River of Dreams

When Becky Richard was a child, she used to canoe in the Trinity River near her home in Fort Worth, spending time with her family, floating along the meandering river. During those days, she only enjoyed the fun – it never crossed her mind to wonder about the pollution in the Trinity River.

But today, that’s her job.

Richard is an environmental consultant at her own firm, Environmental Trainers, where she is currently cleaning up properties north of downtown Fort Worth for redevelopment.

One of the biggest problems she faces is the industrial solvents such as mineral spirits – methanol and Freon – in the groundwater and in the sediments and solvents that drain off into the river, primarily from the storm-sewer runoff.

However, since Richard was a child 40 years ago, the river has visually improved, she said.

“It is a direct result of environmental legislation such as the Clean Water Act of 1972 that stopped people from dumping in the river,” Richard said.

The Trinity River is a primary water source to more than 5 million people in the Upper Basin around the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Since the Trinity is a crucial water supply to D/FW, it is important for residents to be informed about the river, so they can be more responsible and clean it up, Richard said.

The Trinity River starts in North Texas, just west of Gainesville and south of the Red River. It then passes through Fort Worth and Dallas southward until it reaches the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston Bay.

Fort Worth receives its water from four major reservoirs – Lake Bridgeport, Eagle Mountain Lake, Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers Reservoir. These reservoirs are all tested by the national drinking standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency and are part of the Trinity River Basin.

The Upper Trinity River plants clean the water so it can be reused again. The organizations that play roles in the cleanup include The Trinity River Authority, the City of Fort Worth, the City of Dallas and the North Texas Municipal Water District.

When the river leaves D/FW, 95 percent of the effluent water has been treated from the water treatment plants, the Trinity River Authority in Granbury and Village Creek in Fort Worth, Richard said. About 500 million gallons of water a day come from these plants.

In the wastewater treatment plants, the water is filtered through primary and secondary treatments. It then discharges water to surface water areas such as lakes and rivers or sends the water into an advanced treatment that reuses or reclaims the water.

The regulations the wastewater treatment facilities have to follow are mainly set by the Clean Water Act, which gave the EPA the authority to implement pollution-control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry. The Act made it unlawful for anyone to discharge any pollutant into navigable waters unless a permit was obtained under its provisions.

Since the Clean Water Act was enacted, most of the industrial and sanitary dumping has stopped, Richard said.

“Most of the chemical contaminants we find in the rivers now are because of storm water runoff rather than industrial and sanitation discharges,” Richard said.

The pollutants in storm water, such as oil and gasoline from streets, city pollutants, fertilizers and pesticides, are not always filtered out by water-treatment plants, Richard said.

Also, bacteria from animal waste is a large pollution contributor to the lakes and streams, Richard said.

“The contaminants we pump into the air almost always end up in our watersheds,” Richard said. “The majority of the mercury we are finding in our fish comes from coal-burning power plants that discharge mercury compounds, legally permitted, in its smoke stacks.”

Michael Slattery, TCU geology associate professor, gives the river a cleanliness grade of C+ for its water quality.

When it does not rain for a long time in Fort Worth, the water rushes down the storm drains and contains lots of buildup, such as emissions, oil and gas, that get dumped into the river, Slattery said.

“It’s interesting in a large urban area people expect someone else to be cleaning the Trinity,” Slattery said. “In reality, we are all affected by the Trinity because we live in its headwaters.”

According to the Tarrant Regional Water District, in September, 2.5 tons of trash and debris were found in the river and cleaned.

In small tributaries that feed into the Trinity River, garbage such as bottles, Styrofoam and refrigerators can be found, Slattery said.

“If the Metroplex residents looked in their own backyard and cleaned it up once a month, then there would be far less pollution,” Slattery said.

The TCU Environmental Club has held a cleanup in a tributary near Berry Street. Bethanne Edwards, president of the Environmental Club, wants to have more cleanup days.

When club members picked up trash along the river, they found wires and other garbage that appeared to be dumped near the tributary, Edwards said.

Fort Worth also has an extensive 40-mile trail system that runs along the Trinity River and its tributaries for residents to enjoy.

“If people are more connected to the river, they are less likely to pollute it by dumping trash or oil into it,” Richard said.