For the third time since 1995, Mary Ford has seen part of her Lake Worth home soaked with floodwaters.
Like many North Texans who live on lakes or along the Trinity River, Ford has faced two flooding threats in the last month.
Despite having 3 inches of water seep into her laundry room and seeing her storage shed flood, Ford isn’t going anywhere.
“Gosh, no,” Ford said. “Why would I leave? I love everything about it: the view, the peacefulness — and the boats, of course.”
Though she remains undaunted, this spring’s onslaught of rain and high water has served as a potent reminder of the power of the Trinity River and its four main branches.
Rainwater flowed downstream in the West, Clear, Elm and East forks into reservoirs, where controlled releases did their best to manage flooding as the water cascaded from one lake to another.
While Lake Bridgeport, Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Worth overflowed with the rising waters of the Trinity River’s West Fork, Dallas and other areas east of Fort Worth have seen much more flooding.
That’s to be expected because Dallas sits farther downstream and captures water from a much larger basin that flows into the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. Some of the areas that feed the Elm Fork — namely Montague, Cooke and Grayson counties — have seen up to 60 inches of rain this year.
“Probably the biggest factor for higher water levels on the Trinity River in Dallas County versus Tarrant has been the Elm Fork’s contribution to the river system once it joins the Trinity on the east side of Irving,” said Bob Carle, a National Weather Service hydrologist. “There has been a ton of water flowing down that river from Lakes Grapevine, Ray Roberts and Lewisville. That is the Trinity branch that the outflow from those three lakes travels down.”
It will be months before all that excess water can be released downstream. Lake Grapevine, for example, is still 26 feet above its conservation pool, and some campgrounds and parks remain under water.
While many Tarrant County residents refer to the Clear and West forks as the Trinity, it doesn’t actually become the main stem of the river until the West and Elm forks meet in Irving, where the Trinity flowed over its banks as it snaked through west Dallas in late May and early June and became a popular tourist draw for a few days in the heart of the city.
The East Fork connects to the main stem in Kaufman County, and from there it flows to the coast, at Trinity Bay in Chambers County.
To cope with the mood swings along the Trinity, reservoirs were built to control floodwaters and create a water supply.
In Tarrant County, records about floods date to 1822. As Fort Worth grew, the impact of floods would become an issue.
The Fort Worth Gazette reported on July 5, 1889, “that thousands of people visited the bluff to see the huge sheet of water surrounding Fort Worth beyond the river.”
In April 1922, torrential downpours dumped 11 inches of water in two days. Trinity River levees had 17 breaches, resulting in at least 10 deaths and more than $1 million in damage, according to the Tarrant Regional Water District. That triggered calls for a water district to develop flood control and protect the water supply.
In 1938, Marine Creek flooded the Stockyards and much of the north side.
The 1949 flood is considered the worst in Fort Worth history. At the time, funding had been approved for Benbrook Lake, which would control water from the Clear Fork, but it had yet to be built. At least 10 people were killed and 13,000 left homeless by the 1949 flood — triggered by 10 to 12 inches of rain falling along Mary’s Creek and the Clear Fork.
“Traditionally, the Clear Fork was the toughest to tame,” Fort Worth historian Quentin McGown said. “Lake Benbrook came as a part of that. Had Benbrook been completed, the ’49 flood would have largely been averted.”
By the next major flood, in 1957, Benbrook Lake was in place to limit floodwaters on the Clear Fork.
“Anytime you get 12 inches in a single watershed, you’re probably going to have some flooding,” McGown said. “That’s one thing to note is we didn’t get close to that this time. Yet you can imagine without the channelization and reservoirs, it would have been a mess.”
As much attention as this spring’s flooding received, the flows in the West and Clear forks were not out of the ordinary, said David Marshall, director of engineering and operations support for the Tarrant Regional Water District.
“This was a one-in-10-year event,” Marshall said. “This was close to the 2004 flood, and that was 11 years ago. This was the kind of flood that gets people’s attention and reminds them of the flood risk in this area.”
