Dallas' Incredible Shrinking Lakes

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Welcome to your lakefront property.
White Rock Lake, just for grins, is 1,015 acres. Based on what I heard yesterday, the Trinity River lakes we voted for in downtown in 1998, when finally built, will be one lake, 20 acres, 10 feet deep.

Shit.

Oh, and the money for it is mostly gone. Even to dig the 20-acre thing -- pretty much what people in West Texas call a cattle tank -- the money will have to be filched from other accounts.

Shit.

But the money for that toll road on top of the river, the one that will cut off downtown from all the parks they're supposed to build? Goin' strong. Don't worry about that money, man. It's in the bank.

Shit.

Those are the main take-aways from a City Council committee meeting yesterday on the status of the Trinity River project. Yeah, 20 acres, a lake small enough that it could be closed by one family with diarrhea, not to be gross about it, but you get what I mean. Not a lake. A pond. In July a body of water that small and that shallow in downtown Dallas Texas is basically a saucepan.

May I share with you the part that I found sort of hilarious? Originally we were supposed to have more like 300 acres of water in three small conjoined lakes along the Trinity, but you have to remember that those lakes were designed in two phases.

First they were designed on a napkin by a political ad agency in 1998 trying to think of some shit they could put in the TV ads to get people to vote for a toll road that nobody needed or wanted. In the second, later design phase, the lakes were redesigned by former Dallas Observer columnist and Mayor Laura Miller for something she called "The Balanced Vision Plan," evoking a quality for which she was not known here.

Since then, according to yesterday's briefing before the council's Transportation and Trinity River Project Committee, some actual engineers have been looking into it, and they found out four things:

  1. The old bridges across the river have piers that sit on mud instead of going down to bedrock, so if you dig out a lake around them the bridges will fall down (not good).
  2. If the lakes get any closer to the river than 200 feet, the federal government will require the city to build actual dams between the lakes and the river at huge expense (not possible).
  3. If you dig deeper than 10 feet anywhere in the river bed, you punch through the clay cap and get into sand, and all the water will leak out as fast as you put it in (shit).
  4. There's no water anyway. The river doesn't have enough water in the summer; the lakes will evaporate; you have to fill them from water wells; the wells cost $1 million apiece.

So, look, if we wanted to look at this in biblical terms, what do we think Jehovah might be trying to tell us about creating lakes along the Trinity? Does Jehovah actually have to come down here to Dallas himself and paint it on the front of City Hall? If you say yes, you better be wearing rubber-soled shoes.

I am working on a column about this for next week's paper. Councilman Scott Griggs has uncovered some pretty amazing stuff about what happened to all the money, which I will share with you in some detail. When he got into it at the committee meeting yesterday, committee chair person Vonciel Hill told him he was talking too much. Exactly! The public definitely is not supposed to know all that stuff.

I think Jehovah has spoken to us, and he has said, "OK, 20 acres, about 10 feet deep, then I never want to hear about this again." The city's plan apparently is to do just that. I try to imagine the tens of thousands of little vignettes as citizen after citizen treks down to the river in search of his lake. It puts me in mind of The Cocoanuts, the Marx Brothers' first real movie in 1929, based on Florida real estate scams. I hear the sound of thousands of incredulous forehead slaps, followed by faster harder mosquito slaps.


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51 comments
Subnx
Subnx

Just build the road and forget about the silly lakes. But stop Hill and her friends from the fiscal shenanigans .

Catbird
Catbird

You can send your thanks for this to Ron Kirk...he sold it to us with a smile.

Dallasphotog
Dallasphotog

I thought that we had put all of this crap behind us.  Why in the hell is Dallas' City Council trying to pass this abortion of an idea when it's not good for the city, nor those who live here?


schermbeck
schermbeck

The idea of Councilwoman Hill scolding someone for talking too much is mildly ironic.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

A.C. 400 will get to the bottom of this.

d-may
d-may

JimSX,


While you are digging around for information on where that money went, can you also check up on how the 2012 Bond Program's " Mill Creek/Peaks Branch Drainage Relief Tunnel " is doing? That was kinda a big deal and I haven't heard anything about it in a while. 

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

Where does the Standing Wave sit in all this?

WylieH
WylieH

I'm not understanding how these shallow ponds would be able to withstand the impact of flood stage  waters coursing over and scouring them during periods when the Trinity River comes up out of its banks.


Can someone explain how this would work?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Lakes start dying the moment they are completed.

Silt fills them back up.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Dam the Trinity south of town.

BenS.
BenS.

The proposed West Dallas Lake would sit inside an old landfill. Core sample data from that area shows deep pockets of trash from the landfill that was in operation in the early part of the last century. The telltale for the area is the large amount of finely broken glass in the dirt road bed there and the soils beyond.


The larger lakes will be built, they must be, as the dirt excavated is needed to build the Trinity River Tollroad and get it above the floodplain. This was explained in detail at the last public meeting. A large spoil pile, a mountain of dirt, will be excavated and set aside for future tollroad use. Be careful what you wish for when you want bigger lakes. Faster they build the lakes, the sooner they get the dirt for their tollroad project.


