Toledo Bend Low Water – Lake Havasu
The following article is not meant to be a “witch hunt”, but rather an accumulation of information that can hopefully put an end to some of the rumors that seem to be coming at us from every direction. My interviews have included many people, including high ranking personnel within the SRA/TX organization. I thank everyone for their input). JB
These are difficult times, especially if you live in East Texas. It’s hard to imagine that many of our neighbors are still trying to recover from the effects of Hurricane Rita, or that local politics has become a circus, and that Toledo Bend Lake, the jewel of East Texas, is more than 10-feet low – and still falling.
Three years ago my wife and I retired and moved to Toledo Bend. It was one of the happiest times of our lives. Like many other retirees, we invested our money into lakefront property, built a floating dock for our pontoon boat and proudly showed off the many wonderful things that Toledo Bend has to offer to visiting friends and relatives. Our beautiful cove is now dry and parched, our dock is sitting on the ground and visiting grandchildren have memories of a mud hole rather than a swimming hole.
What a sad state of affairs. This beautiful lake that attracted so many people for weekend trips, vacations, and retirement, is now a pitiful sight that breaks the hearts of residents and the pocketbooks of local businesses. As the lake level continues to drop we see less and less traffic, so local businesses are finding it tougher to make ends meet. In past years fishing tournaments added many dollars to our local economy, but now the lack of usable launching facilities and hazardous boating conditions have forced these groups to spend their money elsewhere.
Fishing tournaments are big business, just ask Del Rio. A Texas A&M study revealed that bass anglers spend $1.6 million annually just to fish Lake Amistad, fueling a $32 million economic boom for the Del Rio area alone. With continued low water conditions Toledo Bend will no longer be an attraction for bass tournaments, visitors, businesses or growth. Our overall economy will continue to deteriorate and For Sale signs will start showing up as disappointed residents head for a more stable environment to call home. So what is the answer?
Well I don’t have a crystal ball but can mention a few items that may need to be revisited.
Generating Electricity – I understand the fact that SRA is committed by contract (dated Feb 1, 1964 through April 30, 2018) to deliver 65,700 mega watt hours of electricity between May 1 and Sept 30th.. “Power Pool is defined as 162.2 ft mean sea level (msl) to 172 ft. msl.
The contract specifies that SRA must generate until one of the following conditions occurs:
1. They have delivered 65,700 mega watt hours of “peaking power”,
2. The reservoir elevation reaches 162.2 msl, or
3. October 1
The contract provides for additional generating only when the reservoir elevation is above 168 ft msl for the months of Oct through December. To generate during the month of January the elevation has to be at or above 168.5; 169 for Feb, and so on .. The intent is to be as close to 172’ msl (normal pool) as possible when they start each years generating schedule.
The only exception to the previous guidelines for generating outside the 5-months of May-Sept is to maintain downstream flows for environmental, industrial and consumptive water needs below the dam.
I realize that much discussion has taken place on this issue; however, I would hope that we are not at a point in negotiations where nothing can be done to a 1964 contract that might better define operating procedures during severe drought conditions. But since this ruling is backed by the decision of a Federal Judge, it would seem that this would be a tough plan to change.
SRA/TX is only the manager of the contract so throwing rocks at them doesn’t do much good. However, managing the contract could mean deferring power production during the month of May and June (probably low demand for electricity months), to ensure that a greater amount of water would be available in July, August and September. This was a recommendation made to SRA during the Simulation #6 of the Brown and Root Operating Guide Re-Evaluation Study dated July 1998. This sounds like smart business and would certainly (1) benefit anglers, and fish, since the lake would not be falling during the spawning season, (2) insure recreational activities and business sales during the Memorial Day holiday, (3) Assure that adequate water is available for fire fighting efforts and municipal drinking water systems, and (4) better prepare the lake for the possibility of yet another summer that could produce a minimal amount of rain. However, SRA advised me that operating under any of the proposed seven scenarios would be performing outside the original Power Sales Agreement.
