Bud Kennedy

Here’s the straight poop on that muck in the Trinity last week

Bailey Duncan, an environmental tech for the Tarrant Regional Water District, takes a water sample Wednesday from the Trinity River at Panther Island. The bacteria count was too high to allow tubing or swimming at a Thursday concert.
Bailey Duncan, an environmental tech for the Tarrant Regional Water District, takes a water sample Wednesday from the Trinity River at Panther Island. The bacteria count was too high to allow tubing or swimming at a Thursday concert. jlmarshall@star-telegram.com

We worry about the Trinity River, and with good reason.

The river’s makeover into a busy downtown tubing-kayaking attraction is one of Fort Worth’s great success stories.

But heavy rains can wash backyard and barnyard pet, animal and bird waste into the river for a couple of days.

That doesn’t happen often in Texas, but it did last week.

For the sixth time in the past year — about 20 percent of the samples — the water at Panther Island Pavilion had too much bacteria for safe swimming and tubing. “Rockin’ the River” became Rockin’ the Riverbank on Thursday after tests a day earlier found high levels of E. coli.

The flood runoff had moved downriver by Friday, and new water samples showed the Trinity is plenty healthy for tubing Sunday and for the Fort Worth’s Fourth fireworks Monday.

I asked Trinity River Vision project manager Woody Frossard, the regional water district environmental director and Panther Island water-quality sage, whether pets, horses, wildlife or the Trinity Park ducks were mucking up the river during rainy spells.

His reply: “The answer is — yes. It can be all that.”

Bailey Duncan takes a water sample at the confluence. Tarrant Regional Water District monitors water quality as recent storm runoff brings up concerns.

The Arlington Heights neighborhood took a 3-inch gullywasher that scrubbed the streets and yards. With the city drainage system overloaded and caught in the middle of a replacement project near Hulen Street, floodwaters ran off into creeks and eventually the Clear Fork of the Trinity.

Since the river was already nearly full, the runoff took a few days moving out.

The water in the Trinity downtown came from Benbrook [Lake] or Eagle Mountain Lake two days ago.

Woody Frossard, Tarrant Regional Water District environmental director

Yes, Fort Worth also had a big, embarrassing sewage spill on Mary’s Creek last week that stunk up a Benbrook neighborhood.

But both Fort Worth and Trinity River Vision officials say that mess never got into the Clear Fork and was diverted, and anyway, that bacteria wouldn’t have been active by the time they drifted downtown.

Except for the occasional broken sewer line — like old streets, they need more upkeep — there’s no sewage in the Trinity water downtown.

“The good thing is, the water in the Trinity downtown came from Benbrook [Lake] or Eagle Mountain Lake two days ago,” Frossard said.

The Trinity has been cleared for swimming and tubing this weekend, but recreation is restricted about 20 percent of the time.

Much of it is lake water just washing downstream.

But the moving water also makes testing difficult.

For the Thursday concert, the water was tested Wednesday morning, because it takes a day to get results. But by concert time, that water was gone.

Panther Island is one of the cleanest parts of the river. It has been safe to swim, tube, raft or boat there most of the past year, but only boating or rafting is allowed along the Clear Fork stretch near Trinity Park or near South University Drive.

Even if it’s too risky to swim, the river is usually still safe for boating, wading or fishing. (State officials warn not to eat the fish because of constant exposure to urban pollutants.)

If you’d like to look up the Trinity health report yourself, it’s online for anyone to see at trwd.com/waterqualitymap.

Now bring on the show.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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