Turkey Peak Reservoir 'moving forward' toward 2027 opening, MW council and lake board learn

Aug. 26—MINERAL WELLS — Efforts to build a new lake in Palo Pinto County by 2027 are on schedule, the Mineral Wells City Council and the board of directors for the county's namesake lake learned in a joint meeting Thursday.

"The process is moving forward. It is probably ahead of where you'd expect to be if you want to start construction in three years," land acquisition leader Fred Thompson told the two panels as about 30 Santo area residents and city staff listened.

Thompson even said the process could move up if financing for the proposed lake's $154 million earthen dam plus $16 million — to close a soon-to-be submerged Farm-to-Market 4 and build a bridge — come sooner than later.

The new reservoir will have a smaller geographic footprint than Lake Palo Pinto, but estimates show it will nearly double the water available to the Palo Pinto County Municipal Water District No. 1.

At only 648 acres of surface, Turkey Creek will be subject to dramatically less evaporation, especially in summer months when droughts are common, than Lake Palo Pinto, which has a 2,399-acre footprint. The new reservoir is expected to keep an average depth of 35 feet, according to the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, significantly deeper than Lake Palo Pinto's 12.5-foot average depth.

The Palo Pinto County Municipal Water District No. 1, which the lake board represents, owns Lake Palo Pinto and will own the new reservoir. The city is the 58-year-old lake's operator for municipal, industrial and recreational uses and envisions a similar role on Turkey Peak Reservoir.

Once it fills, Turkey Peak's service area will stretch east from the Palo Pinto Water Supply Corp., which straddles Interstate 20 north of Lake Palo Pinto, into northwest Weatherford and southern Parker County.

City Manager Dean Sullivan said after the 75-minute joint meeting the city will look at lining up cities in the region, such as Wichita Falls and Abilene, as customers.

"Why not talk about it?" he asked, after noting one of those cities is financially well off.

Thompson said the project lacks less than 1,000 acres of land acquisition, the larger tract about 400 acres belonging to one land owner.

Two tracts have been subject to condemnation filings, he said, adding one has been resolved.

"The other matter, at this point it doesn't look like we're going to be able to reach an agreement," Thompson added.

Residents who spoke before the boards were briefed brought a bucket of concerns, including that a 10-mile long fence the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers insists on placing will cut off cattle from established water sources and not knowing whom to call just to ask questions.

"You're going to (have to) give them city water," resident Janice Moore said of her herd. "And that's just not right."

Turkey Peak Reservoir was first proposed in 1962, and construction of its dam is set to begin in 2025, a few miles downstream from the older lake. The Army Corps of Engineers secured the lake permit in 2018.

Already, all but $5.8 million of a $17.1 million Texas Water Development Board fund for planning has been spent, consulting engineer Cory Shockley said.

Much of a Q and A portion of the meeting revolved around how to secure funds for the massive undertaking.

"How does this affect somebody living in the southwest part of town here when they get their water bill?" Councilman Brian Shoemaker asked Shockley.

"I think the answer is not known today," Shockley replied.

The consultant cited avenues to reduce the local financial burden including the recently passed federal infrastructure act.

He also said the state water board has a partnership program in which the water district would gradually take full ownership. Shockley urged members of both panels to go to Austin to discuss the project, and the state's level of involvement, face-to-face.

"The state in particular is a big one — they can offset that (expense) a lot," he said.

He added costs for the three main ingredients for the project — concrete, diesel fuel and steel — are at "all-time highs" and are expected to keep rising.

Shockley also revealed plans to reroute Farm-to-Market 4, much of which will end up submerged by the reservoir, along an improved Ward Mountain Road.

Some rights of way remain to be secured along the road, which loops east of the highway and conveniently connects with it north and south of where the new lake will be, Shockley said.

Shockley also recommended hiring a consulting engineer specific to the lake project to not only serve as project manager but "answer the phone" when residents call with questions.

He described the position as, " ... that local champion that sits in-house and basically makes the will of the (lake) board happen."

And he urged the two panels to have more such meetings together.

"These groups need to talks little more frequently," he said. The panels favorably discussed holding another joint meeting in November but no date was set owing to the fluid nature of moving parts now in motion such as finding a project manager.