water to meet their needs. It is our responsibility to ensure we have an adequate supply to meet both short and long term needs. We cannot wait until we are out of water to try and find more. At that point, it is too late. It takes years to develop these large projects due to all of the environmental and water quality standards that must be met, as well as the permitting and construction process. This is why we are moving forward now. We already demonstrate a need for the water in the updated Regional State Plan, and that need will only grow significantly over time."
A team of researchers, led by Texas A&M Regents Professor, John Neilsen-Gammon, released a study in July 2020 that says “Texas is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, with population expected to increase from 29.5 million in 2020 to 51 million in 2070 (TWDB, 2017). Further, the state is located in a subhumid to semiarid environment that is vulnerable to changes in water availability resulting from global climate change.” The study goes on to say, “Combining climate change with the projected population growth discussed above, it is likely that Texans will face unprecedented challenges to the resilience of their water supply that depend on whether a given location depends primarily on surface water or groundwater.”
Nielsen‐Gammon, J. W., Banner, J. L., Cook, B. I., Tremaine, D. M., Wong, C. I., Mace, R. E., et al. (2020). Unprecedented drought challenges for Texas water resources in a changing climate: What do researchers and stakeholders need to know? Earth's Future, 8, e2020EF001552. https://doi. org/10.1029/2020EF001552
To read the complete study click here: Unprecedented Drought Challenges for Texas Water Resources in a Changing Climate: What Do Researchers and Stakeholders Need to Know?