The Standing Wave on the Trinity River Stands Ready to Wash Away More of Your Dough

Somewhere in the saga of the Dallas Wave, formerly known as the Standing Wave, there is sanity. Things happen for a reason. I take this as an article of faith, but my faith is sorely tested by the wave.

The standing wave is a manmade rapids in the Trinity River downriver from downtown that the city is attempting to create as a recreational amenity for kayakers. I wrote about it last May. Several years in development, the city opened it to the public in May but then closed it to the public the same day.


Well, there were some serious design problems. The engineers who had designed the water feature included a bypass around it for canoes. Charles Allen, who is pretty much the godfather of all Trinity River canoe outfitters, told me the city had rebuffed his many offers to test the bypass.

Test it how? Paddle through it in a canoe.

Had someone done that, they might have noticed that the bypass had a tendency to smash canoes and kayaks sideways, turn them on their ends and flip them over all pretty much in one motion.

The city said they were going to fix it. I went down there last week. Nothing has changed. But this week the Dallas Park and Recreation Board will decide whether to pay $76,648 to Freese and Nichols, the engineering firm that designs sewage treatment plants and such for the city, to study what's wrong with it.

I asked Dallas Park and Recreation Assistant Director Willis Winters if the testing will include anybody paddling through it in a canoe. He said no.

"Canoe tests are not feasible because we would have to wait for changes in the river conditions to test a range of water flow rates," Winters told me in an email.

Instead, he wrote:

"The proposed standing wave study will be conducted by a professional engineer specializing in hydraulic studies, in collaboration with a water-resources laboratory. The lab will construct a 1:5-scale physical hydraulic model of the entire project to simulate the wave structure's performance and behavior under various hydraulic conditions -- in other words, how the various features of the standing wave perform under low water flow, normal flow and high flow (following a rain event). The model will test the existing conditions of the wave as well as the proposed modification to the lower bypass channel. This model will also allow the project team to make physical modifications to the design of the standing wave and bypass channels, and to test these modifications, so that recommendations can be made for improvements. Once the test is complete, a final recommendation will be provided to the city for design modifications to the wave structure."

That's good. Winters knows his business. I just like canoe tests, because you can check for: 1) Skinny people versus really big people in a boat; 2) Drunk people versus sober; 3) People who can canoe straight versus people who go in circles; and 4) College students who stand up in the canoe while drinking beer.

I don't want to kill any of them. The way the river was before, it didn't. Why add canoe killings if we don't have to?

There is the matter of the money. It's pretty hard to follow with this thing. The original cost was to be $1.1 million, bumped up to $1.4 million in August 2008, supposedly from the 1998 Trinity River bond funds.

In January 13 of this year, the city council was told the standing wave had cost $3.4 million, with only $200,000 coming from the '98 bond money and $3.2 million coming from a 2006 bond campaign.

On March 3, the park board was told the cost of the project had been bumped up from $4 million to $4.2 million with all of the money coming from 2006 bond funds.

I can't find where anybody was told how the project went from $3.2 million in January to $4 million at some point before March, but anyway it went up a total of a million bucks in three months. Now it's going up another $76,000.

I just wish they'd let Charles Allen paddle through it in a canoe.

I have a feeling that such a thing is way beneath the dignity of the professionals who are behind this project. But I think more than $3.1 million in change orders -- an increase in the overall cost of the project of more than 350 percent -- ought to be way beneath somebody's dignity too, especially since you still can't paddle through the standing wave.

We used to do stuff sort of like this in small rivers in Michigan when I was in my 20s. Shove a boulder or a log out in the river to make some turbulence. Canoe through it. Move the boulder. Canoe through it. It's homely, but it's cheap, and you can test for the effect of beer.