The studies were a result of Bi-State Alliance requesting that the lake level not go below 168’msl. SRA/LA and SRA/TX both participated in the study and approximately $393,000 was spent on the study and legal fees. All was abandoned since no mutual agreement could be met. SRA stated that they were not surprised that the FERC concluded that SRA was operating properly.
Keep in mind that the power companies basically financed construction of the dam by agreeing to the current contract requirements and guidelines. You might pose the question – Is revenue and an aggressive generating schedule more important than losing residents, visitors and businesses? At this point the answer is that the contract is in place to provide electricity to customers and legally the contract will be adhered to. Like all of us, I would like the water and the electricity.
Energy companies pay $21 per mega watt now and if they had to purchase the electricity on the spot market it would run about $50 per mega watt. For those of you wondering, power generated cannot be put into “reserve storage”.
So what about catching the water after it has cleared the generators and pumping it back into the lake – Recycle the water? According to SRA/TX this would be an expensive direction to go since an elaborate holding and pumping system would need to be in place. Perhaps some type of government grant could be obtained to help in the over-all project?
SRA/TX gets 2.1-cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity sold. The national average is about 5-cents. Revenue from generating will vary from year to year, but revenue will usually range from one to three million dollars per year. Last year the revenue received by SRA/TX for generating electricity was considered low (in the one million dollar range). During one of the wettest years the revenue could probably be in the five to six million range. Louisiana and Texas split this revenue 50-50.
I was told by SRA/TX that last year they didn’t cover expenses with just the electrical revenue from Toledo Bend. Revenue in the two million dollar range is probably the optimum amount required to meet all expenses. Approximately 1/3 of the money received goes to paying off current bonds, 1/3 to operating expenses and 1/3 to overhead and salaries. The original 1964 bonds have been retired; however, SRA has bonds of $5-million and $10-million that will be paid off in the year 2009. These are referred to as “Completion Bonds”. They were basically put into place to satisfy certain changes, adds, etc., that occurred toward the end of the period when payment for the original $60-million bonds took place.
Electricity generated from Toledo Bend actually goes 50% to Louisiana and 50% to Energy Texas. Once it hits the grid I am not sure where it winds up. As most people know, Deep East Texas supplies Sabine County with electricity. .
So how low can you really go and still generate electricity? The answer is about the 160’msl (plus or minus). If the lake level during the month of November is at say 169’msl, the existing contract provides that more generating could occur. However, once the lake gets back down to 168’msl the generating would cease.
Minimum Lake Level – In 2003 SRA/LA proposed maintaining a minimum lake level of 168’ msl. The current terms of the contract that originated Feb 1, 1964 and expire on April 30, 2018 will not allow the 168’ msl to take place. SRA Louisiana was also advised that it did not have the authority to make such changes without the consent of SRA /TX.
If the contract agreements with Cleco and Entergy are not met due to keeping the lake at say 168’msl, both SRA’s could possibly be
(1) required to compensate the power companies for the reduction of power or the reduction in value of such power;
(2) there could be a possible violation of the Indenture of Trust if an operating guide change does not supply sufficient revenues to service the Bonds; and
(3) any action voted on could lead to potential lawsuits by the power companies
Establishing a minimum lake level could also increase potential liability for downstream flooding. While all of the above may be true, sitting behind these words and letting property values plunge, business owners go belly-up and creating economic chaos in our area is certainly not the answer either.
Rain Statistics –
Lake impounded in 1968
1988 area received only 40.73 inches of rain
2004 received 68 inches of rain (37 year average is 55.3 inches per year)
2005 received 42 inches of rain – 2nd driest ever
Hemphill and a few other areas get their water from Toledo Bend. Hemphill actually has their pump station at Hwy 3121 in Palo Gaucho Creek and is in the process of extending into deeper water due to the problems created by low water conditions.
The city of Hemphill applied for an Urgent Need grant thru the federal agency Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA) and also a $10,000 grant thru SRA.
