Nearly a half century after its initial conception, Dallas is determined to move forward on the almost mythical Trinity Lakes project—a proposal to create three reservoirs for flood control and public amenity space along the Trinity River corridor. Earlier this month, the Dallas City Council approved a $737,000 design contract for two smaller versions of the lakes (as large as 23 acres) as the first phase to construct three larger reservoirs over time. The future reservoirs include a 90-acre Urban Lake, the 56-acre Natural Lake, and the 128-acre West Dallas Lake. In comparison, Dallas’ long-treasured White Rock Lake measures in at around 1,250 acres. The city council will vote later in the year whether or not to approve the $44 million needed to start constructing the reservoirs, which could begin as early as next year.
The lakes were initially allotted $31.5 million in bond money, a fairly large chunk of a $246 million bond package from 1998, yet less than a third is actually available today to help fund the smaller version of Urban Lake. The rest of that has been spent on design and various studies for the 2003 Balanced Vision Plan, which includes the lakes, park roads, trails, and other amenities. Through this process a few key factors were revealed about the lakes: The Trinity lakes cannot be deeper than 10 feet. Excavating deeper than ten feet would penetrate the sand layers beneath the clay cap, a permeable geologic zone that would cause the water to drain away underground. The lakes cannot be a part of the Trinity River, but must be fed though water wells, which could cost up to $1 million for each. The lakes have to be at least 200 feet from the Trinity River or the Corps of engineers will require full-scale dams between them. The lakes can’t connect to each other because water cannot flow below bridge piers.
Moreover, opponents to the lakes contract, like councilwoman Sandy Greyson, are concerned that the only way to bring the lakes to full fruition is to tie the lakes together with a toll road along the east levee. That money, nearly $28 million of an underfunded $1.5 billion, is now protected, but could be spent on excavation for the lakes and shoring up the bench for the toll road. Councilman Philip Kingston said that the project was “so far off-track” that the city should not waste any more time and money entertaining it, and that the project might not be best coined in terms of “lakes.”
So why move forward? Lakes or not, the Trinity River corridor is picking up steam, and the park plan proposed by landscape architecture firm Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) would benefit Dallas as whole. The proposal includes, along with the three off-channel “lakes,” the relocation of nine miles of river channel with meanders and riparian terraces, 30 miles of trails, a mile-long promenade, overlooks, plazas, pavilions, amphitheaters, playfields, and a whitewater run, which has already been built, tested, and is currently in limbo. As part of the largest public works project in the history of the city, WRT has helped raise money for the $700 million project along the Trinity River.
For most in Dallas, the lakes symbolize progress; the sort of forward-thinking “big” ideas that armchair urbanists and designers use to illustrate the magnificent opportunities that exist in the city. The current approval might not be as grand as the project’s boosters hoped, but it is a step toward turning the Trinity River corridor into an amenity.