Wherein Jim's Just Begging to Have His Invite to the Bridging the Trinity Party Rescinded

I had other work to do this morning, but Robert was right: I couldn't stay away from Old Man River. A bit after noon I ventured down to the site of the Calatrava suspension bridge construction site to see how the high water of the last 48 hours is affecting progress on bridge construction.

I am happy to say that the floods have not had any effect on the progress of the bridge, mainly because there is no progress. Well, somebody finally did deliver some of the pre-fabbed steel from Italy, but it's all just sitting out there in trailers, mostly underwater. I saw no signs of human activity.

The other thing I wanted to check out was the levee that protects West Dallas from devastation at the Ray's Gun Shop end of the Calatrava signature bridge. I have to tell you: Things look nasty, especially where construction had already eroded the levee.

The levee itself, from the water line to the top, is roughly the consistency of a well-made chocolate mousse. The mud was sucking my shoes off at several points. Had I stood in one spot long enough, I would have sunk to mid-calf. Quickly. And I'm talking about the top of the levee. I was afraid if I walked all the way down I would hear a giant sucking sound and then go on to meet my everlasting reward. But then, I feel that way sometimes about getting out of bed in the morning.

The construction crews have hauled their heavy equipment right up onto the eroded face of the levee to save the machinery from the flood waters. I think this is the area the Corps of Engineers told them to stay the hell away from until someone could out how to stop it from melting away even worse than it has already. I could see where the tracks of the big cranes they drove up the levee left ruts that are already turning into new furrows.

I can understand them wanting to save their cranes. In the balance of things, however, I would rather see us save West Dallas. We must all hope it won't come to that.

Mainly, I just wanted to get you some shots of the new toll road we'll be building out there. I'm sure it will be fine. At worst, in certain kinds of weather they might have to require drivers to wear those little floatie things on their arms that you see on kids in swimming pools.

Can't wait for that party on September 25, when Calatrava comes to town. It'll be good news and champagne all the way around.

And I see that Trinity River Publicity Director and Spirit Team Captain Bruce Tomaso, also a reporter for The Dallas Morning News, provided the following learned treatise this morning:

"The question comes up every time it rains a lot and the Trinity River swells within its levees:

If the Trinity toll road were in existence, wouldn't it be flooded right now?


Not even close.

The road would be designed to be two feet above the water level in a 100-year flood -- a flood that's statistically expected to occur once a century. (It's a flood of about the same severity as the worst that's ever occurred along the Trinity in Dallas, the flood of 1908.)

Such a flood would raise the river to about 17 feet above ground level -- "ground level" being the top of the river's normal channel.

This morning, the floodwaters were about 6 feet above ground level, said Judy Schmidt, spokesperson for the city's Trinity River project office. That's roughly the equivalent of a three-year flood.

In June of 2007, the last time we had rains that caused the river to look like a real river again, the waters rose to about 8 feet above ground level. That was roughly a five-year flood.

And in 1990, when there was severe flooding in Rochester Park and other neighborhoods of southern Dallas -- neighborhoods past where the levees end -- the waters got to about a 35-year-flood level.

A few feet of elevation may not seem like much -- until you consider that the levees are close to half a mile apart, and run along the river channel for about 13 miles. To raise the water level even an inch over such an expanse requires -- well, a heck of a lot of water."
So, what does any of that mean? Well, first of all, it means that you can claim anything, in the absence of a final design for the road. For example: one of the ways engineers plan to protect the toll road from floods is by walling it off inside concrete flood barriers. But a flood barrier down the center of the floodway will have the effect of reducing the carrying capacity of the main floodway by a significant amount. That means the road will push the crest of a flood up higher on the existing levee in West Dallas.

We don't know how any of that is to be resolved. What we do know is that the Corps of Engineers has put the kibosh to all of it, including the design of the road, until Dallas can explain how it's going to rescue its already dangerously degraded levee system.

Does that sound like God is in his Heaven and all is well with the world?

Here's another way to look at flood waters. According to the National Weather Service, The Trinity River in West Dallas crested at 38.5 feet at about 1 a.m. today.

Here is how the weather service predicts flood damage along that stretch of the Trinity:

33 foot crest: Sylvan Avenue north of the Commerce St gage starts to flood.

38 feet: Moderate flooding will begin along the river both above and below the Commerce Street bridge.

40 feet:
Major flooding will occur in Dallas along the river. Old Forest Avenue bridge closed. Water reaches the foundation of the OxiChem plant 6 miles south of Commerce St.

41 feet: Major flooding is occurring both upstream and downstream from the gage. Dallas City packing 4 miles downstream starts to flood.

42 feet: The S.L. & S.W. Railroad and Santa Fe Railroad bridges in South Dallas flood.

43.5 feet: Major flooding of industrial areas in South Dallas can be expected. OxiChem warehouses in South Dallas begins flooding.

47 feet: Industries along the river south of Dallas will be flooded. Evacuation should begin now.

48 feet: The area around the old Procter and Gamble plant will flood. Persons along the river and in flood prone areas should expect much higher water than normal.

62 feet: The levees near downtown will be topped.
I don't know where Judy Schmidt got her number, quoted by Tomaso, showing a six-foot rise in the river. The National Weather Service gauges show a rise in West Dallas of 25.5 feet in the crest since the current rain event began on Friday.

So another way of looking at the rain event would be this: Just 20 percent more water volume than we have seen already would produce a need for major evacuation.

The trouble with Tomaso and The News and the whole booster crowd at City hall is that you can find numbers to make this all look all right, if you set out looking for numbers to make this all look all right. It would have been nice if Tomaso, the "reporter," had gone to the flood gauge data, which is easily available online to sort of test what he was being told by the city.

Then again, why would he do that?

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze