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60 Years Ago in Texas Game and Fish

In 1948, sewage and oilfield waste were fouling many rivers and streams.

By Jon Lucksinger

Conservation has come a long way in Texas, but before the state implemented serious laws to protect its waters, many of the streams and rivers were in dire conditions. Contained here is a sobering report from the Texas Game, Fish and Oyster Commission concerning the condition of many of the major streams and rivers around the state.

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From the August 1948 issue of Texas Game and Fish:

Sick Waters
It is much easier to list the miles of rivers saved from contamination by State agencies than to estimate the harm done where control has failed. Only scattered losses of fish are recorded and the extent of such losses is rarely definite enough for accurate calculation. However, it is possible to say that in some streams the contamination is such that even though the fish may survive, they are not good to eat. That is especially true of rivers overloaded with municipal sewage.

The Sewage Picture: Fortunately Texas has only two of the larger streams whose fisheries have been badly damaged by municipal sewage. They are the Trinity and the San Antonio Rivers.

The San Antonio: This stream is a little more than 100 miles long and carries the waste of a great city. The treatment is inadequate and the stream is small. The water is unfit for domestic use along its entire length and fishing is negligible.

The Trinity: Fort Worth and Dallas, besides smaller municipalities, dump their civic and packing house waste into the Trinity River prostrating its uses for domestic and other purposes for some 300 miles. Absence of dissolved oxygen in the water makes fish life impossible for some distance below the two cities. Where oxygen is adequate farther down, the stream is so fouled as to ruin the flavor of the fish caught.

Cypress Creek: Pollution of Cypress Creek near Daingerfield developed when the Lone Star Steel Company began operation last spring. The little creek which flows into Caddo Lake is a fine fishing stream but was at a low stage, about 4 second feet flow, when the pollution peril struck. Tar liquor in the effluent was the offending element which killed all fish for several miles down stream.

Oil Field Waste: Among the first rivers to be endangered by oil and oil field waste were the Navasota and San Marcos Rivers, both small rivers and unequal to the staggering load of brine dumped into them.

The Navasota: In this stream all fish were periodically killed in a 90-mile stretch, by the oil field brine, and this continued over a score of years. After many failures, the State law in an injunction suit put an end to the contamination of the river. Any portion of the brine that could not be diverted was held in a reservoir until released and carried away by rises in the river. Texas was perhaps the first state to introduce the reservoir method.

The San Marcos: The value of this beautiful stream was much impaired by waste oil and brine from the Luling and adjacent oil fields for a distance of about 25 miles. The flavor of fish taken from the stream had a kerosene taste for a number of years but such complaint is no longer heard. Oil is kept out of the river, for the most part, but the brine, under partial control, is still a threat to domestic uses.

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Conservation in its broadest sense is now being urged in the schools and elsewhere. Piecemeal protection will not suffice. The saving of the soil, the forests and the ranges are fundamental to the welfare of wildlife as well as to that of the human being.

Editor's note: This is the last installment in an eight-part series commemorating the 65th anniversary of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine (formerly Texas Game and Fish).

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