Judge’s Striking Admission Reveals City’s Efforts to Keep Water Flowing Amidst Historic Drought

Wichita Falls, Texas – City Manager Darron Leiker’s surprising admission and the city’s valiant efforts to combat a historic drought from 2010 to 2015 have potentially played a crucial role in a judge’s recommendation to reject the city’s application to construct Lake Ringgold. On December 21, Administrative Law Judge Christiaan Siano advised the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to deny Wichita Falls’ request for building the reservoir in Clay County.

In his assessment, Siano referenced an email Leiker sent to City Council members in January 2019, wherein he acknowledged that the proposed Lake Ringgold’s water yield would exceed the city’s requirements. The term “firm yield” refers to the amount of water a reservoir can produce annually during the worst recorded drought. Leiker’s email also emphasized that the city could address less severe droughts through conservation measures, minimizing water restrictions and maintaining an acceptable quality of life for Wichita Falls residents.

The revelation of Leiker’s email occurred during the discovery process before a week-long hearing on the TCEQ application in August. Siano commended the city for implementing effective conservation measures and constructing a potable sewer water reuse system during the drought, noting that these measures alone reduced the city’s projected water needs by 50%.

Despite ruling in favor of some of the city’s arguments, Siano ultimately concluded that Wichita Falls had not provided substantial evidence to support its request for state water under Texas Water Code section 11.134. As an alternative, the judge recommended granting the city a permit for appropriating 9,110 acre-feet of water per year, aligning with the state’s 2021 Regional Water Plan. However, Siano did not specify whether this would involve constructing a smaller reservoir or exploring alternative water sources such as existing lakes or the Little Wichita River.

The city’s pursuit of building Lake Ringgold faced opposition from various stakeholders, including local landowners, the city of Henrietta, Clay County, and several conservation and wildlife associations. Both sides presented their arguments during the hearings, but Siano’s recommendation ultimately advised denying the application.

Despite this setback, the city remains committed to securing future water resources. In response to Siano’s recommendation, Wichita Falls stated that this was just the “first step in the approval process” and expressed their determination to continue advocating for their water supply. Opponents of the lake also remain resolute, vowing to persist in their fight against its construction.

The TCEQ commission will review the judge’s recommendation, and their ruling is anticipated in the first quarter of 2024. If the commission approves the lake’s construction, opponents will have the opportunity to appeal the decision, potentially extending the timeline for the project. Additionally, approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is yet another hurdle the city must overcome in their pursuit of building Lake Ringgold.

Thus, while the city’s aspirations for Lake Ringgold face significant obstacles, the ultimate fate of the reservoir remains uncertain, and the project’s completion could still be years away.