This story was updated at 7:45 p.m. to reflect updated information from the city of Dallas.
Alexander Neal’s three-minute video of his kayak trip to what he calls Dallas’ “Blue Hole” isn’t the usual thing that attracts a lot of attention on TikTok. But the video has earned thousands of eyes across Dallas’ many social media platforms.
“What if I told you that all the water in this swamp was coming from a broken water main leaking treated drinking water from the city of Dallas, and it was flooding hundreds of acres of our floodplain forest in the Great Trinity Forest?” Neal asks as he kayaks through the unintended wetlands that have emerged rom the Great Trinity Forest, not far from C.F. Hawn Freeway and Rhoades Terrace Park, adjacent to the Rochester Levee.
Neal, who sits on the board of directors for the Texas Rivers Protection Association and is employed as a water resources professional, claims the water pipe has been broken for at least five years. This has created a “huge swamp and a gaping hole” that he says is 30-to-40-feet across and about 20-feet deep. (In a quick call Tuesday, he said that he was not a water utilities expert, so the use of the word “main” in the video may have been incorrect.)
The video depicts crystal-clear water, with nutria swimming through it and among the vegetation. He estimates there are tens of millions of gallons of water filling the wetland area a day.
“If you do the math, the city of Dallas has essentially wasted multiple billion gallons of treated drinking water,” Neal says.
But beyond that waste of water, the trees have become waterlogged, causing hundreds to die off, he estimates. You can see many dead trees in this drone video shot this week by videographer Dale Greer. Google Earth’s satellite footage also depicts a large swath of brown trees.
According to city spokeswoman Catherine Cuellar, the area is part of a floodplain area that routinely holds water from heavy rainfall and stormwater runoff. Once the current water levels recede, the city’s forestry team will visit the site to assess “all flora and fauna.”
Ben Sandifer, a master naturalist and frequent visitor to the Great Trinity Forest, says the city has known about the leak for years.
“For many years I have been calling and writing to the city of Dallas about the water main break in this location via 311 phone calls, written complaints and in-person discussion with city staff,” he says. “The city of Dallas has known about it for many years and done little to fix the issue.”
He also provided video of the leak on his YouTube channel.
Part of the issue, he says, is that there is no physical address for the swamp’s location, and the swampland itself is only accessible by canoe or kayak. After phone calls back and forth with city employees who couldn’t find the area, he took them there himself.
The city says DWU began investigating the issue in October 2022, when it first heard of the leak. (Sandifer provided D Magazine with a 311 report he made in March 2022.)
According to a statement provided by Cuellar, Dallas Water Utilities has been working to repair a leak in a 30-inch underground pipeline that serves water customers and “is integral to the overall water distribution system for the City.”
The leak, which the city says is in a wetlands area, took time to locate and diagnose. Once it was discovered, the DWU staff closed off the segment of the 30-inch line they suspect is the culprit and kept a smaller 8-inch bypass line operating to maintain pressure.
While doing that, the city also had to balance fixing the problem with consideration of the wildlife in the area while maintaining water service and fire protection to the customers around the leak.
To do that, Cuellar says the city reduced the volume of water flowing through the pipe and transferred customers’ water service to other lines. They also used a de-chlorination process for the water that was discharged to “minimize any impacts to area wildlife.”
The city says it began repairs on the line August 1, which will take several weeks to finish.
Sandifer pointed out that if the city is de-chlorinating the water, it means that the water was likely drinking water. According to Cuellar, the water is pumped from DWU’s water treatment plants and is distributed to water customers through a series of pumps and pipelines. The city estimates that about 12,000 gallons per day, or 3.6 million gallons, have leaked since October 2022. It’s since been contained.
The city is also unsure of how deep the water is. “This area is part of a larger floodplain area that holds water from heavy rainfall and stormwater runoff, or out-of-bank events involving White Rock Creek or the Trinity River,” Cuellar said in a follow-up email.
Sandifer also says he is bothered by the fact that the city apparently wasted a freshwater drinking resource for years, in direct conflict with its Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan, or CECAP.
“Core portions of the city of Dallas’ CECAP were not followed,” Sandifer says. “While City Hall touted and patted themselves on the back for water conservation efforts this huge water main break roared 24 hours a day for many years.”
Above all, Sandifer says, a bigger question looms: How did the city miss so much water being lost each year?