AUSTIN — North Texas cities, from Highland Village, population 15,500, to Dallas, are protesting plans to auction federal lands for gas-well exploration around a lake that supplies drinking water to millions. 

The plans to auction several hundred acres around and under Lake Lewisville, about 35 miles northwest of Dallas, threaten both drinking water for about 2 million consumers and the integrity of the earthen dam that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers consider the nation’s eighth-most-hazardous, local officials and environmental groups say.

There are no gas wells in Highland Village, but the city does own five water wells, and threat of contamination to them and to the lake, prompted the city to file a written complaint with the Bureau of Land Management, which is offering the 259 acres for lease.

The 10-year mineral-lease auction is set for April 20 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“We are not opposed to gas drilling and the process that goes along with it,” Michael Leavitt, Highland Village city manager said in a statement. “Our concern is the potential harm that could be caused to our potable water supply if there is drilling under Lewisville Lake.

“It is for that reason the council directed us to submit a protest letter.”

Highland Village’s northern boundary is formed by the lake, which holds about 2 million acre feet, or 2.5 billion tons of water.

The corps of engineers owns the land on which the lake is built and the cities of Dallas and Denton own the water, said Thomas Taylor, executive director of the Upper Trinity Regional Water District.

The water district wholesales Lake Lewisville water to 25 cities and about 250,000 customers. 

Along with the cities that have filed protests with the BLM, or that are considering doing so before a Thursday deadline, the water district last week filed a protest with the BLM. 

“Our concern is water quality,” Taylor said. “We’re the ones that live and play around the lake.”

Since drilling is a discretionary activity, Taylor said there’s no reason to take risks.

“This is the federal government, who we look toward to protect our environment,” Taylor said. “We have plenty of risks already. We’ve asked that the land be taken off the list.”

Citing pollution concerns and the status of the dam, the city council in Flower Mound, which borders the lake to the south, on Monday asked the BLM to withdraw the parcel from the lease sale. 

Denton is a water district customer and the city council there on Tuesday was considering whether to formally protest the lease. 

Until state lawmakers last year legislated that the state has exclusive jurisdiction over where oil-and-gas drilling took place, Denton banned it in the city limits. 

“We know that fracking has caused seismic activity,” said Ed Soph, a University of North Texas music professor who opposed Denton drilling and is also against the proposal to drill at the lake. “Oklahoma is now the earthquake center of the United States. 

“It’s a case where we should be safe rather than sorry.”

The BLM’s New Mexico office has jurisdiction over the leases and did not immediately return calls for comment.

The Dallas Water Utilities District and Dallas have filed protests. 

And like others, Dallas officials had no notice from the BLM, which filed notice on its New Mexico website. 

“We learned about it from the media,” said Laurie Mullens, a spokeswoman for Highland Village. 

John Austin covers the Texas Statehouse for CNHI. Contact him at jaustin@cnhi.com.

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