ON A RECENT SATURDAY MORNing, as the sun threw a coppery sheen over the choppy waves of White Rock Lake, 1 watched a large flock of gulls bobbing at anchor some 50 yards offshore. Suddenly, with one mind they rose, swirling off to the south before settling on the water again, It was a beautiful sight, one of many I enjoyed that morning. What a bargain the lake seems to be: wind, water, wildlife, jogging trails, glorious sunsets-all for free. There is no toll road into the park, no graduated price list for its pleasures:
Nice views: $5
Escape from petty irritations : $8
Moments of joy: $10
But of course nothing is free. Someone always brings the tab. And a big tab-at least $18 million-is coming due on White Rock Lake, the shimmering heart of Dallas for almost a century. Very soon we must decide: Is the lake worth saving? Will it be a part of our future as it has been a part of our past ? If so, we’re going to have to put our money where our memories are.
Last August, Chris Kelley of the Dallas Morning News did a masterful job of compiling what was in effect a preliminary autopsy report on White Rock Lake. His stories brought to public attention what environmentalists and city planners have been saying for years: White Rock is dying, If we don’t start saving it soon, we’ll lose a vital part of our heritage.
The lake’s silent killers are sediment and neglect. About 36.5 million gallons of silt flow into the lake each year, proving again the old maxim that everything is the result of everything else. Urbanization in the White Rock watershed means much more concrete-parking lots, driveways, culverts-which means less land to absorb rainfall, which means much more water gushing much faster into the creeks, eroding the creekbeds and carrying tons of sediment-not to mention debris, pesticides, motor oil, and your kid’s lost basketball-to the lake.
When White Rock Lake was completed in 1911 it had an average depth of 16 feet. Today that average is less than 8 feet. The northern third of White Rock is more marsh than lake, clotted with weeds and rotting logs. In some places a hundred feet offshore, the water is only a few inches deep. That desolate end of the lake is a snapshot of White Rock’s future, unless we act soon.
The lake’s other enemy, of course, is neglect- Budget cuts of 30 percent, which have lowered the quality of all Dallas’ parks, have devastated White Rock. Just seven workers maintain the park, down from 16 employees in 1986. Roads, buildings, and picnic tables are falling apart. More than a third of the shoreline trees are dead or unhealthy. Bays and stagnant inlets fill with trash after heavy rains. Volunteers do much of the cleanup work.
What can we do now to save our urban oasis? At this writing, it’s all but certain that the City Council will agree to put some $9 million for dredging White Rock on the May bond election. If voters approve of the measure, the remaining seven to nine million dollars will be diverted from existing city funds.
As long ago as 1937, A. P. Rollins, the city’s director of public works, knew that dredging was merely a short-term solution to the lake’s woes. The ultimate-and much more expensive-solution lies in upstream sediment controls. But we do what we can. A temporary fix now is better than walking away and leaving the lake to die.
White Rock Lake began as a partnership between man and nature-a partnership that has benefited Dallas for 84 years. It would be a terrible shame if we let down our side of the bargain.
CHRIS TUCKER, EDITOR