Monday, February 17, 2014

Taming The Trinity River - Where it All Began

The taming began immediately after May, 1949 when a record breaking Trinity River flood inundated much of Fort Worth below the bluffs. Both the West and Clear Fork branches went way over in spite of the Lake Worth, Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Bridgeport retention reservoirs. Fort Worth was mostly isolated for days. At least 10 people were killed and $11 million dollers in damage resulted.

1949 Fort Worth Flood Aerial - Portal to Texas History <Click image to enlarge>

Levees had been thrown up, strengthened and raised periodically as a result of overwhelming floods in 1908, 1915, 1922 and the years following. Lake Worth was opened in 1913. However, the rivers themselves remained narrow, brushy, winding, polluted ditches that would go over the banks at the slightest opportunity.

No matter how high the the levee, the ditch just wasn't wide enough. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been involved from the beginning, but money was the problem.  A good part of any protective improvements would require shared funding with local sources which meant bond elections. There was enough complacency in Fort Worth to make that very difficult.  Until the 1949 flood...

Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Magazine, March, 1950
<Click to enlarge image>
The business community was fed up. The March, 1950 edition of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce carried an aerial view of the Trinity Bottoms with the meandering streams with improvements highlighted in red. In addition, there was an entire page supporting a massive flood control project, urging community action and local money raising to get things moving.

Portion of the 1950 Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Report
<click image to enlarge>

The result was an enormous dirt moving project that widened, deepened and rerouted the river. Benbrook Dam was built on the Clear Fork. Additional work was done during the construction of the interstate highways so that the flood plain became a sterile treeless corridor designed to pass the floodwater downstream to Fort Worth's neighbors as fast as possible. Most of the work was completed by the middle 1950's. Tucked down deep in the work were some overkill projects that would help to support the long planned Trinity River Canal to the gulf coast. The canal effort finally sputtered out in the 1970's but some of the remains are still in the dirt work.

The result totally altered the Fort Worth river view including the confluence of the two Trinity's.

Early Trinity River Vision Overhead Rendering
<click image to enlarge>
This moat worked pretty well as far as flood control was concerned, but Fort Worth was growing and plans for the development of the Trinity Bottoms into a unique new part of the city were offered after the turn of the century. The controversial Trinity River Vision which included further flood protection, came into being and work is under way on a 50 year build out plan.

It looks like the Trinity may finally have been tamed. But there are those that say climate change may just tip the balance again....

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