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Is Flower Mound being ripped off?

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For the answer we must go back to 1999 when another Town Council and Town Manager signed a contract with the Upper Trinity Regional Water District (UTRWD) that required Flower Mound to purchase an extra 10 million gallons of water per day than it needed.

The reason given for signing on to such a deal was the projected residential growth and future need. Strangely enough, during that same time the town leaders had put a construction moratorium in place, severely restricting growth.

The reason this matters to end users in Flower Mound is that the extra commitment of water, whether we use it or not, raises the rates on the water we use. Moreover, with the latest plan by UTRWD to build Lake Ralph Hall Reservoir, water rates for all municipalities it serves could double or triple in the near future.

In an effort to keep Flower Mound from becoming a victim of prohibitive fees associated with the massive project (estimates range from $275 million to $460 million), Mayor Tom Hayden, who has called for less expensive ways to handle the need for water, along with Kenneth Parr, the town’s Director of Public Works, sat for an interview recently at my home office.

“Yes, it’s true that the town erred several years ago when they subscribed to more water than we need,” Hayden said, adding, “but, I think Tom Taylor (Executive Director of UTRWD) and the members of the board have a fiduciary responsibility to see if there’s a fairer and more economical way to service the area.” Currently, the town buys water from two sources, Dallas Water Utilities (DWU) and UTRWD.

It is estimated that Lake Ralph will be able to provide an average water supply of 30 million gallons per day (MGD). Consultants for UTRWD estimate that the water will cost $1.50 per 1,000 gallons and would result in an average rate increase of 15%.  Yet, the Town’s consultants estimate that the water will cost $3.77 per 1,000 gallons and would result in an average rate increase of 25%.

The Town currently pays a fixed annual rate per million gallons for the 30 MGD that is buys from UTRWD in the amount of $11,197,950. The Town’s consultant is estimating that annual fee will increase by 34% to a total of $15,005,253 to cover the town’s share of the cost of the lake.

If your head hasn’t exploded yet, let me add one more set of figures to the equation. Upper Trinity rates have increased each year by an average of 4.8 percent since 2003. Hence, since 2003 until the present, their rates have increased 77 percent. The rate increase for Lake Ralph Hall will be in addition to other rate increases that will be needed to fund infrastructure improvements to water treatment plant capacity and the water distribution system. Therefore, if you think your water bills are high today, excuse the slang, but you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

One of the problems with the cost of water from Upper Trinity is that they have significant debt. Whether their huge debt is a result of poor management or irresponsible financial obligations, the municipalities they service should not be paying the price for their ineptitude or their excesses, say some Denton County officials. If these new rates are allowed to go into effect, every resident in the metropolitan area being supplied by Upper Trinity– most of Denton County– will have no choice but to pay the exorbitant rate.

In June of this year, administrative law judges in Austin recommended approval of the pending water rights permit for Lake Ralph Hall. In September, the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) also approved the permit. The next and last step will be a decision by the Army Corps of Engineers, which must sign off on the reservoir that would cover more than 11,000 acres in southeastern Fannin County, about 30 miles north of Denton County. That decision could take about two years.

Meanwhile, Flower Mound, along with the National Wildlife Federation and a few other environmental groups will continue to oppose the immediacy of the project. Mayor Hayden and Mr. Parr feel that the project is being rushed toward construction long before there is an established need and without any attempt to find a more economical way to provide the service.

“They want to build this very expensive reservoir, even though their demand is only about 50 percent of their current supply,” Hayden said. He believes there are more practical and less expensive methods of delivering water to the people who ultimately must pay for it.

For example, Dallas has started working to bring Lake Palestine water into the system by 2018. “That would not only provide more than enough water for the foreseeable future, but it would do so without a major increase in rates,” Hayden added.

Let me add that Tom Hayden has been a vocal advocate for our town, but he’s not exactly a lone voice in the wilderness. I’ve spoken with several residents and elected officials throughout the county who feel similarly. As this battle continues against an entity that seems to exercise autocratic rule over our access to water and their access to our checkbooks, we can only hope that they haven’t heard the last from us.

Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor. In addition, Bob has 7 published books that include “Murder in Black and White,” “City to Die For,” “Powers that Be,” “Ruthie’s Kids,” “Deadly to Love,” “Short Stories of Life and Death” and “Out of Sight,” all of which can be found on Amazon.com and other major online bookstores.

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