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Drained dam reveals litter

Jan. 22, 2004

By Jocelyn Delgado, reporter

Each year, the draining of the Brazos River for maintenance uncovers items beneath its murky waters and hidden on its banks. It's that time of year again.

According to Waco city officials, one of the most polluted areas lies around campus.

'The majority of the stuff found are leftover refrigerators and furniture left behind,' Luz Marmolejo, an environmental officer, said.

Trash found on land may be comparable to furniture in weight, if not in size or value. According to Marmolejo, more than 2,000 pounds of debris was found last year.

'We take the dam down every year with the current,' Tom Conry, Waco program manager of product quality control, said. 'We schedule it every January, because that's a time when there's the least tourism.'

In the past, sewage spilled in the river, along with soil deposits, leaving the water cloudy.

On the banks of the river, personal dumping sites are hidden farther back from the edges.

'Around the Waco Drive bridge, they've gone out and made a little landfill out there,' Marmolejo said. 'It's a [charge of] $1.18 per 100 pounds [to drop off at the landfill]; a lot cheaper than a weight ticket, because those can run up to $500 a piece.'

Minor littering is a misdemeanor worthy of a fine, but littering anything over five pounds may be an offense worthy of an arrest, according to Marmolejo.

'A tire alone weighs about 22 pounds, so if they dump one tire, they're liable to get arrested,' Marmolejo said.

According to Marmolejo, last year's total of 984 tires found in the Brazos has already been exceeded.

The Brazos dam, near La Salle Drive, was built to promote Waco's businesses and community. It has operated on a hydraulic system since 1985.

Waco Water Utilities Services and hired engineers developed a new concept to begin construction next year.

The dam will be replaced with a labyrinth weir structure. A weir directs or backs up the flow of water in a dam.

'It won't have moving parts, so we shouldn't have to do the maintenance,' Conry said.

The new structure forms a zigzag shape across the river. Each bend creates more space for water control.

'They can do construction so the water levels stay the same,' Garrett said. 'We'll be able to pass five times the flow of water without impacting the level of the water. The more weir you add, the more flow you can accommodate.'