Wild Time: Steps Begin to Protect the Neches River Before Dam-Thirsty North Texas Kills It

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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How would you like to have a federally designated wild and scenic river within a 90-minute drive from Dallas? That could be kind of a life-changer for a lot of us. We wouldn't have to be satisfied with donning a Hazmat suit and a motorcycle helmet, signing a new will and medical power of attorney and taking our chances on the city's "standing wave" meat-grinder on the Trinity River.

The current issue of the magazine of the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife has an article about efforts by the Texas Conservation Alliance (TCA) to get a wild and scenic designation for 311 miles of the Neches River between Lake Palestine and Interstate 10.

I wrote about the Neches two years ago when Dallas still hoped to dam it up for a new water supply. My son, Will, and I canoed it. It's absolutely gorgeous and truly wild in parts. I got us lost, and Will got us found. I have no idea what that says about anything.

Dallas lost its court case, and the Neches River reservoir project is now dead. But TCA director Janice Bezanson told me this morning there are several dam projects "on the books" -- meaning they have been planned but not authorized -- which, if built, would have the effect of killing off the river's best wild free-flowing stretches.

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Jim Schutze
In April 2009, Schutze and his son Will (shown here) took a float down the wilder parts of the Neches River. Both made it back.
Bezanson, who was driving through Oklahoma when I reached her, said the designation process, years long and numbingly complex, is in its first baby steps. The main thing now is to convince property-owners along the Neches that they're not about to be Sovietized.

I asked her about the Buffalo River in Arkansas, because it's a river I know a little bit, and it's a great example of how a river can become a huge draw for a region in this era of green tourism. She said the Buffalo is not actually a "wild and scenic" river, legally -- just wild, I guess.

She also said the Buffalo is unlike the Neches in that a lot of the Buffalo flows through federal land. A closer parallel is the Niobrara in Nebraska, she said, which rises in Wyoming and flows 400 miles to the Missouri River. Much of the Niobrara flows through private land.

The same Texas Parks and Wildlife article talks about the Devils River in West Texas
where there have been conflicts between paddlers and property owners. The article quotes Scott McWilliams, head of the Del Rio office of Texas Nature Conservancy: "What I wish the public could get clear about is that the river they enjoy so much and find in such pristine condition would not be that way without the landowners protecting it."

I found the same thing in my reporting on the Neches. The wild Neches is still there and worth preserving because of a century of private ownership by both timber companies and hunt clubs. The main thing government wants to do with places like that now is dam them up, flood them and turn them into water companies.

The best coalition against that sort of thing, in terms of being able to stand up to the water hustlers politically, is an alliance of recreational users and landowners. But first, you know, they all have to agree on some stuff. Like, we agree not to camp on your lawn, if you agree not to shoot us. Things like that. It can be done.

That's about where the TCA is with the Neches now. It takes a law in Congress just to authorize a study to see if it's worth thinking about another law to make it happen. We're talking three years just for the study. But remember that the Neches is one of the last opportunities we'll have in the entire state of Texas to keep any river wild. Seems like it's worth the work.


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pak152
pak152

" The wild Neches is still there and worth preserving because of a century of private ownership"you mean that private ownership is able to do something better than the guvmint? but I thought all good things came from the guvmint and that private enterprise/ownership were only out to rape and pillage the land, destroying the environment

BCulbreath
BCulbreath

City of Dallas is in Water business its a revenue source. City staff has convinced Council that the need to continue  raising fees for water transport but some how there is no cost estimation on that function or at least not in documents I saw.

A Texan
A Texan

Is there any way, vote happy politicians can be open,honest and consider the will of the people for a change? boy, that would keep them in office for ever.

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

One more city staff mystery is why the City pursued the reservoir plan on the Neches for so long with such a thin case.  Did counsel not tell them they were doomed?  The last brief I read almost had an element of give-up to it.

SteveT
SteveT

My grandfather had to sell his Neches River bottomland about 40 years ago because it was to be flooded by expanding Lake Palestine north to Chandler.  I'd hate to see any more of that, especially if the purpose is to water Dallas area lawns.

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

Have you used any outfitters working the Neches, JS?

JimS
JimS

I have not. I was lucky enough to get a local resident to spot my car for me and pick us up.

Paul
Paul

The only other comparable stretch is the Trinity between the end of the Dallas Floodway and the inlet to Lake Livingston.

I remember your article on the Neches and it was a joy to read.

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