A Week After They Found Pig Blood in the Trinity, Still So Very Many Questions

The back and forth between the city and Columbia Packing Pant on the January 19 river-of-pig-blood incident is fascinating on a bunch of levels. If nothing else, it would seem to raise urgent questions about the way industrial facilities all over Dallas pump waste into the city's sanitary sewer system.

This is the place where a guy flying a remote-control mini-airplane with a camera accidentally discovered a red plume of what turned out to be pig blood -- and guts, apparently -- rushing down a creek and straight into the Trinity River near the city's troubled man-made kayaking park.

And by the way, as far as I can tell, no one has thought to ask the "playboat" kayakers who use the city's fake rapids whether pig blood degrades or enhances the site as a venue for their sport. Given their behavior so far on other issues, I wouldn't be surprised if they like it.

Columbia Packing claims it's all the city's fault for not clearing a clog in their sanitary sewer line. City officials, in their own statement, don't come right out and say it, but it's obvious from their detailed complaint that they think Columbia caused the clog by pouring the wrong stuff down the drain.

Here's where I think most of us average citizens are. We're scratching our heads thinking, "Wait: There's a legal way to pour a river of pig blood and guts into the city's sanitary sewer system?"

The obvious answer is yes. In a laundry list of complaints against Columbia, the city is claiming that the packing plant was way outside the law in the way it was disposing waste from its pig-slaughtering operation. The violations cited include pouring a lot of grease, pig flesh and pig hair into the sewer.

Columbia, for its part, is saying it put the pig blood, pig flesh and pig hair into the sewer the right way, but that the city failed to keep the sewer unclogged.

No, wait. Tell me again. There's a right way to put pig blood, pig flesh and pig hair down the sewer? Yeah, there is. It's all done under permits -- a system that should allow the city to know what kind of infrastructure it needs to have in place to handle the waste.

So no matter what happens and who did what, we know that the infrastructure in place to handle waste from this near-century-old packing plant operation doesn't work. We don't know if it doesn't work because the city hasn't kept it up -- always a distinct possibility -- or because the plant has gotten sloppy over the decades about keeping up its own infrastructure, which also is possible.

Let me just ... one more time here: There's a good way to put pig blood, pig flesh and pig hair into the city's water treatment plant? Yup. Well, there's a legal way.

And you know what that means, right? There's a legal way to put God-knows-what-else into the system. Should we ask for a list of stuff people put into the sewage treatment plant? Would we want to read the list? Obviously this is not a field for the faint of stomach.

We only found about this particular incident because a guy flying a remote-controlled model airplane with a camera attached to it accidentally copped a photo of the pig blood. But what does all of this tell us about the overall picture, about industrial waste, city enforcement, our shared investment in water treatment infrastructure and what's going on all over town?

I know what I think it means. It means that you and I probably could save a whole lot on taxes by raising our city taxes enough to pay for a bigger, tougher system of inspection. We need to have way more code inspectors armed with better technology, including city cars that aren't 15-year-old beaters.

We have this unquestioned mantra in Dallas that every penny a business enterprise pays in taxes and every dollar it pays in wages is money ahead for the community. But c'mon. Put a pencil to it. How much more does it cost us to build and operate sewage treatment facilities in order to clean up substances that are going into the system illegally? We shouldn't lose money on the deal by allowing people to break the law.

I am not saying Columbia broke or is breaking the law. Sounds like that question may wind up in a courtroom someday. I don't even know which side I like in that fight. The coin could flip one way or the other. But the picture here, for us citizens, is alarming either way. No matter whose fault this is, it's costing us taxpayers a whole lot of money.

Maybe the kayakers love it. They're already wearing nose clips and earplugs down there to keep the pollutants out of their orifices. Now they can add surgical masks and butcher's smocks. Whole new sport, maybe. Red-water kayaking. Jan 24 Letter From City of Dallas to Columbia Packing CoJan 26 Statement From Columbia Packing Co