Judge Recommends Denial of Wichita Falls’ Application for Ringgold Reservoir

Lauren Ice Water Rights

After several years, Perales, Allmon & Ice, P.C. scored a major win on behalf of clients in Clay County, Texas when Administrative Law Judge Christiaan Siano issued a recommendation to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to deny the permit requested by the City of Wichita Falls to construct a 275,000 acre-feet dam and reservoir – dubbed “Lake Ringgold.”

The City submitted its application to the State in 2017 for a water use permit, claiming that its population projections necessitated the creation of Lake Ringgold, which would be at least the third reservoir providing water to the area. A number of landowners, the Texas Conservation Alliance, and Clay County opposed the permit and a seven-day contested case hearing was held at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) in August of 2023 where the parties presented evidence on several issues, including the need for the reservoir, the intended uses of the water, and the potential impacts to fish and wildlife habitat.

On December 21, 2023, Judge Siano issued what’s known as a Proposal for Decision – a recommendation, based on the evidence presented in the hearing, to the TCEQ Chairman and Commissioners to deny the City’s requested permit. Judge Siano concluded that the City failed to “establish a need for an appropriation of the requested amount.”

In the weeks following the PFD, elected officials in the area voiced reservations about the proposed reservoir. State Sen. Drew Springer spoke to constituents following the recommendation and said the City should explore options other than Lake Ringgold. Senator Springer, a member of the Senate Committee on Water, Agriculture & Rural Affairs, also spoke about the issue of taking private property through eminent domain: “When you do a taking of property, that is a huge thing in the state of Texas and I do not take that lightly. It has to be identified that there absolutely is that need that a community would go without water to move to that next step.”

This echoes a statement made by Governor Abbott in 2023 regarding the Marvin Nichols Reservoir: “there are water needs . . . but what we must do, we must explore other options . . . so I think the last option, maybe no option, should be ever taking somebody’s land . . . I think the first thing that needs to be done is to explore all the other potential options.”

State Rep. James Frank also touted several alternatives that would be less expensive than the reservoir, which Frank said is estimated to be between $400 and $800 million. Representative Frank also said steps the City has already taken have improved its water needs, including direct potable reuse.

The Proposal for Decision is available for viewing and download here. The parties filed final briefing called Exceptions, which led to Judge Siano issuing a clarifying letter, available below. The PFD, the exceptions letter, and the parties’ briefs will be considered by the TCEQ Chairman and Commissioners in an open meeting in the coming months, where they will decide whether to grant or deny the permit.