Water is the new oil. Admittedly it’s a bit trite, but it’s fitting. Water is key to growth. It’s something we’ve known locally for a long time and why so many local leaders have worked so hard to secure an abundance of water storage in Lake Texoma.

Water is the new oil. Admittedly it’s a bit trite, but it’s fitting. Water is key to growth. It’s something we’ve known locally for a long time and why so many local leaders have worked so hard to secure an abundance of water storage in Lake Texoma.


In late January, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a memorandum of understanding that will protect that important resource for local communities by ensuring the long-standing municipal use of Lake Texoma water can continue. For the North Texas Municipal Water District, which provides water to a large swath of the Metroplex, and the Greater Texoma Utility Authority, which provides water to several cities in Grayson County, including half of Sherman’s supply, the memorandum ensures that those entities have access to the water they already hold the permits and rights to.


The memorandum is simply a bridge to fix an error that never should have happened in the first place. In 1999, Texas and Oklahoma reached a boundary agreement that would tie the border to satellite coordinates instead of the path of the Red River, which is prone to change. It was quite a feat considering the two states mobilized state militias in the 1930s during dispute over a bridge on the border.


Congress approved the deal in 2000 and the matter seemed settled until 2009 when it was discovered that the coordinates weren’t where everyone thought they were. The actual coordinates divided the Lake Texoma pump station, which was built by GTUA and NTMWD in 1987 and was completely within the state’s border at the time.


All the memorandum of understanding does is allow pumping to continue under the existing permits until the two states can reach a more formal, permanent solution: "The states desire to express their understanding that the circumstances of the location of the pumps within the state of Oklahoma are unique and extraordinary, and that the District’s continued use of water from the pumps within the state of Oklahoma including any replacement pumps of the same total capacity is not improper and does not require any additional right or authorization from the state of Oklahoma as long as conditions in place upon the enactment of the Boundary Compact and Boundary Agreement continue to be met."


Seems simple enough, right? Not for Oklahoma State Reps. Dustin Roberts and Tommy Hardin who issued a statement Wednesday decrying the agreement and saying it will affect water levels in Lake Texoma. These concerns seem to stem from confusion about the true impact of municipal use on lake levels. Let’s try to clear some of that up.


Of the conservation storage in the lake, 300,000 acre-feet (An acre-foot is the amount of water in an area one foot deep over a single acre.) are dedicated to municipal use. That sounds like a lot, right? The GTUA says its only 6 percent of the conservation storage that exists in Lake Texoma. Furthermore, neither entity is using all their water. GTUA used only 5,162 acre-feet of its 83,200 acre-feet and NTMWD hasn’t pumped in several years, though they will likely resume soon. The two entities are limited by the size of their pipeline. If they ran their pumps and lines at full capacity for a year, they could only extract about half their water storage.


Another often cited drain on the lake is the electric generation, but the Southwest Power Administration, which is responsible for the Denison Dam power plant seems to be acting responsibly as well. Last year was the lowest power generation year since generation began in 1945. Ultimately discussion of electric generation is a non-starter anyway. Hydropower was one of the stated project purposes for the lake. It was how Congress justified the cost of the $54 million project.


Ultimately the low lake levels are a function of the drought that has been plaguing the state over the last five years. Last year the inflows to the lake from runoff and other bodies of water flowing into the lake were the lowest they’ve been since the lake was built, and water loss due to evaporation was unusually high — 92 inches compared with the average 74 inches.


We aren’t the only ones experiencing these conditions. Lake Lavon, which also provides water for NTMWD, is only 48 percent full. Lake Lewisville is at 67.8 percent, and Lake Ray Roberts is at 74.8 percent. In the Texas Panhandle, Lake Meredith has literally dried up.


Perhaps we should count ourselves fortunate with a lake that’s at 78.3 percent of capacity.