Bois d’Arc Lake Program Named a 2023 Project of the Year By APWA Texas

The Bois d’Arc Lake program received a 2023 Project of the Year Award from the American Public Works Association Texas Chapter.

The $1.6 billion Bois d’Arc Lake water supply program centers on Texas’ first major reservoir in almost 30 years — a crucial new water source for more than 2 million people in 80 growing communities served by the North Texas Municipal Water District.

The program displays the essence of public works:

  • Bois d’Arc Lake initially can provide up to 70 million gallons a day of drinking water for North Texans, with expansion planned.
  • The lake expands recreational opportunities and economic development for the area.
  • The addition of 17,000 acres of ecological improvements to offset the reservoir’s footprint meshes environmental resilience with infrastructure progress.
  • All the major elements were built simultaneously in 2018-2023: a new major dam and 16,600-acre reservoir; a treatment plant and transmission systems that included two huge pump stations and 60 miles of pipelines; and the forest, grassland and stream mitigation.

The District dedicated the lake in 2022. And customers started receiving treated water from the system in spring of 2023.

Delivering Bois d’Arc Lake required foresight, ingenuity, resourcefulness and coordination involving an extensive and dedicated array of partners. The team expertly navigated a myriad of challenges, and the final cost is expected to come in around 1% of the target.

Many Moving Parts

Graphic by Seth Schrock, Freese and Nichols; photo at top of page by Dan Christiansen, Freese and Nichols

The Bois d’Arc Lake program encompassed multiple interlocking components, with design involving a broad team of designers and a collaborative-delivery construction approach that allocated projects across four construction manager at risk packages, plus a full-service provider for environmental mitigation/monitoring. Even with setbacks — such as delays caused by COVID-19, supply chain issues, abnormally rainy weather and a freak statewide winter freeze in 2021 that caused cement supply delays — many of the components reached substantial completion on or close to schedule.

Key components:

  • Dam/Reservoir
  • Raw Water Pump Station
  • Leonard Water Treatment Plant
  • High Service Pump Station
  • Terminal Storage Reservoir
  • Raw Water Pipeline
  • Treated Water Pipeline
  • FM 897 Bridge (plus other road improvements)
  • Environmental Mitigation (17,000+ acres)
  • Lake Operations Center

Innovations Across the Program

NTMWD, as an owner, understood the unique challenges of undertaking a new major surface water reservoir when nothing similar had been permitted, designed and constructed in Texas in almost 30 years. Collaboration and a forward-thinking strategy proved pivotal to the program’s overall success:

  • NTMWD staff started laying the management foundation in 2015 — three years before groundbreaking — by partnering with Freese and Nichols to serve as Program and Construction Manager.
  • Leaders from NTMWD and Freese and Nichols also took the initiative to meet with state and federal agencies to hash out procedures under a regulatory landscape with many unknowns.
  • A combination of staff augmentation with collaborative delivery saved millions of dollars, reduced the District’s risk and kept the ball rolling even through unexpected issues.

Here are some examples of management and execution techniques:


During an unexpectedly long delay between the program receiving a state permit and securing the Federal Clean Water Act Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Program Manager and Construction Manager worked weekly with the contractors to identify lead-off work and start lining up supplies. An example of strategic success: The pipeline contractor locked in a steel pipe price before federal tariffs were imposed, saving the District tens of millions of dollars compared to the cost of buying it later in the process.


Construction of the 2-mile-long, 90-foot-tall earthen dam faced excessive rain delays throughout construction, plus COVID-19-related disruptions. But through collaboration on creative solutions, including innovative sequencing on embankment placement, the team met an aggressive target to start impounding water a year before the dam’s scheduled completion. Capturing spring 2021 runoff proved essential, giving the system more than a year’s worth of storage ahead of testing and treated water production.


A project of this scale affected almost all the electrical and water infrastructure in northern Fannin County, where the reservoir is located. To manage that impact, the Program Manager and Construction Manager engaged with the utility companies early to identify conflicts and then contract for the design and relocation of nearly $100M worth of overhead electric, water, natural gas and fiber communications lines. A dedicated conflicts manager worked with each utility before and during construction.


