I know that County Commissioners are into building things, but this is a new one on me.
Out on prairie as flat as a polished dining room table, where he has no river or even rivulet to dam, Commissioner Steve Radack intends to dig a hole and build a 500-acre lake that will teem with sportfish and lure anglers from afar.
Radack has defied nature before -- his Precinct 3 is building a nearly 50-foot-high soap box derby hill in equally flat Hockley. But the proposed lake dwarfs the soap box derby in scope and cost, the way a trophy bass does a minnow.
John Paul's Landing, on the Katy Prairie in northwest Harris County, could cost as little as $8 million. But where there is no natural basin, the only choice is excavation, and that's Radack's problem. He could be looking at a $60 million price tag if he can't find someone who will dig out and remove 12 million cubic yards of dirt -- enough to fill five Astrodomes -- for free.
Radack said those who have raised questions about the lake are ignoring that Precinct 3 will provide a premium recreational park in an area already encroached by subdivisions and strip malls. And the fishing -- the lake will be stocked with bass, channel catfish and other species -- will be better than nearly anywhere else in the county, he said.
"I wanted to create something where people could go for free and spend a lot of quality time with their families," he said. "It's always a good feeling to put something together that brings people together."
Meanwhile, federal and state biologists have questioned whether the county can funnel in enough water to build a lake and whether the water can sustain a healthy fish population.
"We definitely have concerns about whether they will have enough water," said Donna Anderson, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The lake's planners point to an old-fashioned water source: the skies.
Fred Garcia, the John Paul's Landing project manager at the Harris County Flood Control District, said rainfall on the property and roadside runoff funneled into the hole will fill most or all of the lake. And if more water is needed, the lake will fill when Cypress Creek floods the Langham Creek area -- which happens about every five years, Garcia said.
He added it could take five to 10 years to complete the lake.
Because the lake will not have a constant source of flowing water, biologists remain worried that there will not be enough oxygen in the lake to support a viable fish population, said Anderson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Texas Parks & Wildlife has also questioned whether nitrates and fertilizer from farm runoff might pollute the lake, said Jamie Schubert, coastal biologist with the department.
Garcia said water will go through wetlands and marshy areas that will be planted near the lake. Many pollutants naturally are removed in such wetlands, making it habitable for fish, he said.
Massive aeration pumps, he said, will be installed on the lake's bottom to spray water above the lake surface and expose it to oxygen.
Anderson, who has reviewed the project, said it does not seem to make sense environmentally to build a 500-acre lake on prairie where no such body of water existed historically.
One last thing:
No one is interested in the dirt yet, Garcia said. But the flood control district is hoping that a Grand Parkway builder will need dirt for the highway.