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Fort Worth area faces flooding, environmental challenges. Leaders talk solutions

Author and activist David Marquis, left, introduces a panel about water quality in the Trinity River during EarthX’s annual conference in Dallas, which kicked off April 22, 2024.
Haley Samsel
Fort Worth Report
Author and activist David Marquis, left, introduces a panel about water quality in the Trinity River during EarthX’s annual conference in Dallas, which kicked off April 22, 2024.

Global environmental issues, ranging from energy policy to artificial intelligence and activism, topped the agenda at EarthX’s annual climate conference, which kicked off on Earth Day in Dallas. Inside one Hilton Anatole ballroom, however, the focus was squarely on North Texas.

EarthX, a nonprofit organization founded in 2010 as Earth Day Dallas, offered free admission April 22 for its North Texas Day events centered on water quality of the Trinity River, preservation of green space and the future of transportation infrastructure.

As the region’s population surpasses 8million people, city officials and residents alike have begun to recognize the importance of green space, said Robert Kent, the Texas state director for the Trust for Public Land. The trust has worked with cities such as Fort Worth to develop open space preservation programs.

“We’ve seen a great shift in how parks and trails and other green assets are viewed over the last decade, going from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have,” Kent said. “Not only does it create opportunities for recreation, but it’s also essential health infrastructure. It’s essential water infrastructure, essential transportation infrastructure.”

As officials turn their attention to green space, regional planners have a “moral obligation” to reconnect communities that were separated by highway construction several decades ago, said North Central Texas Council of Governments transportation head Michael Morris. That obligation can mean creating green space in places that are currently gray by creating deck parks such as Klyde Warren or committing to not expand freeways beyond their current sizes.

“I’m a big believer in fairness and equity,” Morris said. “We woke up and said, ‘The future of transportation has some onus or responsibility to fix as best we can, in our generation, what has happened previously.’”

The legacy of rapid development and urban sprawl has left North Texas with a variety of flooding challenges, said Jerry Cotter, the chief of water resources for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Fort Worth district.

An increase in massive floods between 2009 and 2020 has led federal, state and local officials to act, Cotter said. Under normal conditions, people living along the Trinity River basin would experience one or two floods per decade that rose beyond what planners prepared for, he said.

“During that decade, we had over 20 events,” Cotter said. “That’s why you’re hearing about flooding all the time. It’s a very serious situation.”

Five years ago, Fort Worth identified $1 billion worth of drainage improvements needed to address flash flooding in the city. Many of those problems were triggered by the way development was done, Cotter said.

“Upstream development increases flooding. Scientifically, it has to,” he said. “You’re covering areas with concrete, and you’re also filling in the rivers themselves and depleting storage.”

Working with the North Central Texas Council of Governments and the Army Corps of Engineers, researchers are conducting a study to proactively plan stormwater and transportation infrastructure in the western half of North Texas. The region, which includes 85 cities and eight counties, is expected to house 2 million residents by 2045 — a 126% increase from 2020.

Officials expect the project, which will map flood risk and propose development policies to prevent flooding in the Upper Trinity River basin, to wrap up in 2026.

“This is a huge project that could be a game changer in the way that we develop,” Cotter said. “The benefits will be just unbelievable.”

As leaders across Dallas-Fort Worth consider solutions to the area’s environmental challenges, they must remember that every element — from the Trinity River itself to the communities that call the region home — is intertwined, said Dallas-based environmental activist and author David Marquis.

“We’ve had to separate the river from the highways, from the communities, from the parks,” Marquis said. “All this ties together. Nothing can be pulled apart. When you look at the forest and the river, that’s the place to begin. It can’t be an afterthought.”

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at

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.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.