The water security of North Texas took a step forward Friday with the North Texas Municipal Water District’s ground breaking on a significant reservoir project in Fannin County. It will be the first major reservoir built in North Texas in nearly 30 years.


“This is the biggest thing that’s happened to Fannin County in the last 80 years,” Fannin County Judge Spanky Carter said, comparing it to the Rural Electrification Administration that brought electricity to households in rural areas across the county in the 1930s.


NTMWD provides drinking water to all of Rockwall County; virtually all of Kaufman County; significant portions of Collin and Hunt counties; and smaller sections of Grayson, Fannin, Hopkins, Rains, Dallas and Denton counties.


“We need it now and we can’t build it quickly enough,” NTMWD Executive Director Tom Kula said Friday.


The lake, which has previously been know as the Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir, will officially be called the North Texas Municipal Lake. The lake received its final approval in February after more than a decade of work. That period included a significant time when zebra mussels, an invasive species found in Lake Texoma and across the country, kept NTMWD for accessing the water storage it owns in Lake Texoma and put a strain on the district’s ability to serve customers.


Kula said in Fannin County NTMWD only provides water to Bonham currently, but the district plans to build a water treatment plant in Leonard that would make treated water available to other communities in the county.


Discussions about such expansion in Fannin are still in their infancy, but with a four-year timeline before water can begin to be taken from the new lake, Kula said, “As time goes on I think there will be other cities and water corporations that will sign up for our water.”


Any communities in Fannin County that purchase treated water from NTMWD will pay the same rates as its other member cities.


Carter said the reservoir “assures we are going to have water for the next 100 years. … When we go through these droughts — water is a precious, precious item and you need water. If you want industry to come to your county, you need water, and this assures Fannin County is going to have the water it needs to grow. It’s going to have water for our children and our grandchildren.”


NTMWD will build, own and operate the 16,641-acre lake located northeast of Bonham and northwest of Honey Grove. A 90-foot dam will create a lake capable of storing 120 billion gallons. With the population of North Texas expect to double over the next five decades, the additional water supply is essential for the region.


“Clean, reliable water is something all Americans want and need,” U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, who represents much of Collin County, said during the ceremony. “And because drought is no stranger to our area, one of my long-standing priorities in the United States Congress has been water. After many years of hard work, it’s great to know that there will soon be a new lake that will provide essential water resources to North Texas families.”


The lake will also be for recreational use and is expected to provide a local economic boost of $509 million during construction and $166 million each year once complete, the release says. Kula said Texas Parks and Wildlife is planning to add fish habitat structures to the lake before it is filled to enhance the recreational opportunities.


“We’re creating much more than a lake,” Kula said. “Our mission is to provide a reliable long-term water supply for our North Texas communities and that requires critical infrastructure to treat and deliver the water to our growing member and customer cities.”


Related project components include constructing a pump station, installing a 35-mile raw water pipeline, improving various roads in Fannin County and building a mile-long bridge across the future lake. The District will also plant over 1.6 million trees, introduce 2,900 acres of other herbaceous plants and improve 40 miles of local streams. Water from the lake will flow to a separately planned new water treatment plant in Leonard with the initial capacity to treat up to 70 million gallons per day which will be transported through a planned treated water pipeline that will extend the northern part of the regional water system.


The entire project is expected to cost $1.6 billion. The NTMWD is expected to fund the project through low-interest loans from the Texas Water Development Board’s State Water Implementation Fund for Texas program; $1.2 billion in funding has already been approved by the TWDB.


NTMWD has acquired 85 percent of the land needed for the reservoir and is still working with land owners to reach terms on the remaining land.


“We want to be a good neighbor and we have been,” Kula said.


Construction preparation activities have begun with grading of access roads and clearing of brush at the dam site. Major construction activities will be underway this summer. It is expected to take three summers to complete construction of the dam. Depending on rainfall, it should take nearly two years to fill the lake to an operational level. NTMWD expects to begin delivering water from the lake in 2022.


“It was a wonderful historic event today,” Kula said. “… This is a very important project for meeting the water needs of our area.”