The Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) has been providing flood control and water supply services to the city of Fort Worth, Texas, for nearly 100 years. In a swiftly growing urban area that is expected to double in size by 2070, planning for the future through water reuse and new storage and conveyance infrastructure is crucial.
In this interview, Jack Stevens, the president of TRWD’s board of directors, tells Municipal Water Leader about his fascinating professional background, how he decided to run for the board, and the ambitious plans that the board has for the district.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Jack Stevens: I grew up in Tampa, Florida, and joined the Air Force because I wanted to see the world. However, as the old adage goes, the federal government wanted me to see Altus, Oklahoma, which is home to the Altus Air Force Base. There, I worked as an electronics technician on Hound Dog nuclear missile systems. I’m a Vietnam- and Cold War–era veteran. At the conclusion of my military service, I moved to Texas, went back to school at the University of Texas at Arlington, got married, and eventually graduated as a dynamics and vibroacoustics engineer. I enjoyed a long and fulfilling career with a wonderful company called Vought Aircraft. My work with Vought didn’t focus on just one specific area, but covered a whole range of interesting projects. I worked on space shuttle components, such as the leading edge and radiator, and on the articulation index on very small microphones—used for purposes I never discovered. I worked on an aircraft-launched satellite-killer system that, while functional, was ultimately never produced in order to comply with an international arms treaty limiting space weapons. I did some work on helicopters in the realm of acoustics, involving helicopters manufactured by Aérospatiale, a French state-owned aerospace manufacturer, and by Bell Helicopters. But most of my work in this area was centered on airplanes, including the S-3, A-7, F-8, and XC-142. The XC-142 was the first airplane I ever worked on. Only two were ever made. It was effectively the predecessor of today’s V-22 Osprey. I worked on the B-2 program for 5 years; it was secret, and I couldn’t tell anyone what I was working on. I also worked closely on the development of U.S. Military Standard 810. And, while we ultimately refrained due to a variety of issues, our company was even asked to help with the analysis of the acoustics of the tapes of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was an interesting career and one that I truly loved.
When I was preparing to retire in the mid-2000s, I realized that my work had always been my hobby and that, if I was going to be content and successful in retirement, I needed to find interesting alternatives. I was asked to serve on the board of a local rural water supplier in Azle, Texas, the town 25–30 miles north of Fort Worth where I live. It happens to be the 14th-fastest growing town in North Texas. I helped the board replace its aging infrastructure with a system that could supply two and a half times the number of people the old system did. Azle received its water from TRWD, and having dealt with that organization and its people, I was impressed with its operations and vision. I felt I could contribute, so 16 years ago I successfully ran for a seat on TRWD’s board of directors. I’m still impressed on a daily basis by the organization and its people.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about the goals and objectives the TRWD board has for the agency today.
Jack Stevens: Our three missions are to provide a reliable, resilient, low-cost supply of water of the highest possible quality; to reduce the risk of flooding in our communities through dependable flood damage reduction infrastructure and operations; and to enhance the quality of life in our North Texas communities by creating recreational opportunities throughout TRWD’s water and land resources. Those are our published goals, and they are the ones we live by. But what is at the heart of those objectives, from my personal perspective, is that we are working to ensure that future generations have the same ability we do today to turn on the tap and receive a safe and reliable supply of water. This has to be our focus, considering that this area is expected to double in population by 2070 and experiences cycles of flooding and drought.
We believe we are well on our way to accomplishing and sustaining these goals. Through dramatic improvement in public conservation, we have seen a nearly 20 percent reduction in water usage in our district. We are in one of the fastest-growing areas in the United States, yet we are supplying about the same amount of water we did a couple of decades ago. Currently, we are working with the City of Dallas on an integrated pipeline project that will link up several local lakes and ensure a more stable supply of water for this entire region. This is a massive project involving the installation of a 108-inch pipeline. Building a joint pipeline with Dallas instead of two separate pipelines will save the public around $500 million during construction and approximately $1 billion over the life of the project. In addition, we are in the planning stages for an additional reservoir to help ensure our water needs are met through the year 2070. Initiatives such as this are included in the Texas State Water Plan, which is reviewed and adjusted every 5 years. Texas is divided into 16 regions for the purpose of this plan, and I currently serve on the board of region C, which covers our territory.
