For the first time since 2005, Fort Worth-area cities will have the ability to buy water from a new source — no new reservoir required. 

The Tarrant Regional Water District can now divert and sell flood water from Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Benbrook to cities, including Fort Worth, Arlington and Mansfield, across 11 North Texas counties. Eagle Mountain Lake sits in northwest Tarrant County, while Lake Benbrook is located on Fort Worth’s southwest border. 

Before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved a permit late last year, the water district could only draw water from the reservoirs themselves. Once those lakes were full, any excess water – what TRWD calls “exflow” – would spill over dams and flow downstream into other reservoirs, including Lake Livingston, said Woody Frossard, the water district’s environmental director. 

Now, the water district has permission to divert excess water from Eagle Mountain and Benbrook to their municipal, industrial and agricultural customers – but only when Lake Livingston is also full. The stipulation is meant to protect water quality and ecosystems in the Galveston Bay, which is where the Trinity River flows to in the lower basin on the Texas coast.

There’s no guarantee those environmental conditions will occur each year, or that TRWD will collect the maximum amount of water that’s allowed under the new permit, Frossard said. While drought conditions nearly caused TRWD to implement water restrictions last year, the area’s main reservoirs are 91.6% full as of April 4. 

“It only occurs during flooding situations during wet years, but in the water business, we always consider that the next rain is the last rain we’re going to get before we go into a drought,” Frossard said. “All the time we use exflow water, that keeps the reservoir full because we’re not taking water out of it and draining it down. That’s the benefit.” 

The water district can now take a maximum of 63,899-acre feet of excess water from Eagle Mountain Lake and 78,653-acre feet from Lake Benbrook, annually. That amount won’t count toward the total the water district is already allowed to draw from those lakes. 

Beyond bringing in more resources to support the Fort Worth area’s booming population, Frossard points to the financial benefits of the new permit. Neither the water district nor its customers will have to build new pipelines or storage to accommodate the additional water, he said. 

“Our permits don’t give us a right to store it. We either use it or lose it,” Frossard said. “From a water supply standpoint, it’s really cheap water because we don’t have to do anything but just tell our customers to continue using the water like we’ve provided the water already.” 

Collecting the excess water will have some flood reduction benefits, Frossard said, but the project’s chief goal is to increase the supply available to the water district.  

The most frequent customers will be cities sitting closest to the lakes, such as Azle near Eagle Mountain Lake or Crowley near Lake Benbrook. Buying the water locally will reduce the amount of money and time TRWD spends on pumping water from the larger Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers reservoirs in East Texas, Frossard said. 

The Cedar Creek Reservoir, located southeast of Dallas and operated by the Tarrant Regional Water District, is one of the major drinking water sources for the Fort Worth area. (Courtesy image | Tarrant Regional Water District)

Frossard expects to finalize two more “exflow” permits for Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers later this year. The water district will likely draw more flood waters from East Texas lakes because they typically experience wetter conditions than their Tarrant County counterparts. 

Dallas-Fort Worth water planners have been vocal about the need for new water resources in the region to keep up with explosive growth, including building the controversial Marvin Nichols reservoir in Northeast Texas. But the permitting process can take years or decades – even when no dirt needs to be turned to collect more water. 

It took Frossard nearly a decade to get “exflow” permits approved, or 18 years since the Cedar Creek wetlands project was approved in 2005. The result was worth jumping through all of the state’s regulatory hoops, he said. 

“While it’s a long time, the state has a process in place to protect both the existing water rights holders and the public in general, both from a reservoir recreation and environmental standpoint,” Frossard said. “I wish it was shorter, but that’s just the nature of the problem. All of the easy projects are over, and every project gets scrutinized.” 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at

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Haley SamselEnvironmental Reporter

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at Her coverage is made possible by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman...