History of Water Quality in the Trinity River Basin

Water quality in the Trinity River basin started attracting attention more than a hundred years ago.  In the late 1800s Dallas pumped water for its early municipal water supply system from the main stem of the Trinity River.  During low flows in the summer, the water was noticeably contaminated by wastes from as far upstream as Fort Worth, which eventually led Dallas to stop direct use of main stem water.

Just after the turn of the century, the problem intensified when two large slaughterhouses opened in Fort Worth.  Their arrival, plus the growth of both cities, made the river at low flow not only unpleasant, but also dangerous.  In the early 1920s the number of typhoid fever cases and dead animals near the river downstream of Dallas vividly illustrated the problem.  In fact, in 1925, the Texas Department of Health characterized the Trinity River as a "mythological river of death."

In the 1950s, the Texas Legislature empowered TRA to construct and operate regional wastewater treatment and collection systems.  The first such project was TRA's Central Regional Wastewater System.  The system's model of cooperation among municipalities, stakeholder entities and the state helped create a blueprint for "regionalization" that other Texas regions soon followed.

The Texas Water Quality Board was formed in 1967, on the heels of this spirit of cooperation among dischargers. Major dischargers in the state, including TRA, met with the Texas Water Quality Board and committed to using the best, most proven water-treatment technology for large-scale plants.

Other major developments in the history of basin water quality include the following:

  • 1846: A.W. Moore describes the Trinity River as a "little narrow deep stinking affair."
  • 1925: The Texas Department of Health calls the Trinity a "mythological river of death."
  • 1953: Texas Water Pollution Control Advisory Council is formed.
  • 1955: TRA is created by legislative mandate.
  • 1958: TRA publishes its first master plan.
  • 1959: TRA's Central Regional Wastewater System begins operation as the first regional system of its kind.
  • 1961: The Texas Water Pollution Control Advisory Council is formed.
  • 1967: Texas Water Quality Act is passed/Texas Water Quality Board is formed.
  • 1971: TRA begins the first basin-wide water quality plan.
  • 1972: The Federal Clean Water Act is passed.  TWQB issues permits requiring advanced treatment at major DFW-area plants.
  • 1977-1982: Advanced treatment begins operation at major DFW-area plants.
  • Mid-1980s: Complete nitrification begins at major DFW-area plants.  TRA continues improvement of water quality programs, both treatment and pollution prevention, plus point and non-point sources.
  • 1991: The Texas Clean Rivers Act passes, mandating monitoring and reporting in water quality.