STREETMAN — Dr. Jim Cathey dipped a bottle into the Trinity River and held it up to the sun. The water was as murky as chocolate milk.
A few minutes later and a few miles away, he dipped another container into water from the Trinity that flowed through a manufactured wetland.
“It’s like bottled water that you.d find in a convenience store,” Cathey said.
Though the water wasn.t ready to drink, its clarity helped Cathey prove a point to a visiting team of ecologists and researchers from Texas Cooperative Extension. Wetlands naturally filter sediment and chemicals from the water, he said.
Cathey, an Extension wildlife specialist, and the team visited the Richland-Chambers wetlands this spring on a tour of the Trinity. They set out on the three-day journey to examine rural landowners. efforts to improve the river.
Cathey is also leading educational efforts for a state project to rehabilitate the river.
“You don’t hear as much about the Trinity as you do about other rivers in the state,” he said. “But it flows from the Dallas area all the way to Houston, and a lot of people rely on it.”
At Richland-Chambers, about 80 miles southeast of Dallas, two agencies have teamed up to rebuild more than 200 acres of wetlands to be used as a natural filter.
The agencies — Tarrant Regional Water District and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department — intend to eventually restore wetlands on 2,000 acres in the Richland Creek Wildlife Management area.
There, water from the Trinity is pumped into the restored wetlands. The water will eventually be piped into the Richland-Chambers Reservoir.
Help from the State
The river suffers from decades of poor land management along its banks, Cathey said.
Ranchers and farmers cleared the land for cattle grazing and cotton long ago, he said. With few trees and other vegetation to slow storm water drainage, runoff flows too quickly over the land and into the creek, eroding the banks along the way. Conditions are similar all along the Trinity.
The river has also been degraded by sewage and treated effluent from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
But communities and hundreds of other property owners along the river are counting on the state.s effort to improve the Trinity.s ecosystem and water quality. The sweeping plan, called the Trinity River Basin Environmental Restoration Initiative, was announced by Gov. Rick Perry in September 2005.
Two agencies of the Texas A&M University System are leading the river.s restoration initiative. The Texas Water Resources Institute will coordinate urban projects. And the Institute for Renewable Natural Resources will manage rural efforts. Both agencies are units of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and Extension.
Cathey, who is leading the project.s educational efforts, will write manuals and consult with landowners about restoring and managing habitats.
The state is also counting on help from the property owners, Cathey said. They are able to do things that the state cannot, such as reintroduce native plants and wildlife on private land along the river.
They can also restore wetlands, which would help clean the river, he said.
“To say the Trinity is important is an understatement,” Cathey said.
The river is a primary water source for 8.9 million residents, according to the water resources institute. With its headwaters northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the river extends 512 miles to Galveston Bay. Nearly 2,000 miles of its tributaries drain 11.5 million acres.
While improvement projects are already under way in Dallas and Fort Worth, the governor.s plan would help accelerate efforts in both urban and rural areas, Perry said in his announcement.
Jim Reed’s family wasn’t always fond of the Trinity. It smelled bad. And it often flooded their ranch, said Reed, whose 1,800 acres sit on 6 miles of the river near Kerens, about 70 miles southeast of Dallas.
“There were a lot of bad feelings about the Trinity River bottom,” Reed said.
But Reed, a third-generation rancher, said he and other property owners along the river have had a change of heart in recent years. Economics provided their fresh perspective.
The river, they now realize, can help them save their land for their children and generations beyond. They.re banking on the state.s project to improve the river.s water quality and restore its ecosystem, he said.
“It took us a while to look above all the negative to see that the river has tremendous value,” said Reed, 63, the senior member of his family.
The family has begun to plant trees and other native fauna to restore the river.s habitats for wildlife. Doing so has allowed the family to supplement a declining cattle ranch.
Visitors to the Reed Family Ranch now pay to hunt white-tailed deer, ducks and hogs. Others camp and fish.
“Right now, birding is becoming the popular thing,” Reed said.
Reed and other landowners along the river, such as Robert McFarlane of Palestine, have pledged support. McFarlane and Reed are founding members of the Trinity River Basin Conservation Foundation, begun in 2005 to foster efforts to improve the river.s quality.
The coalition of community leaders and landowners aims to improve the quality of life, economic sustainability and ecological integrity of the Trinity River, McFarlane said.
“We think it’s great,” said McFarlane, a cardiologist who owns Big Woods Hunting Resort in Tennessee Colony. “It’s been unfolding for a long time and it’s going in the right direction.”