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Fight over water from Lake Limestone pits Texan against Texan

Lake Limestone
Posted at 1:49 PM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-22 10:48:56-04

LAKE LIMESTONE, TX — Back in the days of The Republic of Texas, big fights would break out over who had rights to the local water supply.

You can't always find groundwater in these parts, and if you do, it may have a naturally-occurring arsenic problem.

It's one reason Waco leaders decided generations ago to control their own destiny by owning their own water in Lake Waco.

But a 25 News investigation shows, you're just as likely to find a fight over too much water.

Just as in the old days of Texas, Clifford Price has begun gathering an army, to defend his way of life.

"I think every level, or entity out there that has some say in this matter should stand up and put a stop to this. If not, we need to look at who those individuals are in next election, get them out of there," said former Houstonian Clifford Price, who put his retirement savings into land at lovely Lake Limestone.

Now, some folks downstream in the Brazos Valley blame that lake for serious flooding that they say happens now more often than ever.

"My next door neighbors had the property they film for 150 years, and they've never seen it like this and it just gets worse and worse, because there's no management of what's going on. We've flooded 38 times in the past 20 years," said Brazos Valley landowner and former Bryan City Councilman Mike Southerland.

Among the proposals most talked about are either holding more water in the lake or, lowering it by 10 feet.

Lake Limestone takes up about 14,000 acres of Limestone, Leon and Robertson counties. Its deepest point is only about 42 feet and people there say, if you take 10 feet out of this lake, you leave them with a giant mud hole you can practically walk across.

The Brazos River Authority, responsible for maintaining the Texas water supply from Wichita Falls to Sugarland, says it has a two problems with that proposal.

Two, as in two power companies among the authority's biggest customers.

"Those two power companies actually paid to build Lake Limestone years back and then eventually we took over and paid the debt service and became the owner/operator, but it was funded completely without the use of tax dollars in order to serve that purpose," explained Matt Phillips, Legislative Director for the Water Management District.

Phillips explains, unlike Lake Belton and Lake Whitney which are built to control flooding, Lake Limestone simply supplies drinking water to Central Texas cities, and cooling water to the two power plants.

It has a side benefit in what many call a small "lakeside economy" serving sportsmen and families. An economy, that, over the years, has become more important to the area.

"The Lake is in no way, causing or making flooding worse. We have data from before the lake was built and after that clearly show that," said Phillips.

Phillips says, years of studies prove his point, and dam operators at Lake Limestone try to keep nature in balance.

"In order to increase its yield for water supply we keep as full as we can as much as we can. When we DO have flood events, we mirror mother nature. We look at gauges upstream and we pass out what's coming in," explained Phillips.

Southerland calls "passing water" the perfect analogy for what's going on.

"It's not nature it's not from rainfall it's from the capture of the water, upstream from Lake limestone, like between Limestone and Dallas, and they hold it to a certain point where they say they can't take any more, they just flush it, and it just sometimes we get eight feet of water and over our property," said Southerland.

He says, he'll take his case all the way to the Texas Supreme Court if he has to, especially since he says some recent rulings appear to have come down against water districts.

One place it seems sure to end up, the Texas Legislature.

When it does, both sides say, they'll watch Texas leaders like a hawk because they have too much at stake, not to.

"I can imagine what it would do to the economy in this area. And you know most of the people around this lake are retired like we are. And this is our retirement, this is what we plan to stay, and that would destroy our dreams," said Price.

And he considers dreams, like Texas itself, worth fighting for.