Dallas whitewater river feature endangers water supply

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Adventures in "water in the river," from this week's Dallas Observer:

This has to do with one of the stupidest, zaniest, least necessary and most mentally challenged projects the city has ever undertaken -- and that's saying something -- a so-called "white water feature," or fake rapids, in the Trinity River downstream from downtown. Opened to recreational paddlers on May 7, 2011, the white water feature was closed to navigation the same day when the first few paddlers complained they had almost been killed.

City attorneys told the council in an emergency executive session Wednesday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was only hours away from shutting down almost the entire drinking water system for Dallas if the council didn't immediately cough up $3 to $5 million to fix or (better idea) demolish the stupid white water feature. Some on the council didn't believe the lawyers, so thank goodness they balked at signing the check.

Council members Philip Kingston and Scott Griggs say now that some element of the threat was a bluff and that the most the Corps probably would have shut down was any additional goofy construction projects in the river bottom. "That would have been doing us a favor," Kingston said....

Some years ago the park portion of the Trinity River project, an ambitious plan to rebuild the entire riverfront through downtown Dallas, was turned over to Dallas socialites. Apparently the socialites glimpsed a man-made whitewater park over the rims of their martini glasses while semi-reclined on a canopied deck somewhere in Colorado and decided they wanted to bring one home. But they thought it would be better for the taxpayers to pay for it, because ... money.

The article goes on to note that the "fake rapids" cost $5 million, more than triple the original estimate, and that the supposedly family-friendly, gentle side of the rapids was so turbulent "under certain conditions that it acts more like an in-sink DisposAll in your kitchen," sending boats and people to the bottom and not letting them up. The water feature also created an obstacle to existing recreational uses -- canoeing and fishing.

Why would a botched set of fake rapids endanger Dallas's water supply? It may be because the of an upstream Corps of Engineers dam that desperately needs repair. River guide and Corps-watcher Charles Allen thinks that the Corps is concerned about the water feature interfering with conveyance, because it "is piling up tons of silt on its upriver side." That would limit how much water the Corps can release from upstream lakes to repair their dams without jeopardizing the levees downstream.

What does all this have to do with the water supply? It's the Corps leverage over the city, as the water feature was covered under a broad "recreational permit," which did not require any sort of environmental study.

The big permits that the Corps does hold over the city's head, called 404 permits, could theoretically be construed to govern virtually the entire water supply of the city. And that's the type of saber they are rattling. They don't have a pea-shooter to aim at the white water feature alone, so they are bringing out bigger guns by threatening to yank the 404 permits, or so the lawyers told the council last Wednesday.

Maybe cities are smarter when they let the river alone to act like a river.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 27, 2016 7:59 PM.

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