Downstream Flows – A side note is the issue of maintaining required downstream flows and passing that water without creating a flood situation. A Federal requirement for Toledo Bend generator licensing and operation is that 144 cfs of water must be passed downstream (A cubic foot of water equals 7.48 gallons). This figure can at times increase based on “leakage” that passes through the other units. If you look at SRA’s web-site you will see a figure representing the “Current Waterflow”. On the day I put this article together it was 174 cfs. If you do your math you will find that this is 15,033,600 cf in a 24-hour period. That is a bunch of water.
In 2002 The Court of Appeals rendered a verdict that reversed a 2001 judgment entered against SRA/TX on a claim of Inverse Condemnation. They had filed suit that SRA had taken their land when flood waters covered their property in Jan 1999. Judge Bob Golden of Newton County found in favor of the plaintiffs and found that the release of water from TB constituted the “taking of property”. SRA/TX appealed the decision citing that (1) Max flow into the reservoir during this period was 385,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), while outflow was only 117,644 cfs. Therefore the SRA was never releasing more water than was entering the reservoir via rainfall. (2) The water being released was not flowing directly onto the property owners land but into the Sabine River and mixed with waters from Toro Bayou, running out of Louisiana into the Sabine before overflowing the banks of the Sabine River causing flooding.
The court found in favor of SRA/TX and the two items above negated the “taking” element in the claim. There is still a pending lawsuit in Louisiana where a death was involved. A spokesperson for SRA/TX stated, “Areas adjacent to rivers are tempting sites for homes because of the beautiful view and easy access to water recreation. People should continue to evaluate the hazards of living in these low lying areas where rivers can cause flooding whether they are near a reservoir or not”.
Current Status – SRA/TX received a grant from FEMA to purchase downstream land from people that have structures in Newton County, and who are willing to sell. They will continue trying to do this in other areas to reduce the flooding and possible liability issues.
Selling Water – Selling a controlled amount of water to the Dallas area would certainly seem like a favorable solution since the revenue generated would far exceed the current revenue received for producing electricity. At this time no contract has been developed for selling water from Toledo Bend and transporting it to the Dallas area. This means that all of the rumors of pipelines being built or pipelines that are already in place are just that – rumors. There may be an agreement in place by 2013-2018, but right-of ways and many other issues have not been addressed. However, if the drought conditions continue you can expect to see this timeframe escalate.
Upper Dallas, North Texas Municipal Water District and Forth Worth (Tarrant County) are all players since in their long-range planning each have defined additional water needs for the next 20-30 year timeframe. If water is sold from Toledo Bend it is assumed that Louisiana will also participate in the process. Houston is not a player at this point, but if water is delivered from Toledo Bend to Dallas and then placed back into the Trinity River Basin (inter-basin transfer), certain compensation such as funding, grants, etc., could be given back to SRA/TX and SRA/LA.
Based on other agreements already in place, one might anticipate that a sell of water from Toledo Bend to Dallas would be entered into with conditions such as:
No water rights will be sold
Long term water supply needs of the Basin are met
Basin of origin is adequately compensated for any sale of the water
Consideration is given to the bays and estuaries and in stream flow requirements balancing environmental flow needs with future water supply needs
Contract provisions are included for out of Basin customers to return or replace water supplies should water requirements of the Basin change
Contract provisions will include a drought contingency plan, which will curtail any withdrawal during drought conditions
As I mention previously, SRA/TX does not currently have enough right of way purchased to lay the pipeline. If and when the appropriate land is acquired, the pipeline would be in the upper part of lake located somewhere in deep water near the old river channel.
It’s hard to work numbers when an agreement is not in place; however, each acre foot represents about 325,000 gallons of water. Statistics presented during the spring of this year show that the lake at full pool has 185,000 surface acres and a controlled storage capacity of 4,477,000 acre-feet (1,448,934,927,000 gallons).
-Power generating uses about 14,500 cubic feet of water per second. The rate received is 2.1-cents per kilowatt-hour. To satisfy the current contract would require approximately 1,050,000 acre feet of water or approximately 5’ of elevation.
-Supplying water would cost SRA approximately 1/3-cent per 1000 gallons. The water could then be sold at market rates of from 5- to 10-cents per 1000 gallons.
