Posted August 13, 2019
On any given night, anyone who has crossed paths with Zoltan "Z" Zsohar could stop by his front yard on West Lake Highlands Drive to watch the sun set over White Rock Lake.
The lake fanatic and board member of nonprofit For the Love of the Lake, eager to share the prized piece of land he acquired seven years ago, has extended the invite to countless people. But Zsohar said the beauty he sees nearly every night is imperiled by what lies beneath.
For aesthetics, recreation and flood control, he and others say a good dredging — the removal of materials, such as sediments and debris, from the lake bottom — is overdue.
"I can't imagine our city leaders allowing this lake to die," Zsohar said, as he held a glass of wine and watched from his deck overlooking the water as The Spirit of Dallas sailed along in the distance.
Newly elected Dallas City Council member Paula Blackmon agrees and is pushing the city to start a $100,000 feasibility study that would analyze the costs, funding options and timeline for White Rock Lake's dredging.
"It's time," she said. "That's the main point."
Blackmon first sent a memo to council members in late July about the dredging and requested that the city's Park and Recreation Department fund the study, D Magazine reported.
The city last dredged White Rock in 1998. In the two decades since, residents say silt that travels south from the northern suburbs has built up and eroded the shoreline.
The city and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers previously funded a volumetric study on White Rock Lake in 2015. That study found that sediment accumulated the most northwest of the Dallas Arboretum, where the reservoir narrows. But the study recommended reevaluating the lake again to find problematic areas of sediment buildup in 10 years or after a major flood event.A dredging feasibility study could take a year to 18 months, Blackmon said. She hopes to fund it with dollars earmarked for White Rock Lake improvements. And she wants other agencies and private donors to chip in.
Without the study, city officials know little about what dredging White Rock would entail, or how much it would cost.
Blackmon, who ran for council this year partly on the dredging issue, said she's heard estimates for dredging that range anywhere from $20 million to $40 million. She said she would want the cleanup efforts to also include some shoreline improvements, which could raise the cost significantly.
Lake lovers like Zsohar and others who use the lake have frequently called for a dredging. On the worst days, frequent lake visitors say the water is so shallow, they think people could wade right across it.
Zsohar said trash has been a constant problem — and another reason the lake would benefit from dredging. The garbage has also been a source of complaints from the lake's frequent users.
"People are pretty passionate about this lake," Zsohar said.
Sue Ellen Chambers, president of White Rock Rowing, said the increased silt has significantly impacted activities such as kayaking or boating.
"The shoreline is eroding, and the lake just needs some care," Chambers said. "It's just time. It's time for the city to pay attention and put some money into those great resources that are incredibly valuable to the city."
But Blackmon said the dredging issue extends beyond water recreation.
"It's a flood control issue," Blackmon said. "There's no capacity in White Rock Lake for the flood water to come. ... If it goes to the lake, and there's no place for it to go, it overflows somewhere."
Terry Lowery, director of Dallas Water Utilities, doesn't share Blackmon's concerns on the impact of flooding; she considers other storm drainage improvements to be a higher priority, she said.
Bachman Lake, near Dallas Love Field, also needs dredging, park officials have said.
But Lowery said White Rock is "truly a jewel of the city."
"We all love White Rock," she said.
And Lowery said even though dredging "is not a simple thing," Blackmon's proposal to start with the study is a strong one "that has a high probably of success."
"There's a lot of will to get it done," Lowery said.
CORRECTION, 12:28 p.m., Aug. 12, 2019: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Bachman Lake was never dredged. It was dredged in 2002.