I oppose these deeper lakes as they displace habitat for wading birds who use the floodway as a feeding ground during rookery season. The UTSW rookery is a federally protected nesting site and the thousands of birds use the nearby Trinity River floodway and the shallow drying ponds there as their food source. It would be rather unfortunate to see best laid plans of the city to build a lake remove all the wildlife that is a draw for so many to see there.


I must have read everything (twice) that the city has ever published on the Trinity River Project and the one constant thread that runs through it all is where will the water come for the projects. Even in the latest PPT presentation, the water source is unknown for the lakes. That rings true with the planned Trinity Forest Golf Course and a host of other projects.


It is rather silly that I am often told that these projects are set in stone since they have been planned for more than a decade. They cannot be changed, they will be built, don't question the plans because they have been on the books for so long. Yet when the plans move from paper to reality the details are vastly lacking in foresight and future perpetual maintenance and security. Corners are cut because the faceless and unnamed consultants hired for these projects burn through all the cash.


Not enough people are asking questions. More need to start asking where all our money went and why the Stormwater Fund is needed to shore up funding shortfalls.



WylieH
WylieH

I'm looking forward to understanding what, exactly, happened to the tens of millions of dollars in missing money.  Isn't this the same issue that the City of Dallas has been fighting with the State Attorney General's office on--- failing to comply with open records requests relating to the disbursement of those funds?


Why is Vonciel Hill always so secretive about everything?  Why doesn't she want the public to understand where the money went? 

Lakewooder
Lakewooder

How do I get on the bid list to drill water wells for this project? I can net about $980,000.00 per well. Sweet!

Seriously, million $$'s for a water well? That's ridiculous. Where did they get that quote? NASA?

Wine_Curmudgeon
Wine_Curmudgeon

A tollroad post. Finally. I was beginning to worry when he hadn't seen any in a while.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

I really did enjoy Scott grilling the city staff on the $19 million cookie jar that has been so decimated that they are having to use the City Storm Water Fund as a financial filler. He pointed out that the voters did not approve this type of financial Robin Hood tactics. Hill got pissed off when he uncovered it and tried to throw it back on him. With his cool monotone, he slapped her down really good. It was HILARIOUS.  I'm waiting to hear from Frank Librio's office for a rebroadcast of the session this week. It is priceless and every voter in Dallas should watch it.

wilme2
wilme2

@d-may  That is progressing.  There was an eminent domain agenda item related to it a few weeks back.  Still acquiring land rights, I guess...  

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

@WylieHWell not sure how it will work but  we will have quicksand swamps and excellent breeding grounds for West Nile and Malaria mosquitoes.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@WylieH  

That's one reason they have to be at least 200 feet from the river -- so the river won't just rip them open and turn them into big fat eddies, with scouring currents that much closer to the levees. Those floods out there, after all, toss full-grown cottonwood trees around like Tinker Toys. But you're right: say you get 200 feet away from the river's low stage banks. The river floods and dumps tons of silt in your little lake. Then the river retreats, and there is no natural mechanism to wash out the silt.  

rusknative
rusknative

@BenS. I STAY UP NIGHTS WORRYING ABOUT WADING BIRDS WHO GOT ROOKED BY THE CITY.

s3165j
s3165j

@BenS. A couple of years ago, there was a proposal to pump treated sewage into the chain of wetlands and they would feed the lakes.  Not sure what happened to that idea.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

Scott and Sandy were asking the right questions, there was just not any answers. It was revealed yesterday to Greyson that the primary water source to fill the lakes will be a new water well that must be dug. Price? : staff did not really have or maybe want to answer that question when prodded. It appears to be a number that will create headlines.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@BenS.  

The story at yesterday's briefing was that the borrow dirt will be used to raise and fatten the levees, not lift the road. As far as I know, there is no design yet for the road that would show it on an elevated dirt platform. A platform big enough to carry the road with enough slope to resist erosion would take an awful lot of carrying capacity out of the floodway --  an issue that has not been resolved yet, as far as I know.

But here's another weird wrinkle (and there's always a new one): Assistant City Still-Not-the-Manager Jill Jordan  said -- first time I've heard it -- that the Corps no longer believes the levees need to be fattened and will not pay to help fatten them, only to raise them. But the city has elected to go ahead with the expense of fattening them anyway because they just think it's  a good idea. Wait a minute: the Corps says you don't have to do it, but the city says we want to anyway? Something deeply smells not right here. Is this a sub rosa attempt to use city more city bond money to build the platform we just talked about but on the sides of the levees? Last I heard, the Corps said the toll road cannot touch the levees. Or is it because the skinnier levees have skin slides every year, and the city has to fix them out of operating money? Maybe they figure fattening them with bond money is the wiser course, and maybe they are right. Hey, here's a thought: we just paid A.C. four hundred large a year so he can give us some more transparency. Think maybe he might explain that whole deal? Or do we have to give him $500,000 a year for that? As per usual, more than anybody wanted to know about the Trinity River project, sorry.