******Extremely Important Dates
2008 SRA needs to re-license the generators
2013 the current license expires During this time, SRA/TX will conduct interviews, public meetings, workshops, etc. soliciting ideas for all issues. The future contract will be formed from this input. . Energy companies will be involved. Raising rates and discussing a more favorable generating schedule for all parties will also be discussed. Odds are that SRA will apply for the re-licensing of the generators. However, if they decide not to re-license, then in theory any company could apply.
2015 – SRA must declare if it will not extend the contract to Energy companies.
2018 – The present generating schedule will expire
No Representation – I don’t know how many times I have heard the comment that we have no representation on the SRA Board of Directors. That is true if you are looking for a resident of Sabine County as one of the current Board members because there are none.
The SRA was created by the Texas legislature in 1949 and is a quasi-state agency of the State of Texas. SRA-TX was created as a conservation and reclamation district with responsibilities to manage, preserve and distribute waters of the Sabine River and its tributary streams for useful purposes. The Sabine River Authority is governed by a 9-member Board of Directors. Each member serves a 6-year term. The Governor of Texas appoints three board members every two years. Directors are required to reside within a county situated wholly or partially within the watershed of the Sabine River.
The following are current board members:
President – Sammy D, Dance – Center, Texas
Vice-President – Connie Ware – Marshall, Texas
Secretary/Treasurer – J.D. Jacobs Jr. – Rockwall, Texas
Secretary Pro-Tem – Connie Wade – Longview, Texas
Board Member – Claudia J. Abney – Marshall, Texas
Board Member – Earl Williams – Orange, Texas
Board Member – Don O. Covington – Orange, Texas
Board Member – Richard A. Linkenauger – Greenville, Texas
Board Member – Stanley N. Mathews – Pinehurst, Texas
According to SRA, past members from Sabine County included John Henry Minton, Charley Rice, Earl Lord and L.E. Davis.
If you are interested in being a member of the SRA Board the process to follow would be to obtain an application from the Texas Government Appointment Office, fill it out properly, and then have it ratified by the Senate before the Governor makes the appointment. During a normal year the Governor make approximately 3000 appointments.
Leaseback Issue – By now most of you have probably received your invoice from SRA for leaseback payment. The state owns the lake and a certain amount of land surrounding. Lake level for normal pool is 172’ msl and is referred to as the Power Pool Line. From this point the state also owns another portion of the land up to the “Project Boundary Line”. This line is at 175’ msl and a minimum of 50’ horizontally from the 172 msl. The use of this land is permitted to the owners of the land that adjoins it toward the water and is referred to as a leaseback because it is literally leased back from the state (usually for 99 years) . No living structures may be built on the leaseback but docks and piers and boat houses are permitted.
Approximately $145,000 comes into SRA/TX from leaseback and $20,000 from commercial Breeders. This money is allocated to four areas: (1) Fisheries Management,
(2) Parks and Recreation, (3) Extending boat ramps and (4) Buoy maintenance and replacement. SRA/TX spends $700,000 within these four items so this area is basically $535,000 in the red.
There are approximately 2200 private limited usage permits on the Texas side of Toledo Bend, with most running in the $50-$60 range. Quite a bit of shoreline on the Texas side is Forest Service land.
Bi-State Alliance – Bi-State Alliance has been asking for donations to continue legal advice on alternatives for addressing the low water conditions. The Alliance statement of fact is that the waters in Toledo Bend belong to the citizens of Texas and Louisiana and that SRA/TX in concert with Entergy and Cleco power companies seem to think that they own the Sabine River and do not have to report to anyone. Their document, which was recently forwarded to all Sabinenet.com customers, also states that SRA/TX has refused to work with them to develop
a mutually agreeable solution to the lake level problem and refuse to allow any concessions on the Leaseback payments. SRA/TX response is that they had been working with this group since 1995.
