It Sure Looks Like City Hall Is to Blame for Large West Dallas Fish Kill

The Pavaho sump, sometime after it was refilled by spring rains but before City Hall stuck a pump in to drain the water.
The Pavaho sump, sometime after it was refilled by spring rains but before City Hall stuck a pump in to drain the water.

Last Thursday, during a routine stormwater inspection, city staff came upon an unsettling discovery: 300 to 400 dead fish in a West Dallas drainage pond on the landward side of the Trinity River levee near the Pavaho Pump Station. Workers plucked what fish carcasses they could safely reach — almost all were large carp, with a couple of dozen black catfish mixed in — and performed tests to determine the water quality.

Assistant City Manager Mark McDaniel briefed the Dallas City Council in a memo distributed later that evening. The pond, McDaniel explained, had been drained in late 2014, an early step in transforming it into a more natural wetland full of grasses and plants to filter out pollutants from storm water runoff. As part of that work, the city carefully removed and relocated all the turtles, beavers and fish. But then, in the spring, Dallas was flooded by rains that refilled the dry Pavaho pit and allowed fish to repopulate it. McDaniel indicates that the exact cause of the fish kill, which has been reported to the Texas Park and Wildlife Department and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, is still something of a mystery. Work on the wetlands has recently restarted, but "it is not clear whether that is the sole factor contributing to this fish mortality, particularly as this is also concurrently occurring in other areas." McDaniel references a second, smaller fish kill (workers collected 168 fish) at Scyene and Dixon in Pleasant Grove. "It is anticipated that the prolonged period of high temperatures and very low flow dissolved oxygen contributed to the fish kill."

We're not ichthyologists or anything, but we suspect the fish kill had less to do with the vague and mysterious forces of nature than with the water pump parked on the side of the pond. A reader emailed over the weekend reporting that the pump had sucked the pond down to mere puddles. Ben Sandifer, the tireless Trinity advocate, got the same email and biked over to the former pond. Sure enough:

On Sunday, an excavator and a water pump were coincidentally perched at the edge of the pond where several hundred fish turned up dead
On Sunday, an excavator and a water pump were coincidentally perched at the edge of the pond where several hundred fish turned up dead
Ben Sandifer

On the scale of City Hall-induced disasters along the Trinity River (e.g. bulldozing virgin post-oak savanna to get at golf-course dirt, draining an ecologically sensitive pond to moisten said dirt), accidentally killing a few hundred carp and catfish in a West Dallas drainage pond — if the putrefying fish blood is indeed on the city's hands — barely registers. These aren't exactly endangered species, and the pond itself, surrounded on three sides by a residential neighborhood isn't exactly an ecological treasure. But maybe next time make sure the pump is hidden before you send out a memo blaming the dead fish on low dissolved oxygen?


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