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How 17 acres of wetlands could be transformed to protect Dallas from severe flooding

Public-private partnership touts plans for greenspace that would be used for flood prevention, education

Dallas Water Commons director Melanie Ferguson

Dallas Water Commons director Melanie Ferguson explained the wetlands project during a news conference at Canvas Hotel in Dallas on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

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At the top of the South Side on Lamar building, 17 acres of wetlands can be seen just south of downtown Dallas. The area will soon become the Dallas Water Commons, a public greenspace with the main goal of flood prevention and filtration.

The multi-million dollar idea was born in 2013 out of the city-sponsored “Connected City Design Challenge,” and is now in the design and permitting phase. It’s a public-private partnership that includes the city of Dallas, the Dallas Wetlands Foundation and real estate developer Matthews Southwest. Groundbreaking is expected in 2024.

This is a view of the site

This is a view of the site that will be transformed into Dallas Water Commons. Leaders plan to use the development to educate the community about wetlands preservation to general urban development.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

“We want this to be a place where residents can come to the center of the city to be close to nature, close to water and be in a beautiful place,” David Marquis, an environmental activist working on the project. “But it also functions to keep the neighborhoods like The Cedars and downtown safe from floods.”

So far, the project has received $15 million in funding: $7.5 from Dallas Park and Recreation through a 2017 city bond program, and a matching donation from the Dallas Wetlands Foundation.

Dallas Water Commons won’t just include water filtration and flood-prevention methods to mitigate Dallas’ risk from severe storms. It will also be a park with an educational element for residents to learn about urban water solutions.

“We often think about the urban environment, or built environment, as separate from nature — that these are two separate entities,” Dallas Water Commons director Melanie Ferguson said. “Dallas Water Commons is in itself a combo pack of the built environment, engineering, natural wetlands, as well as the constructed wetlands that we’re going to build to help enhance what nature does itself.”

Ferguson said those involved in Dallas Water Commons see it as a little sister to the John Bunker Sands Wetland Center in Seagoville.

Vicki Meeks is on the Dallas Water Commons board. She said the project’s educational component is especially important for the Black community because the southern sector is often affected by flooding and other water-related issues.

“That’s the part that actually excites me because part of the issue around why we don’t get involved in these kinds of projects is because we are not educated about them,” she said.

Dallas Water Commons

Dallas Water Commons officials say the project will be of particular benefit to the southern sector, which has been hit harder by flooding and other water-related issues than other parts of the city.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

Starting next year, the project plans to work with school districts to teach students about urban development.

“It’s only just recently that we’ve begun to have some real conversations around the importance of the southern sector,” Meeks said. “So I like the fact that this particular project is actually bridging the gap between the north and the south. It’s gonna mean that people from the north are gonna have to come south in order to engage in this project, and to bring more awareness to the richness that exists in the southern sector.”

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