Reused Wastewater to Aid Trinity River

The Trinity River begins in far north Texas as four distinct forks. One passes through the heart of Dallas, another two through Fort Worth. Once the paths converge south of the two cities, the river continues southeast another 200 miles through piney woods and past Houston before draining into the Gulf Coast.

“You’ve got Dallas on one end and Houston on the other,” said Carl Fentress, a former Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist who has worked on preservation efforts in the Trinity Basin. “Obviously the river means a lot to a lot of people in Texas.”

Nearly half of the state’s population relies on the Trinity River for some of its water needs. While an ongoing drought has threatened the vitality of rivers in other parts of Texas, that has been less of an issue for the Trinity, which attracts far more debate over riverside development plans in Dallas and Fort Worth.

The Trinity's flows have remained relatively strong thanks in part to a robust reuse program in North Texas, according to officials and environmentalists working along the river. The Dallas area returns much of the water it takes from the river back in the form of treated wastewater. Downstream, Houston residents rely on that reused water.

“Every drop of water that’s being consumed in Houston has been through the wastewater treatment plants in Dallas and Fort Worth,” said Andy Sansom, director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University. It’s an approach other states and other parts of Texas are expected to employ more broadly as populations grow and water sources becomes more valuable.

Wetland development and other projects along different parts of the river, much of it on private land, are also helping maintain and strengthen the river’s vitality, according to Ken Klaveness, executive director of Trinity Waters, a nonprofit conservation group.

“We’re trying to stimulate the quality of the soil which has been depleted by 100 years of farming and over-fertilization,” Klaveness said. “We’re doing projects like planting native grasses that revitalize soil health, which is vital in retaining water.”

Though parts of the Trinity River still remain polluted, the river has become cleaner in recent years. The Trinity River Authority, which oversees much of the wastewater treatment efforts in the river basin, is currently studying the ecology of the river in partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said Glenn Clingenpeel, a senior manager with the Trinity River Authority.

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