A proactive plan for quality control/quality assurance for each project was essential with construction taking place simultaneously on all the major components. Uniform processes, document control standards, and regular reporting requirements provided programwide consistency. Other tools included:

  • A program-level QA laboratory on-site at several project locations for additional testing and oversight as needed
  • A large roster and deep bench, with approximately 45 program management, construction management and inspection staff on-site during the peak of construction
  • Annual contracts with new authorizations each January, plus contingency hours and positions, so the team could respond quickly to contractor or staffing changes while conserving funds


Careful fiscal stewardship extended across the program, from planning throughout construction. Cost-saving examples:

  • The District switched to a full-service provider for the mitigation contract, saving tens of millions of dollars, tremendously reducing risk and bringing on board a highly experienced environmental restoration specialist whose work amplified the public benefits of this project. The FSP contractor handled initial construction and will monitor progress for the 20 years until the federal permit requirements are met.
  • The budget plan included a contingency fund that provided flexibility to make quick adjustments, meet unique challenges and accommodate a switch to 24/7 construction schedules.
  • Finding nearby material suppliers, employing local labor and repurposing material (such as using trees removed for the dam to enhance habitat in the mitigation areas) all helped contain costs. Recruiting local contractors resulted in more than $71M in contracts invested in local vendors/contractors.

Environmental Improvements

Stream restoration photo by RES, environmental mitigation full-service provider

The permitting team worked for nine years with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, USACE and Environmental Protection Agency to understand, meet — and exceed — requirements. NTMWD also negotiated with local landowners to purchase property at the lake site and met with groups such as the Texas Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation with keen interest in the environmental sensitivities. As a result, Bois d’Arc Lake achieved the first major water rights permit uncontested at TCEQ.

The mitigation plan, which offsets the reservoir’s footprint, aimed to create a model of ecological restoration, resilience and sustainability and included:

  • Restoring 15,000-acre Riverby Ranch, a former cotton/cattle operation in Fannin and Lamar counties bisected by Willow Branch Creek, along with 1,900-plus acres along Bois d’Arc Creek upstream of the lake.
  • Restoring or enhancing almost 70 miles of streams, including Willow Branch Creek, in one of the largest environmental restoration efforts in the United States.
  • Planting 6.3 million trees and nurturing them long-term into a functioning forest to stabilize the soils and creek banks, contribute to better water quality, and sustain a wide array of bird and aquatic life.

Fast Facts

  • The 2-mile-long, 90-foot-tall embankment anchors a 16,641-acre lake that can store 120 billion gallons of water.
  • The earthen dam required 5.2 million cubic yards of dirt fill and 168,000 cubic yards of soil cement.
  • It took 24,000 cubic yards of reinforced concrete to build the 1,000-foot-long spillway and related structures. The dam’s service spillway has a 60-foot-wide, 3-cycle labyrinth weir.
  • About $50 million in road improvements in the area included a new state highway over the lake.
  • Important program resources include a lake operations center, public boat ramps and a lake management plan.

[NTMWD’s community outreach campaign, an important component of the overall Bois d’Arc Lake program, separately received an Award of Honor for communications from the Texas Association of Municipal Information Officers.]

Serving Our Client and the Community

Freese and Nichols has worked with NTMWD on Bois d’Arc Lake since 2003, when our staff started helping investigate the feasibility of this new water source.

Freese and Nichols is engineer of record for the dam, and our teams designed other key elements at that site, including the raw water pump station, intake tower, service spillway and labyrinth weir. Our teams also designed the terminal storage reservoir, high service pump station and Section A of the raw water pipeline. And our staff has provided program management and inspection for the overall program.

Separately, Freese and Nichols assisted Fannin County with a comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance for the area within 5,000 feet of the lake’s shoreline.

The labyrinth weir at the dam

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