Ask any number of White Rock-area residents why they made their home here, and they are apt to tell you it has to do with the topography: wildlife-populated parks, foliage, trees, trickling creeks and proximity to the lake that lend a peaceful, rural feel to the urban land — so peaceful, it’s almost easy to forget Mother Nature’s temperamental spirit.
A little more than two years ago, many residents felt this harsh reality when heavy rains flooded homes surrounding Dixon Branch, a natural stream that runs through Old Lake Highlands and parts of East Dallas and drains to the east side of White Rock Lake. Today, Dixon Branch is under the microscope as the City of Dallas and area residents debate how to fix the flooding problem without destroying the natural landscape.
Not the first time
Flooding has occurred periodically since early development of the area that comprises four major neighborhoods — Old Lake Highlands, Dixon Branch, Lake Park Estates and Eastwood Estates. During studies in the 1980s and 1990s, City of Dallas engineers determined that 90 to 100 homes in low-lying sections of the region are at risk for flooding.
In 1994, based on a study by engineering firm Halff Associates, city officials called for a channelization project. Channelization essentially means altering the channel, or river, in order to expedite its flow and prevent flooding.
Dixon Branch neighborhood resident James Costello recalls that the city’s 1994 channelization plans meant pouring concrete along the Dixon Branch creek from Buckner to Easton; building a 150-foot-wide sediment retention channel in the Lake Highlands Park soccer field at the corner of Lake Highlands and Buckner; and removing most of the creekside trees along Lake Highlands, Creekmere, Peavy and Lippitt. At the time, he and a group of residents ardently protested the plan.
“Nobody wants flooding, but we were determined to preserve the trees, parkways and soccer field,” Costello says. “They were so close to going through with that plan that they had already marked with red ties the trees that they wanted to take down. But we fought. And it went away for several years.”
The city backed off in 1994, after residents launched a letter-writing campaign and loudly protested concrete channelization. But the original quandary — the chances of flooding — didn’t go away. In March 2006, 50 homes in the 370-home Eastwood neighborhood and several in Lake Park Estates were damaged in a heavy rainstorm. Obviously, something still needed to be done.
A 2007 City of Dallas bond package allotted funds for a new study of Dixon Branch. To conduct the study, the city contracted engineering firm Freese and Nichols Inc. Project manager Michelle Iblings says engineers are considering several options in addition to channel modifications, or channelization.
“We are looking at the old studies and conducting our own new ones, taking into consideration engineering requirements, environmental regulations, public opinion and cost, not necessarily in that order,” Iblings says.
“We definitely have a concern about how homeowners feel, but our charge is to recommend a reasonable way to take everybody out of that floodplain.”
The study will be the first step in a long process, says District 9 city councilman Sheffie Kadane.
“There is only one thing that’s been decided to date,” Kadane says, “and that is to carry out the study.”
After Freese and Nichols makes a recommendation, Kadane plans to discuss the findings with residents.
“They don’t want concrete poured into the river — that will not happen. All we are doing now is studying the possibilities. The next step will be sitting down with those involved to talk about what the engineers came up with,” Kadane says. “I am with [the neighbors]. I want to do what’s best for the district and keep the natural landscape.”
Following public meetings in July and November of this year — sessions geared toward educating the community and getting feedback — Freese and Nichols will release their final analysis sometime between March and June 2009.
‘Not again’, some say
As soon as Costello learned the new study was underway, he took preemptive action, forming the non-profit organization Protect Home Values, because he fears the city will take the same “concrete channelization” route it chose in 1994.
Costello says his group is pushing for an alternative to channelization called “diversion”. Diversion, more complicated and expensive than channelization, would involve routing floodwaters from Dixon Branch via an underground path.
“With diversion, the houses, creek, trees stay. The aesthetics of the neighborhood stay the same,” Costello says. “It’s a more expensive alternative, but I’ve seen what channelization looks like. That’s what they chose last time. That’s what they’ve chosen for other neighborhoods around Dallas, and if you look at those, they don’t look very good. That’s why we are pushing for diversion.”
