The path is getting clearer for leaders in Denton County is one step away from a approval to build the state’s first new lake in more than 20 years.
Administrative law judges for the State Office of Administrative Hearings recommended Tuesday that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approve the Upper Trinity Regional Water District’s permit to build Lake Ralph Hall.
UTRWD Executive Director Tom Taylor says that puts the project one step closer to reality about 10 years after they first began the permitting process.
"It takes 20 or 30 years to get a new lake online so you've got to plan way ahead,” said Taylor.
UTRWD wants to build the lake, named for U.S. Congressman Ralph Hall, in nearby Fannin County so water can be pipe lined into Denton County.
County leaders say it will provide approximately 30 million gallons of drinkable water per day to their customers who Taylor says will need the extra supply soon.
"The Metroplex will double approximately over the next 50 years the Denton County area will quadruple at least,” said Taylor. "Our present supplies are adequate only for about another 15 years."
An objection from one of UTRWD’s biggest customers, the Town of Flower Mound, led to the panel approval.
Flower Mound Mayor Tom Hayden told NBC5 in February that they felt the price tag on the lake was too high for water that isn’t needed yet. Hayden said constructing the lake is estimated to cost anywhere from $274 million to $464 million at a time when the UTRWD is already paying off debt service in excess of $200 million.
Flower Mound makes up about 42 percent of the UTRWD’s customer base and Hayden says they want them to look for water supply alternatives to minimize the impact on Denton County citizens.
The Town of Flower Mound issued this statement following the Administrative ruling Wednesday:
“We are, of course, disappointed with the judges’ ruling and the rationale used to make this decision. All we are seeking is for Upper Trinity to look at the cost-effective alternatives to Lake Ralph Hall, saving Denton County residents millions of dollars and postponing the costly construction of the lake until truly needed. We look forward to presenting our case before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.”
Taylor says construction on the lake must start now though to be there when it is needed, and he believes the TCEQ will agree with the UTRWD on that.
“It's a worthy project," Taylor said. "It's just the right size project, it's an affordable project, it's a doable project."
The issue now goes before the TCEQ where UTRWD hopes the permit will be granted later this year.