Nearly two years after announcing plans to build “trash wheels” to clean the Trinity River, Fort Worth is in the final stages of designing two solar-powered machines, each capable of collecting as much as 50,000 pounds of floating waste per day.

Brandon Bennett, the city’s code compliance director, originally told the Fort Worth Report that construction on the wheels could begin as soon as this summer or fall. But Julianne Ragland, an environmental program manager for the city, said there is no hard deadline for project completion. 

Nixalis Benitez, the environmental supervisor for Fort Worth’s water quality programs, said the wheels remain in the final design phase. After the city and Tarrant Regional Water District sign off on the design, staff will need a few more months to obtain permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to place the wheels in the Trinity. 

From there, the city will open the bid process for a contractor, Benitez said. 

“And then, if we have all the funding, then we’ll start constructing,” Benitez said. “I think it’s safe to say that this will be in 2023.” 

Last December, Fort Worth City Council members cleared the way for the code compliance department to start accepting donations for the Trinity River Waterwheels Initiative. Each wheel has an upfront cost of $600,000, not including a $1 million budget to maintain them for a decade. City officials can accept no more than $2.5 million to fund the entirety of the project. 

So far, Fort Worth has raised about $18,000 to fund the two wheels, which the city expects to place near the Henderson Street Bridge by Panther Island Pavilion and an area near Gateway Park in east Fort Worth. The machines will funnel plastics and Styrofoam sitting on the water’s surface onto a conveyor belt and into a nearby dumpster.

Fort Worth has designed a covered wagon-themed “trash wheel” to celebrate the city’s “Where the West Begins” spirit. (Courtesy photo | City of Fort Worth)

“We’re super excited about this project, and we can’t wait for it to be implemented,” Ragland said. “But as we go along, we’re always looking for sponsorships. (People) can still donate to this project and have it be well worthwhile.” 

Streams and Valleys Inc., a nonprofit focused on promoting and developing new resources around the Trinity, has become an active fundraiser in the campaign to build the wheels. The organization recently accepted a $50,000 donation from the Nicholas Martin Jr. Family Foundation that will go toward the project, said Stacey Pierce, the executive director of Streams and Valleys.

“The trash wheel is a great opportunity, but it’s like climbing Mount Everest on your hands if everybody else isn’t doing their part,” Pierce said. “If we can somehow start to make a dent in reducing littering and increasing people’s own investment in the (river), as if it were personally their backyard or their sidewalk, it would be a huge step forward for us as a community.” 

The campaign to fund the water wheels comes as Fort Worth analyzes the results of its community litter survey, which received responses from more than 430 residents this summer. 

How to report illegal dumping or litter

Download the MyFW app on the Apple app store or Google Play. Select “New Request” and find a category that matches your report. Litter and illegal dumping violations are likely under “Solid Waste Violations.” Residents can provide a description, photos and a location for where the city code violation has taken place.

Residents can also call the City Call Center at 817-392-1234 to make a litter pickup request or report a solid waste violation. Those requests can also be filed online here.

About 42% of residents said litter is worse or much worse in Fort Worth compared to other cities, with majorities of respondents saying they see litter along highways and streets at least a few times per day. Most residents have never reported litter to the city, with 85% stating they have not used Fort Worth’s call center to report seeing trash in their neighborhoods.

About two-thirds of residents who filled out the survey said they would be willing to pay $1 or more per month to increase litter removal or other programs related to reducing litter. Ragland said the results of the survey were not particularly surprising to city staff, who know that many Fort Worth residents view litter as a major issue. 

“The information is just research information at this time,” Ragland said. “There’s lots of different ideas that we would like to implement, but it has to all go through a process, like getting it addressed at the department level, the city manager’s office and council level. So it’s time-consuming and not something that can be done easily.” 

The goal of litter reduction programs should not solely be to increase the amount of machines to remove trash from the river, said Woody Frossard, the water district’s environmental director. His real aim is to educate the public on how much trash is coming out of the river and how they can keep litter from ending up there in the first place.

“I hope we get to where these two water wheels are ineffective,” Frossard said. “I don’t want to get people thinking we’re going to have 50 of these things throughout the city of Fort Worth. The goal isn’t that we’re going to get 10 tons of trash a month out of the river, but why can’t we get it down to one ton of trash a year? That would be our hope.” 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Haley SamselEnvironmental Reporter

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at Her coverage is made possible by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman...