Devil Creek

For decades we buried our streams beneath concrete. Now they're baaaack.

Years ago--I don't remember how many; I was young myself, that's how long--an old guy pointed a line across my neighborhood with a chopping motion of his arm and told me it was where the creek bed must have been.

I have romanticized the memory--a bad habit, I know--but I picture him now as an ancient mariner in yellow slicker and hood with snow-white beard and whirling gray eyes and his words as, "Thar's whar the water wants to go."

His theory was based on a series of houses on three blocks that suffer perennial foundation problems, and he had some notions about the lay of the land that I couldn't quite follow.

The view from Schutze's front yard two weeks ago
The view from Schutze's front yard two weeks ago

One thing that attracted me to our neighborhood in the first place was that we were far from any water. I noted with satisfaction that we were two and three-quarter miles from the closest creek at White Rock Lake.

A few years after my conversation with the ancient mariner, a city employee told me that beneath the intersection of Glendale Street and Bryan Parkway, 150 feet from our house, lies a huge holding tank, "big enough to put a couple houses in."

Twice I have seen sudden, violent flooding in the neighborhood--in '95 and again two weeks ago. A decade ago, the rain had barely started to pelt when we looked outside and saw a Dumpster sailing down the street like the Flying Dutchman.

The flooding two weeks ago was a little more gradual. I realized all of a sudden I needed to drive my car four blocks uphill quickly and park it above the flood. I walked back downhill, and by the time I got to the intersection above the holding tank, water was surging across in waves. I had to turn toward the current and crab-walk sideways to avoid getting knocked over and sent to Davy Jones' locker on my butt. It even occurred to me what an ignominious fate it was going to be: "Last seen in a sitting position scooting backward on Glendale toward the raging maw of a storm sewer."

But I reached dry ground. A few minutes later the water surged even higher, crashing around trees in a high white-water foam. A guy came driving up our street toward the intersection in a small sedan, plowing through the surf like a tugboat.

I started making the international chimpanzee jumping-jack signal for stop--waving my arms in an X and jumping up and down wildly. He slowed, smiled at me indulgently, then drove out into the intersection.

The rear end of his car lifted up and the front end nosed deeper. He began whipping the wheel furiously and gunning the engine. Then the front end lifted up too. The car pirouetted nicely. And he floated off into the spray like a kid on the log ride at the State Fair.

For an hour the neighbors and I tried to see what had become of him, but we couldn't get down there. We were castaways trapped on our lawns by the tempest.

Later when the water stopped, we saw his car on higher ground with one door open. No deaths were reported near us, so we assume he made it. But wherever he is, he needs a new car.

In '95 and again in this recent one, I watched the water crashing into the neighborhood from Live Oak, the big street just northwest of us. The waves came toward us on Glendale and crashed against a corner lot just across from our house on Bryan Parkway, right into the opening where the city guy had told me the huge holding tank was. But this time instead of flowing into the opening, the water shot straight up out of it.

The day after the flood, the debris line across the street--limbs, plastic, a pumpkin, unidentifiable objects--lay in a path directly where the geezer had chopped with his arm years ago, from the opening of the holding tank through the line of houses on our street to the next block over where the perennial foundation problems occur.

Last week I wrote about some of this for the Dallas Observer blog, Unfair Park. The item had barely been up an hour before I started getting e-mail about it, some of which came from informed sources, at least one of whom I can't even identify. One message was from community activist and political consultant Lorlee Bartos, who told me I needed to get a look at a study done for the city by a local engineering firm two years ago called the Mill Creek Master Drainage Plan.

But I don't live on a creek. Do I?

The study reported that the city of Dallas began burying the creeks through East Dallas in the 1930s, diverting them into storm sewers. The run-off from these creeks and branches started at a high point on the M Streets a few miles from my house, coursed across the Swiss Avenue area down through the neighborhood around Baylor hospital and finally out across what is now the southwest corner of downtown into the Trinity River.

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