The lakes and rivers of this area are for the people, and as TRWD goes about its work of preserving these resources, we also want to provide opportunities for recreational activities, including fishing, boating, swimming, water sports, biking, and walking. We have built more than 100 miles of recreational trails throughout Fort Worth, which will eventually connect us to downtown Dallas.
Municipal Water Leader: What changes have you seen over your time on the board of TRWD?
Jack Stevens: I would say change has been constant. Our area has been growing for years and will continue to do so. With that in mind, as I noted a moment ago, we are looking well into the future and continuously adjusting for what lies ahead. If we stopped everything today, we would probably have enough water resources for the remainder of my lifetime, but we are continuously planning for the future and searching for new opportunities. One such opportunity is our wetlands initiative. This is a pilot program that now consists of 2,200 acres of wetlands tied to a water reuse project that sits right next to the Richland-Chambers Reservoir. It is called a reuse project because it naturally filters water from the Trinity River and drops it back into a lake. Then the water can be pumped back to be used in customer cities in North Texas and eventually make its way back to the Trinity River via wastewater treatment plants, completing the cycle. It is amazing to me that we can provide 40 percent of Tarrant County’s water via this approach. Another major undertaking has been our aquifer storage and recovery project, which is testing the idea of storing millions of gallons of water in the local aquifer. The water would come from the district’s East Texas reservoirs, essentially turning the aquifer into a massive storage tank that would help ensure that the region’s water needs can be met during cycles of drought or high demand. Each of these concepts represents dramatic change in the way TRWD as well as its consumers view and manage our water resources.
Municipal Water Leader: Would you tell us about TRWD’s flood control activities?
Jack Stevens: We have flooding here in Texas, and unfortunately it usually seems to happen right after a period of drought. During the last two flooding incidents, we had water as high as the doorsteps of many homes in the floodplain, though thankfully we did not lose any. Over the last 50 years, Fort Worth has tripled in size, and its levee system was designed for a much smaller city. Because the system was well engineered, we can still meet the minimum flood control requirements, but the design flood would overtop those levees today. To alleviate this situation, we’ve been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move water differently through the Fort Worth area. We are the local sponsor for the Army Corps on the Trinity River levee system through Fort Worth, and together we are rerouting the Trinity River, removing a few levees in the center of Fort Worth, and transforming the newly created island into a waterfront district called Panther Island; property taxes on that newly valuable property will go toward paying for the improved flood-control system.
Municipal Water Leader: What is your message for others who are considering serving on a board as a form of public service?
Jack Stevens: I have found serving on the TRWD board to be a fulfilling and educational experience. When I ran for the board, I saw an organization that was relatively young and was doing an outstanding job. I was interested in learning more about who the people involved were and how they maintained their excellent reputation. It was quickly evident that they were hard working, intelligent, and dedicated, and that equates to a fine organization. I wanted to be a part of that kind of culture, where you can grow and learn; I think that should be key for anyone considering board service. You’ve also got to be willing to become a good listener and to be open to new ideas and viewpoints. When commencing your service with a board, take the time to learn what you can about the organization and its operations in advance so that you have a better idea of the areas you might need more help with. Don’t come with the mindset that you will be changing and fixing everything to operate according to the methods you are most familiar with, because if an organization is successful, it is generally already employing procedures and approaches that are working. In other words, recognize that you might not automatically know more than an entity that has been around and operating effectively for decades. Also, don’t approach service on a board like this as a political stepping stone. More often than not, doing so can draw the wrong sort of attention to you and the organization and can end up hurting both of you in one way or another. Your own effectiveness on the board can be reduced if you are perceived as being there for the wrong reasons.
Municipal Water Leader: Wonderful advice. Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Jack Stevens: TRWD’s mission is supporting the people of North Texas, whether it is supplying water, preventing flooding, or providing recreational opportunities. It does this through its commitment, dedication, and leadership. I am honored to be a part of this forward-thinking team.