Texas Faced with a River of Blood, Literally

I've been a conservation writer and reporter for almost 15 years, and there's one thing I know for sure: you better have a sense of humor if you are going to stay in this game.

"Oh no!" I thought, when I first read the accounts of The River of Blood, also known as Cedar Creek, a tributary of the Trinity River--a big creek, filled with blood, flowing into a major, already much-abused river that is the source of drinking water for around 10 million Texans.

But as one reads on, the story is pure Twilight Zone episode, as written by Beavis and Butthead. The blood pollution was discovered a couple of months ago by an amateur drone pilot who enjoys flying his little drones "around Dallas." When the (unidentified) drone enthusiast began looking through his day's haul of photos, he was astounded. "'I was looking at images after the flight that showed a blood red creek and was thinking, could this really be what I think it is? Can you really do that, surely not?'"

Eventually, the drone pilot reached the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which immediately sent an investigator. The creek was filled with what, according to one report, "seemed" to be blood. A large underground pipe leading into the creek from the nearby pork slaughterhouse provided another important clue.

When City Council members and Dallas Police officers loaded up in a van to investigate the pork plant, called Columbia Packing, they met with a surprise. They themselves were sent packing!

"They asked us to leave," Councilman Dwayne Caraway says in this story.

Also from that story: "To me, it should have been checked a long time ago, because I had an idea that something was going on with that," said local business owner Lemorris William. "You never see trucks come out that carry waste material."

And Caraway adds: "The concern has been here for a number of years," Caraway said. "The little squealing pigs and the not knowing exactly how they are disposing [...] is a grave concern."

Investigators are hot on the case now. No one seems to know how long Cedar Creek has been such an important…artery…for disposing of the wastes. But it's lucky they found the River of Blood, because it has been pouring into the Trinity just upstream from a new publically funded $4 million kayaking park. All you can say is, you have to love these new drone pilots. Without them, we'd all be kayaking in hog blood and whatever else needed dumping down that pipe. And we'd never know it!

My favorite part of this story:

"A river in southern Dallas has turned red with the fresh blood of swine, alarming environmentalists and creating the ultimate nightmare for hemophobiacs." Everybody knows that creeks full of blood alarm only "environmentalists," not regular folks who just want to drink water from the tap, or go fishing or swimming. Right?

Now, we can all get ready for the arguments, used most recently by McWane Industries in Alabama after being caught dumping boiler grease into Avondale Creek in Birmingham: under the new Supreme Court interpretation of the Clean Water Act, only navigable waterways are protected. Is there a "significant nexus" with a navigable waterway? Can you get one of those kayaks up Cedar Creek from the Trinity River? Can you navigate the River of Blood? If not, the blood will continue to flow. So says the law. But the Trinity River, and the kayak park, and the drinking water for the folks downstream, will be fine, won't they? Such an idea is so stupid as to be laughable. You can laugh until you cry.

We covered this issue here on the Conservationist many months ago.

The sad fact is that this year is the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, and only an estimated 2% of Americans even know what it says, or why it is important, or how it has been limited in recent Supreme Court decisions. Most Americans alive today just think it has always been this way, that for some magical reason we have safe drinking water and fish we can eat, and swimming holes on lakes and rivers, even as the rest of the world struggles with massive pollution and water shortages and expensive or non-existent drinking water. Maybe as we see more Avondale Creeks, and more Rivers of Blood, we'll wake up. Maybe then, clean water will find more friends in Washington.