Unlike the opening of a new athletic field, there aren’t ribbon-cutting ceremonies for improvements to a park drainage system or the dredging of a pond. 

That doesn’t make it any less important, said Joel McElhany, Fort Worth’s assistant director of planning and resource management for the parks department. 

“These projects aren’t flashy. They’re kind of back-of-the-house type projects,” McElhany said. “But they’re all about making our city safe and clean.” 

The city’s 2023 budget includes $2.32 million for several studies, including a report on how to improve Fort Worth’s 911 call center and a comprehensive plan for increasing citizen engagement. That funding will also support a study on the drainage, erosion and dredging needs of water bodies sitting on city park land. 

Last month, the parks and recreation department began searching for a consultant to complete a citywide inventory of all ponds and lakes in Fort Worth parks. The consultant will also develop a process to determine which water bodies should be prioritized and conduct surveys of park land to determine how much sediment needs to come out of the water, McElhany said. 

The dredging process removes sediment and debris from the bottom of lakes and rivers that have built up over time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Dredging increases the depth of the water body and helps reduce exposure of fish, wildlife and people to contaminants that enter waterways in cities and industrial areas. 

If a pond is left undredged, the water becomes shallower and has a higher average temperature, McElhany said. Warm water increases the likelihood of harmful algae growth, which absorbs more oxygen and makes it more difficult for aquatic life to survive, he added. 

The first-of-its-kind study follows $7.15 million in funding for drainage, erosion and dredging projects through the May 2022 bond program, which was approved by voters earlier this year. 

Those projects stretch from the dredging of a pond in southwest Fort Worth’s Foster Park to erosion improvements at Gateway Park near Interstate 30. Previous bonds funded dredging at Candleridge Park and dam repairs at Lake Como, where residents voiced concerns about trash left behind after part of the lake was drained. 

The city’s budget for the upcoming year also includes funding for pond dredging at Greenbriar Park in south Fort Worth and Marine Creek Linear Park in the Northside, McElhany said. 

“We wanted to do the study so that we have a more pragmatic, strategic approach to dredging these lakes and ponds going forward,” he said. “Thankfully we got funding in the bond program for some of these projects, but the study will set us up for more funding down the line.” 

In some cases, the sediment contains pollutants that will create a larger problem if they are disturbed during the dredging process, McElhany said. The city would follow an engineer’s recommendation to leave the sediment in place if that option protected the health and safety of the public, he added. 

McElhany expects the study to take anywhere from eight to 12 months to complete, with the goal of hiring a consulting firm by the end of the year. The firm most qualified for the job will evaluate sediment samples and come up with cost estimates that will help the parks department make funding requests in the future, he said. 

“Lakes and ponds have been dredged over time, but it’s always been independent,” McElhany said, referring to how parks staff identified projects. “You see where there’s a problem, and you go out and address it. This time, we just want to be more proactive and get that inventory, get that prioritization criteria so we can focus on those highest priorities and get that engineering information ahead of time.” 

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.

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