Tarrant, Dallas to build water pipeline to East Texas

FORT WORTH -- After four years of talks, the Tarrant Regional Water District and Dallas formally entered into an agreement Tuesday to build a $1.6 billion pipeline to bring more water from East Texas.

At Tuesday's water district meeting, board members approved a financing agreement with Dallas, allowing design and construction to move forward. The 149-mile pipeline will stretch from Lake Palestine to Benbrook Lake.

The board also approved paying $16.3 million to five contractors for engineering work on nearly 95 miles of the pipeline.

While it may not draw the same attention as when both sides of the Metroplex worked together to build Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, officials likened the pipeline effort to that massive undertaking.

Wayne Owen, the water district's planning director, said the work serves as a blueprint for cooperation on future projects, such as bringing water from Oklahoma, Northeast Texas or the Louisiana border.

"This is by far the most expensive project we've pursued," Owen said. "There are no cheap options left. That is why it begs for cooperation among large regional water providers. There was a lot riding on this financing agreement."

The Dallas City Council approved the agreement last week.

Valuable redundancies

The pipeline will not only provide both cities with more water but also add redundancies. If droughts, pipeline breaks or pollution spills temporarily force one reservoir to close, the pipeline will allow the entities to help each other, said Jody Puckett, director of Dallas Water Utilities.

Puckett noted that both have worked together on water conservation for years, helping set the framework for collaborating on the pipeline.

"It shows I-30 goes both ways," Puckett said. "I'm not going to say this is the same as when everybody worked together to build D/FW Airport, but it's a pretty big deal for the water district and the city of Dallas."

When it is completed, the pipeline will allow the water district to pump an additional 197 million gallons per day from the Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek reservoirs, near Corsicana, to Benbrook Lake. Dallas gains the ability to pump up to 150 million gallons per day from Lake Palestine to Joe Pool Lake.

Construction could begin as soon as 2013, with the goal of having the water available by 2018. Depending on future demand and the success of conservation efforts, the pipeline will meet water needs until 2030 and perhaps 2040.

Under the agreement, the water district will build the pipeline and Dallas will pay for its portion.

Collective effort

The water district is expected to pay about $980 million, with Dallas paying the rest. Inflation could swell the project's price tag to $1.9 billion. The water district and Dallas would share the overruns proportionally.

The agreement also stipulates that Dallas is the only source of funding for its portion of the project. The water district's main wholesale customers -- Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield and the Trinity River Authority -- wanted the financing agreement to protect them from risk on Dallas' portion.

The water district supplies water to 11 counties, including most of Tarrant.

Owen estimates that the water district will save $400 million in capital costs by building the pipeline with Dallas and up to $1 billion in operation and maintenance costs over its life.

After the board approved the agreement, board member Hal Sparks said the water district must regularly update the board since the project will be so complex and costly.

"It's a big project, a lot of money, and it deserves a lot of scrutiny," Sparks said.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698