It's fun to joke about the filthiness of the Trinity River. It's even more fun to remind Houston that all that urine and feces and prescription medication we flush down our toilets winds up in their water glasses. By all means, this should continue.
At the same time, it's worth being mindful of a tiny piece of irony: The millions of gallons of wastewater that Dallas, Fort Worth, and their upstream neighbors are sending down there are actually making it cleaner.
A century ago, the Trinity was "basically a dead river," says Glenn Clingenpeel, a senior manager with the Trinity River Authority. It was unable to support all but the hardiest specimens of aquatic life, partly because of pollution, partly because of woefully inadequate sewage treatment.
It makes sense, then, that the Trinity would become cleaner as wastewater purification techniques improved. The surprise, revealed by a preliminary study of the river's ecology conducted by the TRA, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, is just how good the water quality has become.
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"What we found I think was a surprise to everybody, just in terms of the abundance of the species and the types of species," Clingenpeel says. It wasn't just a lot of creatures that thrive in putrid sludge, either. Researchers found an abundance of pollution-sensitive darter fish, as well as thriving populations of mussels and benthic macroinvertebrates that wouldn't have been able to survive in the river in decades past.
Nor is increased species diversity the only way North Texas' prodigious toilet flushing benefits the Trinity. As the Texas Tribune explored yesterday, it's what keeps the river flowing. During the record drought of 2011, the region's wastewater, much of it imported from other basins, was enough to maintain a steady flow, and that supply isn't going to dry up.
This calls for a celebration, preferably one involving several gallons of booze and lots and lots of trips to the bathroom. Houston will no doubt thank us.