Water levels along the Elm Fork, which flows into Ray Roberts and Lewisville lakes before joining the West Fork, were much higher.
“At Lewisville Lake, we had a 100-year event, and there will be some other high-pool records in this event we’re still in,” said Clay Church, spokesman for the Fort Worth district of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Other parts of the Trinity are being assessed for their flood potential.
The University of Texas at Arlington is conducting a study on flood risks across parts of Tarrant County. One area of focus is near southwest Fort Worth and Benbrook.
“There are concerns about the Clear Fork and Mary’s Creek and what the true flood risk is there,” Marshall said.
‘We’ll be staying’
This spring’s floods should prompt homeowners to be aware of the flood risks and consider flood insurance, Marshall said.
“Even if you’re not in the 500-year flood plain, you should realize that’s a possibility and be aware of your risk,” he said.
Several insurers around Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Worth said they had policyholders seek quotes for flood insurance, but only one agent said a customer actually bought a policy.
Mostly, it seems, those who live on the lakes see the water as their friend, not their enemy.
Like Ford and other Lake Worth residents, Deana Davis plans to stay put. Her home has been surrounded by water twice in the last month.
She has contemplated moving — because of frequent snake sightings.
“I get worried and ready to move, and my husband says ‘no,’” Davis said. “He says, ‘Anywhere you can move, something can go wrong.’ And when you think about it like that, it’s true.”
So even if the floodwaters return, Davis said, she isn’t going anywhere.
“We’ll be staying and once the lake debris is cleared off, I can guarantee you we won’t have to water our St. Augustine grass for a long time,” she said.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698
Tracking the Trinity River
The Trinity River begins in North Texas and flows to the Gulf of Mexico. Its basin covers 17,969 square miles. From the confluence of the Elm and West forks to the coast, it travels 423 miles, making it the longest river having its entire course in Texas.
1. West Fork
The West Fork starts near Olney and flows into Lake Bridgeport, which connects downstream to Eagle Mountain Lake. Both lakes were designed in the 1920s as flood control reservoirs, and water is released when they are over capacity — as was the case this spring — to maintain dam integrity, protect property and ensure public safety, including downstream in Fort Worth. Lake Worth was the first water supply lake for Fort Worth when it opened in 1914. It has an open spillway and can drop only 4 feet because it provides water to Lockheed Martin and Fort Worth’s Holly treatment plant.
2. Clear Fork
The Clear Fork starts in Parker County near Poolville and flows into Lake Weatherford and Benbrook Lake. Benbrook Lake was completed in 1952 to protect Fort Worth. Construction began in 1949, the same year the Clear Fork flooded much of Fort Worth in what is considered the worst flood in city history. The West and Clear forks meet on the north side of downtown, where the original “Fort Worth” was founded by Brevet Maj. Ripley Arnold. It remains the West Fork until merging with the Elm Fork in Irving.
3. Elm Fork
The Elm Fork starts near Saint Jo in Montague County and flows into Ray Roberts Lake. It was completed in 1987 to provide flood control, and it releases water into Lewisville Lake. Lewisville Lake was completed in 1955 and provides flood control. Released water goes from the Elm Fork into the Trinity River. Lake Grapevine, which was 26 feet above capacity this spring and flooded areas around the lake, feeds into the Elm Fork by Denton Creek near Carrollton. The West and Elm forks converge in Irving and form the Trinity River, flowing through the heart of Dallas. Because it is downstream from Fort Worth and takes on water from both the West and Elm forks, it can flood during major rain events such as in late May and early June.
4. East Fork
The East Fork starts in Grayson County. Major reservoirs are Lake Lavon and Lake Ray Hubbard. It joins the main stem of the Trinity near Rosser in Kaufman County.
Owners and operators
The Tarrant Regional Water District lakes in Dallas-Fort Worth are Bridgeport and Eagle Mountain. It also has two larger lakes in East Texas: Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek. Army Corps of Engineers lakes in DFW are Benbrook, Grapevine, Joe Pool, Lewisville, Ray Roberts. City-owned lakes are Lake Worth (Fort Worth) and Lake Arlington (Arlington).