Fort Worth hopes for ripple effect from two new water wheels

The city of Fort Worth expects to install two trash collecting water wheels like this one in Baltimore Harbor in the Clear and West Forks of the Trinity River.

The city of Fort Worth expects to install two trash collecting water wheels like this one in Baltimore Harbor in the Clear and West Forks of the Trinity River.

Clearwater Mills

Baltimore’s four googly-eyed trash-removing water wheels have offered residents a fun entry point to examine the effect of trash on the natural landscape

Each member of the solar-powered Trash Wheel Family has a unique personality and a social media presence that gives residents an insight into how the roughly 1,761 tons of trash the wheels have removed from Baltimore Harbor since 2014 got there in the first place.

The success of the trash wheel family has inspired people in Baltimore to think about the ways they contribute to the trash ending up in the harbor.

Officials in Fort Worth hope for similar results.

The City Council voted Dec. 14 to accept donations from individuals and corporate sponsors to fund the design, construction and maintenance of two trash removing water wheels to be anchored in the West and Clear Forks of the Trinity River.

The city is collaborating with the Tarrant Regional Water District and nonprofit Streams & Valleys to raise money for the wheels.

The wheels will cost roughly $600,000 each to build and $50,000 a year to maintain. The city hopes to raise enough money to build both wheels and maintain them for 10 years. Each wheel has the capacity to remove an estimated 50,000 pounds of trash per day.

The city and the water district have been trying to clean up trash in the Trinity river for at least the past two decades, said Darrel Andrews, assistant director of the environmental division at the water district.

Most of the cleanup effort has been focused on dealing with symptoms of the problem, rather than the root cause of people littering in the first place, Andrews said.

The wheels will address both problems, said director of code compliance Brandon Bennett, by removing trash while raising awareness about how litter gets to the river in the first place, .

“The litter that flows into the river oftentimes starts out as litter in the neighborhood,” Bennett said. He gave the example of a piece of paper that absorbs oil from the street and then gets washed through a storm drain and into the Trinity by a hard rain.

The wheels will also raise awareness about the problems Fort Worth faces when it comes to picking up litter, Bennett said.

“The city has zero people who go out and pick up that litter when you throw it out on the road,” Bennett said.

He noted the city will occasionally use crews of residents fulfilling community service obligations to clean up particularly dirty areas, but said the city doesn’t do this regularly enough to stop trash from piling up.

“If we’re going to have a clean city, it all starts with the producer,” Bennett said.

The city also plans to generate awareness by making the water wheels pieces of public art. Bennett hinted that the wheels could be designed to look like covered wagons, but said the final design hasn’t been selected.

District 6 council member Jared Williams said he hoped the public art aspect of the project would generate the kind of curiosity that makes Fort Worth residents rethink their relationship to the city’s natural landscape.

The city started taking donations for the two water wheels shortly after getting the go-ahead from the City Council. A larger add campaign and funding push is expected in early 2022, Bennett said.

The first wheel is expected to be built in summer 2022 with final installation in the fall.

While he’s looking forward to the wheels’ installation, Bennett said he’s more excited about what they’ll represent to the city.

“It’s a greater focus on a cleaner safer Fort Worth, on a Fort Worth that cares about the environment, on further developing our riverfront and parkland and open space in such a way that my children and my grandchildren and generations to come will have something to enjoy,” he said.

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Harrison Mantas covers the city of Fort Worth’s government, agencies and people. He previously covered fact-checking and misinformation at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, as well as local, state, and federal politics in Phoenix, Arizona and Washington, D.C. He likes to live tweet city hall meetings, and help his fellow Fort Worthians figure out what’s going on. Reach him by email at hmantas@star-telegram.com, Twitter @HarrisonMantas, or by phone at 817-390-7040.