A Brief History of the
Lake Columbia Water Supply Project
The Angelina & Neches River Authority (ANRA) began planning for what was then informally called Mud Creek Reservoir. The Reservoir project was officially named Lake Eastex in 1985 with the issuance of a State Water Right Permit and then subsequently renamed in 2003 to Lake Columbia in honor of the Crew of Space Shuttle Columbia. We will refer to the project as Lake Columbia throughout this remainder of this document.
ANRA began an engineering study to be used for acquisition of a State Water Right permit. The study was completed and cost $384,000.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (formerly the Texas Water Commission) issued a state water right permit for Lake Columbia. The permit authorizes diversions in the amount of 55,507 acre-feet for municipal uses and 30,000 acre-feet for industrial uses, of which 2,000 acre-feet are available for transfer to Sabine Basin. The permit also has pass-through provisions for:
- Downstream customers
- Senior water rights holders
- Maximum diversion rate of 367.5 cfs (160,000 gpm)
- Bed and Banks for downstream releases
With funds provided from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) and the Lake Columbia participants, ANRA began a $632,500 regional water planning study. The purpose of the study was to provide a regional surface water supply plan for the 23 participants located in five counties: Angelina, Cherokee, Nacogdoches, Rusk, and Smith. Planning areas to be addressed were:
- Areas of Environmental Impact
- Terrestrial Biology
- Aquatic Biology
- Threatened or Endangered Species
- Cultural Resources
- Water Supply
- Reservoir Conflicts
- Systems Configuration
In September 1991 the planning study was completed and reports distributed. The report reflects the following observations:
- A surface water supply is needed to meet the short- and long-term water needs in the five-county study area. Lake Columbia, when compared with other reservoirs, is the most economical single source of surface water supply.
- Lake Columbia should have a positive impact on the socioeconomic characteristics of the reservoir site vicinity and the region due to increased economic activity, increased ad valorem taxes, and the availability of water resources for future economic growth.
- Environmental investigations performed as a part of the study effort have indicated that the inundation of the Mud Creek floodplain will have environmental impacts within the reservoir pool and downstream of the proposed dam. Additional studies will be required during the US Corps of Engineers (USCOE) 404 permit process in order to quantify existing resources and draw conclusions concerning the amount of impact. It is anticipated that adverse impacts to the environment caused by the proposed Lake Columbia can be mitigated.
The project has since been broken into a pre-construction phase and a construction phase.
The pre-construction phase will answer questions about the cost of the environmental mitigation, update construction and relocation of conflicts costs, which should result in issuance of a 404 Permit. During this same time, regional and statewide water planning has been taking place. Projects such as the Lake Columbia Water Supply Reservoir were evaluated as to their ability to fulfill a need in the region. This project is currently recognized as a resource and strategy by the regional water planning group. This need has been recognized in the statewide water plan.
ANRA submitted an application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to secure a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The submittal of the application marks the beginning of a ten-year period of activity to permit the reservoir.
Senate Bill 1600 passed, extending the state Water Right Permit for Lake Columbia.
Lake Columbia was included as a water strategy in the State Water Plan. The Plan also recommended the State legislative designation as “unique reservoir site.”
The final report of the Lake Columbia Planning Study was completed. This report reviewed and updated data from previous studies. It also evaluated instream flows, wildlife habitat, and engineering design, including an update of the opinion of probable cost. The Shuttle Columbia broke up over East Texas. ANRA’s involvement in recovery efforts highlighted a growing desire to memorialize the tragedy. State Senator Todd Staples made a formal request of NASA for concurrence regarding the renaming of Lake Eastex to Lake Columbia.
- Senate Bill 1362 authorized renaming the reservoir “Lake Columbia” in honor of the crew of the space shuttle Columbia. The bill also designated the reservoir site as a “unique reservoir site” and directed the Texas Water Development board to loan ANRA state funds to cover part of the project development costs.
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued notice of Section 404 Permit application for Lake Columbia and sought public comment. Received 151 comment letters, of which 120 expressed support for Lake Columbia, nine opposed the lake, and 22 offered comments but expressed neither favor nor opposition.
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) must be prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 because the issuance of a permit for the proposed project may have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment.
- ANRA applied for $10 million loan from the Texas Water Development board to cover EIS, survey, appraisal, and land acquisition for the Lake Columbia project.
- Corps of Engineers approved a third party contractor to prepare the Lake Columbia Regional Water Supply Reservoir Project EIS.
- At ANRA’s request, Texas Department of Transportation approved the closure of two farm to market roads.
The contingent closure will save $12 to $16 million in reservoir construction by negating the need for bridges for the two routes.
- ANRA’s Downstream Impact Analysis was completed. The study predicted the hydraulic and hydrologic impacts below the Lake Columbia dam and documented a literature survey of the downstream effects of dams.
- Work began on Environmental Impact Statement.
- Archaeological field survey was completed, and the report submitted to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
- ANRA submitted application to Texas Water Development Board for additional $5.6 million loan commitment to fund surveying, appraisal, and land acquisition.
- Texas Water Development Board approved ranking of ANRA application and authorized preliminary funding commitment.
- ANRA submitted research grant application to the Texas Water Development Board for Source Water Assessment for the Lake Columbia watershed.
- ANRA submitted application to the Texas Water Development Board for an additional $48 million from the State Participation Fund to cover geotechnical investigations, engineering design, land acquisition and mitigation costs.
- Wetlands functional impact assessment was performed to identify mitigation requirements.
- The Preliminary Draft EIS was submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
- Lake Columbia Source Water Assessment Research Grant was approved by the Texas Water Development Board.
- Field work began on Source Water Assessment for Lake Columbia watershed.
- Preliminary EIS revised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Third-Party Contractor to prepare the document for public review and comment.
- ANRA received commitment from the Texas Water Development Board for an additional $48 million in State Participation funding.
- ANRA finalized its mitigation plan for inclusion in the Draft EIS.
- Notice of Availability of the Draft EIS published in the Federal Register on January 29, 2010, commencing a 60-day comment period. Included notice of public information meeting and public hearing to be held March 1 and 2, respectively.