Lake Columbia

East Texas is going to get a big new reservoir lake sometime in the next five or six years, but an archeological survey of the area that will be inundated is already underway, to make sure that nothing historic ends up under the waters of the new lake. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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It's the Lake Columbia Water Supply Project, which the Angelina-Neches River Authority is planning on Mud Creek in the Piney Woods about 150 miles due north of Houston. Authority General Manager Ken Reneau says it will provide drinking water for people in Cherokee County and four neighboring counties.

"It'll be not only in Cherokee County, but the very upper portion will extend into Smith County, which is of course Tyler, but if you triangulated between Tyler and Jacksonville, and the small community of New Summerfield, the lake would lie roughly in the middle of that triangle."

Reneau says the project is still in the environmental impact study phase, which includes surveying the affected area for historic and archaeological significance. Native American tribes lived in that part of Texas for thousands of years, and even though people who've lived there a long time say they've never seen evidence of Indian presence, experts are doing a lot of digging anyway, to make sure nothing of any historical value is lost -- such as burial grounds and village sites.

"These people do this for a living...........normally see."

Several native American groups are watching this project with interest, and Reneau says the authority has agreed to salvage any artifacts, and repatriate human remains, if any are found.

Now, the name of this lake. Reneau says it was originally named Lake East Tex, but after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster three years ago, and a lot of shuttle debris came down in east Texas, it was suggested that the name be changed to Lake Columbia, and the legislature made it official.

"Obviously it's to remember the astronauts, but also to recognize the work and the efforts of the people of east Texas that were involved with the recovery of shuttle debris, and we felt like it was a very appropriate thing to change the name."

Lake Columbia will be 14 miles long, a mile and a half wide at its widest point, and take up about ten thousand acres in all, which sounds big, but it's puny compared to other Texas lakes. Lake Sam Rayburn is more than ten times that big, and Toledo Bend Reservoir is twice as big as Rayburn. Reneau says he hopes to finish the impact studies by the end of this year, start building the dam on Mud Creek next year, and make Lake Columbia a reality by 2010. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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