By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Trifecta:First the FBI comes snooping around City Hall, looking for council members and others sharing wallets and cars with real-estate developers. Then the Department of Justice starts banging cell doors at the Dallas County Jail to find out whether the county's giving its prisoners proper treatment. Now, it seems, we've made a hat trick: Though nobody at the Department of Justice will confirm this, it appears the feds are looking into whether the city of Dallas violated the Clean Water Act, either by dumping pollutants into the Trinity River and other water supplies or refusing to regulate just what ends up in the Trinity.
It appears that the government's interest in this stems from a little-known lawsuit that's been lingering in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas, for going on three years--a lawsuit that alleges Dallas "has caused countless tons of water pollution to enter and harm the Trinity River and its tributaries...in several ways." The suit was filed on December 9, 2003, by the Environmental Conservation Organization, a locally based nonprofit run by James B. Riley Jr. that claims the city willfully and flagrantly violated laws.
Put simply, ECO is accusing the city of sending dirty water from the zoo directly into Cedar Creek, which feeds into the Trinity; dumping oil and gas from its wastewater centers and from Love Field back into the Trinity; and allowing vendors at the Farmers Market to dump their wastewater into the watershed. The ECO's initial complaint has received scant news coverage outside the Dallas Observer cover story "Up the Crick" (by Paul Kix, June 24, 2004). ECO also charges that the city has committed some 150 permit violations.
The city, of course, denies every one of the ECO's allegations and has tried to get the case tossed out. Last July, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeff Kaplan rejected the ECO's charges that the city was dumping hazardous materials into the Trinity and its tributaries from various city-operated locations, claiming those allegations were "too broad" and, at the time of filing, unsubstantiated. (ECO claims it now has proof.) But Kaplan ruled that the suit could move forward with respect to storm-sewer system permit violations.
Durham says he expects the case to go to trial in June. No word what the Department of Justice will do, if anything. In the meantime, pray there isn't another flood.