August 13, 2022

Going, Going Gone?: Changes in power plant use could reduce fishing waters | Columnists

While it may not be difficult for anglers to get into warm water right now, doing so in the winter months may become more difficult on the lakes in the future.

Chances are the power plant lakes in East Texas will disappear. No, they won’t dry up and fly away in a cloud of dust, but at least five lakes in Northeast Texas and a few more around the state could be sold off and closed to the public after coming together in private hands.

Typically, lakes in Texas are public reservoirs owned by water authorities as water supply reservoirs or by the federal government as flood control facilities. In the case of lakes like Brandy Branch, Fairfield, Martin Lake, Monticello and Lake Welsh, ownership is in the hands of utility companies, and therefore privately owned. However, the lakes have always been open to the public through adjacent state parks or private concessions.

The problem is that the lakes were built as cooling ponds for coal-fired power plants built on the shore. These days, the use of coal has fallen out of favor and as power plants are decommissioned, the lakes and surrounding properties go from active to passive.

The Lake Fairfield plant was mothballed in 2018, and earlier this year Luminant put the lake and surrounding land, including a state park, up for sale for $110 million.

This is the first of the dominoes to fall. Others like Monticello, which has already been closed to public fishing but not yet for sale, have also been closed and the rest are expected to be taken offline no later than 2028.

Although the problem is not limited to Northeast Texas, within driving distance of Tyler and Longview are approximately 12,000 acres of power plant waters.

“We continue to explore options to maintain or restore fisher access to these fisheries after plant closures, but most involve a complex set of issues such as land ownership of the reservoir footprint and shoreline. , maintaining lease agreements with the landowner for the operation of the boat launches. and parks, funding/authority for potential land acquisitions, navigability and state ownership of the retained creek, water use rights that were likely originally issued specifically for power plant cooling , potential costs associated with pumping and delivering water to reservoirs to maintain lake levels , the size of reservoir drainage and the amount of precipitation captured, and the costs and liability of maintaining reservoirs. long-term dams,” said Tim Birdsong, assistant director of inland fisheries for the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife.

With the exception of small lakes in state parks, the department does not and has never operated a lake, but perhaps the best hope is for the Division of State Parks to step in as a knight. white to maintain public access to the lakes. Once the department’s financial doormat, Parks has received a cash injection in recent years through greater access to the state’s Sports Voucher Tax Fund. Looking at Fairfield or Martin Creek, it’s easy to see a massive facility that could include a state park, lake, and wildlife management area on additional land owned by the power company.

However, for the reasons given by Birdsong, this could be a bigger hurdle than the department is capable of addressing.

“The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife continues to work with Luminant (owner of Fairfield) and has reached an agreement extending park operations through the fall of 2022. The agreement is contingent upon the sale of the property. We are aware that Luminant has begun seeking a new landowner for the property and TPWD looks forward to working with any new potential partners for the continued operations of Fairfield Lake State Park,” said the TPWD spokesperson. , Stephanie Garcia.

Unlike Fairfield, TPWD owns the Martin Creek park, but not the acreage of water facilities or other power plants.

“Martin Creek Lake State Park is owned by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, so park operations would not be affected by the sale of adjacent land. If the property surrounding the park is ever sold, we will work with our neighbors to ensure sustainable and comfortable lake access for all,” Garcia explained.

Birdsong added at this time TPWD has no information about Luminant’s plans on the site.

Although officially closed to the public, enterprising anglers have found access to Monticello off public roads using kayaks and small boats. This, too, could change if water and land eventually become private.

Birdsong said the department received notice from the Southwest Electric Power Company of its intention to close Brandy Branch in 2023 and indicated its interest in working with TPWD to maintain park lands and public facilities. The company would have already terminated its lease with the concessionaire of the ramp, thus closing the access of fishermen to the lake.

Again, the Department’s Parks Division shows no interest.

“We are not pursuing the purchase of property on the Brandy Branch Reservoir,” Garcia said.

In fact, the department does not seem at all inclined to extend to the ownership of large lakes.

“Texas State Parks is not currently pursuing the acquisition of additional properties near the Powerhouse Lakes in northeast Texas,” Garcia said.

Powerhouse lakes were a big part of the Texas bass fishing scene during the early Florida bass era. Brave anglers who could handle the winter cold flocked to the lake to try and catch some of the first double-digit bass in state history.

This changed over the years after it was discovered that bass in lakes that remained warm year-round had rapid initial growth rates, but in most cases were too young. All Powerhouse Lakes have double digit bass records, but they appeared in the 1980s and early 90s. Monticello Lake’s record is the best with 14.09 taken in February 1980.

However, the lakes remained popular with anglers primarily in the fall and spring.

TPWD biologists continue to manage power plant locations, and while no additional bass storage is planned for biological reasons, expect this policy to be extended until it determines whether the lakes remain public or not.

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