Texas Billionaire & Water Entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens Finds Blue Gold Tarnished. Shuts Down Mesa Water LP.

Pickens sells water rights to Panhandle authority

By TERRY WALLACE Associated Press © 2011 The Associated Press

April 7, 2011, 6:57PM

DALLAS – Billionaire T. Boone Pickens and a Panhandle water authority have reached a tentative deal for the sale of most of Pickens’ Panhandle water rights to the authority, both sides announced on Thursday.

The preliminary $103 million deal between Pickens’ Dallas-based Mesa Water LP and the Amarillo-based Canadian River Municipal Water Authority for the water rights to 211,000 acres in Roberts County in the Panhandle promised to end long-held concerns in the region that he would sell the water to downstate interests.

“The Panhandle now has a reliable local water source that they can count on for hundreds of years,” Pickens said in the statement.

In a separate statement, Pickens spokesman Jay Rosser said “this transaction will help ensure the water supplies in the Texas Panhandle for decades.” Rosser said Pickens’ decision to sell all of his Roberts County water rights except for those to his Mesa Vista Ranch “reflects his concern about the growing deterioration of water supplies in the Panhandle, chiefly Lake Meredith.”

The lake, about 30 miles northeast of Amarillo, has been another source of concern among thirsty Panhandle residents. The water level in the lake now stands at 38.15 feet as of Thursday, compared to its record height of 101.85 feet in April 1973, according to the water authority website.

Mesa Water has had what Rosser’s statement called “productive discussions on the sale of Mesa’s water to other users in Texas, including North Texas and San Antonio.” However, “we believe the time is right to sell the water to” the Canadian River authority, Rosser said.

Practically all of the land is in Roberts County, where the Canadian River authority and the city of Amarillo have large water rights holdings. The sale would include all of Mesa Water’s rights, but would leave Pickens with the water rights to his Mesa Vista Ranch.

The land contains nearly 4 trillion gallons of Ogallala Aquifer groundwater, according to the joint statement.

“The addition of these groundwater rights to those currently owned by (the authority) further reduces our reliance on Lake Meredith as a source of supply,” authority board President Norman Wright said in the statement. “The result of this agreement will benefit everyone involved and ensure that (the authority) is able to continue its supply to member cities for generations to come.”

The Canadian River Municipal Water Authority has 11 member cities: Amarillo, Borger, Brownfield, Lamesa, Levelland, Lubbock, O’Donnell, Pampa, Plainview, Slaton and Tahoka.

Mesa Water had obtained pumping permits in 2002 and 2004 from the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District to pipe Roberts County groundwater to North Central Texas and San Antonio. However, in 2008, Pickens suspended indefinitely plans for the water pipeline project and shifted his attention to obtaining rights of way for electric transmission lines to carry power generated by a gigantic wind farm he planned.

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