A class action lawsuit could certainly be in the making, but based on hard directives from a Federal Judge, it would seem that the 1964-2018 contract between SRA/TX (manager of the contract and recipient of revenue) and the electrical companies (purchase electricity at a very low rate and then sell it to customers) would have to be honored. I understand and sympathize with statements from the Bi-State Alliance, however, legally this may be a very tough road.
Are there any plans to do any dredging/extending key launching areas? SRA/TX told me that even as we talk they are extending SRA Site 7 near the dam. They are looking at possibly removing sand bars and humps at the Indian Mounds launching area, SRA Site 1 and possibly the 6-Mile launching area. SRA/TX has a track hoe with a 60’ boom that they are using to work from the bank. They have however discussed additional heavy-duty dredging with a contractor that works issues of this type in the Toledo Bend area.
What happens if tomorrow we were to have another natural disaster (like a hurricane) and it requires us to provide emergency power? With the lake this low could we supply the power? SRA’s response is that we probably could not.
Is SRA still monitoring buoys on the lake for position? This is a tough issue to keep up with since the buoys can change positions in a very negative way when a lake is 10-feet low as we are today. Best advice for everyone is to be very careful when motoring on the lake.
What happens if we get to the point where there are no usable launching facilities? SRA/TX comment to this is that regardless of the lake level they will try to maintain launches at the upper, middle and lower end of the lake.
Silting – This is a “down the road” issue that will probably have to be addressed. Through the years Toledo Bend Reservoir (like all other reservoirs in our state) has a certain amount of “silting in” that has taken place. The 172’ msl remains the same but the bottom in the lake is not as deep as it once was due to the silting effect. That means that there is probably not as much “yield” of water available in the lake like when it was created. This is a BIG project to undertake since the original data was hand compiled from USGS topographical sheets. To get statistics today would involve gathering datum points by boat using sonar, etc.
Texas Water Development Board did some studies and Lake Fork had lost about 5% yield and Lake Tawakoni about 4%.
This is an issue where a big expenditure may occur for a study that may tell you that the lake has lost 3-4% yield. Is the answer worth the cost involved? I don’t know but SRA is looking at the issue.
What is relationship of SRA TX and SRA Louisiana? Managers and two representatives from each group meet quarterly.
So here we are. The optimists say that rain will come tomorrow to fill up the lake and the pessimists say that the drought will continue for years. Let’s hope that the moisture will come soon.
However, with continued low water conditions Toledo Bend will no longer be an attraction for future businesses, visitors or retirees. This will affect the tax base and definitely have a negative effect to our overall economy. Forget future bass tournaments because they are setting their tournament dates months ahead of time and don’t want to run the risk of injury or damage to their people or boats. Families planning vacations will go elsewhere.
What kind of madness would allow a beautiful lake like Toledo Bend to be reduced to a mud hole. I know that the people monitoring, operating and controlling these resources are smart folks so what went wrong? The drought is certainly an easy answer, however, the problem was there before the muddy hand of the drought slapped us in the face.
The rules and regulations for SRA/TX state that to the best of their ability they will:
#1 – Insure the quality and quantity of the waters impounded in Toledo Bend Reservoir for its main purpose.. Water supply and generating of hydroelectric power
#2 – Insure maximum recreation benefits to, and development of, recreational facilities for all residents and visitors…. How can this happen when the lake is 10+ feet low? ..and
#3 – Protect life and property.
Somewhere buried in all this is an ethical issue. It is an unwritten contract between all parties that the water resource will be properly managed, and that a sufficient supply will be available to support recreation, property investments and the economics to support surrounding businesses.
It’s hard to put a monetary value on memories, but the ones being created in today’s environment are not those that you would like to revisit. Docks sitting pitifully on dry ground, boats landlocked and muddy ridges with exposed stumps and trees offer nothing to put into the photo book. How sad it is to see young children who are visiting relatives and friends go running down the banks to what used to be their favorite swimming or fishing hole only to find parched land, weeds and mud. What a shame!
We vote responsible people into office to make responsible decisions. As a retiree and resident of Sabine county I pray that some of these decisions can create a win-win situation for us all. JB
– Lake Havasu