Until the study is complete, Iblings cannot determine the cost differences between channelization and diversion, but she says diversion has several variables that go into determining its feasibility.
Dixon Branch Homeowner Association president Scott Robson says he hopes the city will not simply take the easier, less-costly path. He says he and his neighbors need to actively encourage the city to do the right thing before it gets to the point of destroying parks and trees again.
“The last time, we had to react. This time, we are trying to be proactive in directing the city to make more appropriate accommodations,” Robson says. “This is one of the most unique and pristine neighborhoods around, and we want to continue to work with the city to keep it that way — we want to protect homeowners and preserve the landscape and we think that it is possible to do both.”
The Dixon Branch HOA, along with Protect Home Values, is encouraging neighbors to write letters to Kadane pushing for a diversion project. Through protecthomevalues.com, Costello is offering “Save Dixon Branch” yard signs, in order to raise awareness and participation in the preservation effort.
You’d be hard pressed to find any residents who wish to see the trees and creeks negatively impacted, but some believe those pushing for diversion are being unreasonable.
Says Lake Park Estates Neighborhood Association president Aren Cambre, “I was not around when the original proposal was floated in the mid-’90s. However, I attended a post 2006 flooding meeting between Dallas engineers and Eastwood residents, and I could sense a lot of raw emotion still spilling out from the old proposal. I was dismayed at the number of [attendees] who clearly knew little about hydrology but pretended that they had viable solutions.”
In a letter to his neighborhood association, Cambre urged Lake Park residents to educate themselves about the situation and to try not to be swayed one way or the other by the “hyperbolic language” used on the Protect Home Values site.
“I pray that the area can approach upcoming Dixon Branch proposals with reasonableness,” Cambre wrote. “Around 60 homes were damaged in the 2006 flooding. Without flow improvements, this will happen again.”
Residents in the Eastwood neighborhood — the area hit hardest by the 2006 flooding — say the solution lies in some sort of compromise: “We need protection from flooding, but we also need our streams and woodlands in the most natural condition possible. These two needs are difficult, but not impossible, to satisfy simultaneously,” wrote Eastwood representative Michael Parkey in a position statement.
“From living with the risk of flooding and studying the possible solutions for many years, we do not believe that a single, simple, large-scale solution will work. Rather, we will need to seek many smaller solutions, each of which contributes to our goal.”
Parkey says concrete channelization is not acceptable.
“We already have a concrete channel in our neighborhood. It is ugly and universally despised, providing only an opportunity for vandals and a route for burglars into our backyards,” he says. “It reduces property values of adjacent homes, and did not protect our homes from flooding in 2006.”
Neighbors will have plenty of time to voice their opinions, for no matter what the outcome of the study happens to be, the city does not have funds necessary to implement any major project.
“The money isn’t there yet,” says Kadane. “This will have to go through a process — any action could be years away.”
The following options are being considered in the Freese and Nichols Dixon Branch Study
Diversion: Routing flood waters from the channel via an alternate path, either underground or in an open channel. This would require an additional outfall into the channel downstream or into White Rock Lake.
Detention: Detaining floodwaters for a specified period of time, then releasing back into the channel after a storm event has subsided-may be surface, underground, or deep.
Buy-out: With homeowner agreement, the City may purchase or relocate existing flooded structure(s).
Channel modifications: May include altering the channel alignment, geometry, ground cover or slope. Specific activities include, but are not limited to, excavation, fill, vegetative plantings, installing bed and bank protection materials, and improving road crossings (culverts/bridges).
Flood wall: The intent of a floodwall is to keep flood waters from escaping the existing channel bank(s) and flooding nearby residents. The wall structure may be earthen or impervious and would require a pumping system to drain the residential area behind the wall.
Source: Freese and Nichols Inc.
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