Sherman breaking the law by pumping Lake Texoma water

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on October 3, 2012 at 4:43 AM

SHERMAN — News 8 has learned that the City of Sherman is defying the law by pumping drinking water out of Lake Texoma.

The federal law is designed to protect the environment, but regulators have known about the questionable pumping practice for years.

Until zebra mussels blossomed in Lake Texoma, this story would have been just a quirky little tale.

Today, there's nothing little about it.

In fact, because of zebra mussels, every time the City of Sherman pumps water out of Lake Texoma, it's thumbing its nose at federal law.

The border between Texas and Oklahoma runs right through Lake Texoma. The exact location of that border was in dispute until 2000, when the two states finally hashed it out for good.

But — improbably — the commission drawing the border did miss the $150 million Texoma Pump Station.

How?

The pump station was not shown on the maps they were using. So, the new Texas-Oklahoma border cuts right through the massive facility.

And that's where the trouble starts.

All the pumps that used to be in Texas are in Oklahoma now.

The federal Lacey Act says you cannot transfer zebra mussels from one state to another. The regulation is designed to stop the spread of invasive species, like zebra mussels, that — once they're in a lake — devour the food fish like to eat and they can never be killed.

"We built our station in Texas. We thought it was still in Texas. And to find it had been moved to Oklahoma without us moving the facility kind of startled us," said Mike Rickman of the North Texas Municipal Water District, one of two utilities that jointly own the facility.

To avoid breaking a stringent federal law, NTMWD is taking two extrodinary and expensive steps:

Lobbying Congress to amend the Lacey Act so North Texas can pump water legally.

Asking the Texas and Oklahoma legislatures to redraw the boundry.

The Texas General Land Office handles border disputes. Spokesman Bill O'Hara said he's never seen a situation like this before.

"Changing boundaries is never easy, so getting everybody to agree to it might be difficult," he said.

But wait. If North Texas would go to the effort of changing laws and redrawing borders, why are these two pumps still pumping between the states?

Well, the other partner at the station is the Greater Texoma Utility Authority. It provides drinking water to the City of Sherman.

And it is pumping zebra mussel-infested water from Oklahoma into Texas

Jerry Chapman runs the GTUA, but he doesn't agree that his agency is violating the Lacey Act.

"I don't think that it is our intent is to violate anything," he said.

Records show the federal government is fully aware of what Sherman is doing. But does that mean the federal government approves of Sherman defying its laws?

That's what we wanted to know.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to be interviewed about the issue. Instead, it provided this written statement:

"...we don't comment on pending or potential investigations, nor do we make statements about whether a company is or is not violating federal law unless an investigation has been conducted, completed and a prosecutorial decision has been made..."

And what would happen if Sherman was forced to shut those pumps down?

"It would be very serious," Chapman said.

But for the North Texas Municipal Water District — which is jumping through all kinds of government hoops — it makes no sense.

"We have trouble getting our arms around that," Rickman said.

After all: Why work so hard to do the right thing if the wrong thing will do?

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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