The view from Winfrey Point (photo by me, Tim Rogers, that's who)

Nature & Environment

Paula Blackmon Takes First Step Toward Dredging White Rock Lake

NOW we're talking!

Paula Blackmon, the newly elected District 9 council member, sent a memo to various city staffers on July 27. It reads, in part:

It has been over 20 years since White Rock Lake has been dredged, and currently the silt accumulation can be up to 7 feet thick in some locations. We are seeing more wetlands created because of this accumulation; the water quality and surrounding ecosystem are hitting critical levels. White Rock Lake is in desperate need of maintenance and care. We must act NOW to maintain White Rock Lake, and it is essential to create a thoughtful plan to care for our lake.

Blackmon goes on in the memo to request $100,000 from the Park and Recreation Department to fund a dredging feasibility study. The money would come from the White Rock Beautification Fund, which currently has about $223,000 in it (from rentals of the Filter Building).

The City Council is at a retreat today, but I got Park Board president Bobby Abtahi on the horn. He said the board will vote on Blackmon’s request on August 15, and he doesn’t expect much resistance to the idea. “What could be a better use of the Beautification Fund than beautifying the lake?” he asked. “It’s right there in the name of the fund.”

The trick now, he said, is that he’d like to piggyback the dredging feasibility study on a study already underway of the lake’s dam, which is in need of repair. Dallas Water Utilities is handling that. If the Park Department has to go it alone, the department would have to put the dredging study up for RFP, and the process would take much longer. (Some background: the Park Department is responsible for the land around the lake; DWU is responsible for the lake itself.)

I called Terry Lowery, DWU’s director, to ask if such cooperation between her department and the Park Department might be possible. She happened to be in a meeting about this very subject with Park Department director Willis Winters and one of her assistant directors, Richard Wagner. Lucky me, I got them all on speaker together. Wagner said DWU was totally down for some piggybacking. And Winters echoed Abtahi’s sentiment that the Park Board won’t balk at approving the use of $100,000 from the Beautification Fund for the feasibility study.

So there we have it, people. This is starting to look like progress.

As for when the dredging itself might begin? The feasibility study could take a year to 18 months. Then we’ll need $25 million, give or take, to suck up and dispose of all the silt. That number is my guess, based on how much it cost last time we dredged, in 1998. Accounting for inflation, we spent about $15 million, which turned out to be insufficient to complete the whole job as originally planned. Too, last time around, we used a pipeline to pump the silt into gravel pits 17 miles south of the lake. That pipeline no longer exists. DWU financed all that work, loaning money to the city. I still don’t understand this. How does the city loan itself money? Anyway, this time around, we’ll need to get creative. DWU director Lowery said that a lot of this work falls under the “recreational” heading, so they’ll look at grant funding, private money, a future bond — it’s all on the table. So maybe we’re talking 2023? 2024?

Like the headline says, this is just the first step. As Blackmon wrote in her memo: “No doubt, this undertaking will require thought, support, and input from external partners, community organizers, private donors, and the Dallas City Council.”

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