This was the view from Jim Schutze's front yard Sunday. Expect more of this when the Trinity River Project becomes a reality.

Here Comes the Flood

We watched Sunday while the streets in front of our house in East Dallas turned suddenly into white-water rapids. We watched cars float away with people in them. Then, just as suddenly, the water disappeared even though it was still raining hard. In 22 years in the house, this is the second time we have seen this happen. It's not a gradually rising flood. It's like someone turning the water off and on

Which is exactly what it is. The water that flooded our neighborhood was water that backed up because a creaky, failing system of pumps couldn't get it over the levees and into the Trinity River fast enough.

One man was trapped in his car for hours a block from us, and no one could get to him. We're not sure what happened to another guy. It looked later as if his car had floated to higher ground, where he was able to get out. What is so extremely frustrating to me is that these events are not the so-called "acts of God" that City Hall paints them to be. These are failures of a flood-control system that is three-quarters of a century old and that we are in process of making much worse through the wrong-headed expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Five years ago I wrote about this in a column on the Trinity River Project for which I won a national prize, the Unity Award from Lincoln University for reporting on racial issues. My point then was that the project was based on a central lie. President George W. Bush's Office of Management and Budget was seeking to de-fund the project, in fact, because their analysis showed it did not provide the Southern Dallas flood protection it promised. I was able to take U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maps and show that the only property protected by the new levees south of downtown was commercial property.

But there is a much bigger deception embedded in the Trinity River Project. It makes flooding worse. We are spending money on decorative suspension bridges and on new levees that make things worse, when we should be spending it to take down levees wherever possible and to install a new system of pumps to get the water up over existing levees that cannot be removed.

And worse: Our weak local political leaders, from city council to the congressional delegation, have acceded to a scheme by real-estate promoters to build an unneeded toll road on the banks of the levees where it will make flooding even more severe. It's a jury-rigged plan that flies in the face of state-of-the-art national wisdom on flood control. Let's see: This is one I wrote about eight years ago in a feature story for the Observer. That was after I wrote about it in 1997 for the Houston Chronicle. Ron Flanagan, one of several nationally respected flood control experts I quoted, said of the Trinity River Project in Dallas:

"Nobody is building levees anymore. It's so passe. It uses the government's money to put people at risk and then again to bail them out, while private landowners reap the profit. Dallas is so far behind the curve, it's almost a joke. But Dallas is the 800-pound gorilla. It does and gets exactly what it wants."

Think about it. The water that flooded my neighborhood two days ago did not come out of the Trinity. It was water that could not get into the Trinity.

When we should be clearing the way for flood water to reach the river and putting money into newer, stronger pumps where the water is blocked by existing levees, we are instead pushing the levees up higher and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on decorative suspension bridges that we think will be a tourist attraction. A lot of the reason for this is that no one will bring in a flood-control expert to analyze the overall system. Know why? Because he or she would tell us not to build that stupid toll road along the river. And the toll road's wired politically.

We do not have a leader in politics in Dallas who has the integrity or the guts to challenge the Trinity River project. The Dallas Morning News has whored shamelessly for this project from the beginning. On Sunday we got a small taste of the havoc we are creating for ourselves. —Jim Schutze

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