Watersports Complex Says Fish Trap Lake's Safe. DHA Says It Isn't. But What Says the City?

Categories: City Hall
fishtraplake.jpg
From an Economic Development Committee agenda item in April 2010
For the last several days I've been trying to find out the answer to one simple question: Is the water in Fish Trap Lake -- site of the Dallas Watersports Complex since put on indefinite hold by the Dallas Housing Authority -- safe for wakeboarding?

Chad Lacerte, who had hoped to open the complex by July 1 till the DHA had a sudden about-face concerning the project, insists it's safe. Says so right there on the DWC's Web site: "The water in Fishtrap Lake has been tested and is within EPA standards for contact recreation sports."

But Albert Huddleston, Bunker Hunt's son-in-law and a Park Cities developer, had one of his own people, Brad Robinson, test the water on March 4. And his results revealed elevated levels of bacteria and metals. Earlier this week, Lacerte referred to Huddleston's involvement as nothing more than "a money play." So, then: Who's right?

I first called the Environmental Protection Agency to see if it's done any testing on the water quality at Fish Trap Lake. Dave Bary, local spokesman for the EPA, says the agency hasn't done any testing at all -- it's the DHA's responsibility, he says, or the city's, since it's used for storm water retention. "Any decision as to the future use of the water body rests with the city with concurrence from the state, which has established water quality standards for bodies depending on their use," he tells Unfair Park.

He recommended I call the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. So I did. And this is the response I got this morning, via e-mail, from spokesman Terry Clawson: "TCEQ doesn't have monitoring data, but the City of Dallas might have more information."

Turns out, it does -- why, there was even a memo on this very subject sent to council member Dave Neumann on June 11.

I asked Errick Thompson, the assistant director for Dallas Public Works & Transportation: Is Fish Trap Lake safe for wakeboarding and other recreational activities? To which he responded: "That's a straightforward question to which there's not a simple answer." He explains:

Thompson says he didn't even know about the project till news broke of the DHA's decision to sideline the Dallas Watersports Complex. But, he says, it so happens that in January the city did indeed take some samples from Fish Trap Lake as part of its every-so-often survey of local bodies of water. He says it was Fish Trap Lake's turn to be sampled -- which doesn't happen too often, he says, because "it's not a traditional lake or stream," but a man-made "ditch" originally intended to handle storm water runoff.

"So we have some limited sample points that cover Fish Trap this year, which is weird timing," Thompson says. "It just happened to be on the list this year. So we had maybe two water samples and two sediment samples, and not in the exact same locations as the Lacerte samples or Brad Robinson's samples either. But they're for the game general body of water, and I like I try to tell everyone it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. It was collected for a different purpose, and it was good for DHA to conduct their own samling. We're not concerned about recreation when we're dealing with runoff. It's about: Can we convey water after it rains down to the river. So there's a different purpose for us."

Nevertheless, he says, the city's sample "didn't show bacteria above regulatory levels." and, he says, "we barely saw lead in the sediment, and it was well below regulatory levels." That's what Lacerte asserts.

As for the other results, funded by Huddleston, while they do indeed show high levels of elevated levels of coliform, there's one small problem: According to the memo below, the lab that conducted the testing isn't certified to do so, and the samples may have been tainted. Says Thompson, "It's up in the air how reliable those results were ... so I'd have more confidence in my data than the other two. Based on the data we collected, I am not significantly alarmed about the safety of the water. But the city doesn't own Fish Trap -- it's not our recreational amenity. If anyone's serious about having this done, DHA might want to conduct their own sample for this purpose, and it sounds like they are."

Here's his memo to Neumann and Suhm.
Neumann_Fish Trap Lake Water Quality_11June2010
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