WylieH
WylieH

@BenS.  That's actually an interesting point, Ben.  Are you saying that the area between the levees currently functions as a wetlands?


I seem to recall Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison getting this project exempted from various environmental and historic preservation laws.   Is there a potential issue, here, associated with destroying wetlands?


I'm genuinely curious, as I had never thought about that.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

@WylieH Because she is culpable in all of this. Hence, her hatred of the continuing questions from Scott Griggs about Mary Suhm, Horse Park, Gas Drilling, Trinity Lakes, etc She is the Dallas Citizens Council Go To Gal to get things done at City Hall.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

3 lakes = 3 wells.

Wells run between $15 and $100 a foot here in Texas.

Prices for permits, licenses, labor, water and soil testing, circumference size, and materials on top of that.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@dallasdrilling.wordpress.com @TheCredibleHulk  

Just doing my part to get this name to stick, it is sheer genius. I love the idea in general.

I think all politicians and bureaucrats names and/or titles should be preceded by their annual salary number. Furthermore, I think they should all have to wear suits similar to the types that NASCAR drivers wear, proudly proclaiming each and every one of their sponsors. The larger the benefactor, the bigger the patch on the congressional-firesuit. 

BenS.
BenS.

@JimSX @BenS.


At the November 13, 2013 town hall meeting at Methodist Hospital, the dirt from the borrow lakes was to be used for the tollroad. A plateau, platform, temporary hill(might be there awhile) of sorts would be there as the dirt was removed and saved for the future tollroad. I too had never heard that but wrote it down in my notes during the meeting. I made a note about the dirt only because it would afford an interesting yet temporary piece of elevation to check out. Lots of folks photograph the moon or rising sun in the background of bridges on that stretch of river and I thought it an offbeat chance to get a different vantage point.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@BenS.  

Raise the levees, narrow the floodway, increase the velocity of water. Airy's law: doubling the flow rate will increase the river's ability to dislodge submerged soil and objects by 64 times.

BenS.
BenS.

@WylieH


There are depressions, playa like areas that form during overbanking events inside the floodway. Those drying ponds concentrate small prey species of fish, crayfish and other food sources that are critical to the success of places like the UTSW rookery.


There is no history to preserve inside the floodway, it is a manmade ditch and the river through that stretch is sparse in wildlife as a rule. Would be nice that EIS and surveys were done to incorporate things that already exist on the river rather than demolish them for the sake of progress. It would not take much.


Many of these projects destroy habitat and place things that are already on the river. The AT&T trail bulldozed miles through the woods, a place where no one ever bulldozed before. Ever. The planned Arboretum to Audubon Trail will be many times worse with damage to some environmentally sensitive areas and truly unique wetlands and marsh habitat rare to North Texas. The city advertises the wildlife down there in that area but fails to appreciate the fact that if you bulldoze right through it, the wildlife will vanish too. That is a trail that should never ever be built. It will not serve the neighborhoods it runs through. It will not be popular. It will not engage Northern Dallasites with the Trinity.



WylieH
WylieH

@dallasdrilling.wordpress.com @WylieH 

What's her end-game? 

She seems to line up with the DCC on every single vote... which is amazing, even for a loyalist.  It's as if she has some sort of personal "minder," instructing her how to vote before each meeting.

How does she benefit from this sort of behavior?

I notice she is an attorney in private practice... I wonder if she does any legal work for any DCC members, affiliates, etc.

A-nony-mouse
A-nony-mouse

@Sharon_Moreanus The deepest water well in Dallas county that I could find a record of was 3,000 feet deep. The vast majority of water wells I found are under 1,000 feet deep. And if you are digging a well right by the Trinity, I'd guess that you wouldn't need to go down 3,000 feet to hit water. :)

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@BenS. @JimSX  

Some day I am going to write a novel called, "Borrow Dirt." Some eight years ago I sat in a conference room at Halff Associates while a table full of engineers explained to me how much money would be saved by using borrow dirt from the lakes to rebuild the levees and build the road. I was running a calculator on my phone, which I was very proud to have and considered myself very tech. I told them I was coming up with a dirt value per cubic yard, not counting the moving of it, somewhere in the range of refined talcum powder. About then they said the meeting was over. The story of the borrow dirt is a shamanistic incantation used to put reporters and elected officials into a dream state. It works. 

Just try this: ask any of them how much it would cost per cubic yard to haul in dirt from afar. Ask them how much it will cost per yard to dig it out of the river bottom and haul it. The answer will be, "How the fuck would we know that?" How the fuck, precisely. But borrow dirt from afar minus borrow dirt from river bottom equals gasoline per mile, unless digging it out of the river bottom is more complicated than getting it from afar, which it will be, in which case the difference is less, nothing, or upside down.

WylieH
WylieH

@BenS. @WylieH  Interesting stuff, Ben.  As I've seen some of these trails being designed and built, I've acquired the impression that the design has been a bit "ham-fisted."  I get the impression that they are being designed by civil engineers with minimal (if any) input from wildlife or park experts.



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