Trinity River (Texas)

Last updated
Trinity River
Río de La Santísima Trinidad
Río de La Trinidad
Trinity River, Dallas, Texas.jpg
Trinity River, Dallas, Texas (postcard, c. 1901–1907)
Trinity Watershed.png
Country United States
Physical characteristics
  location North Texas, near the Red River
Trinity Bay, at Chambers County, Texas
0 ft (0 m)
Length710 miles (1,140 km)
Basin size15,589 sq mi (40,380 km2)
  average6,368 cu ft/s (180.3 m3/s) [1]
The Trinity River as viewed from Reunion Tower in Dallas in August 2015 View from Reunion Tower August 2015 07.jpg
The Trinity River as viewed from Reunion Tower in Dallas in August 2015

The Trinity River is a 710-mile-long (1,140 km) river in Texas, and is the longest river with a watershed entirely within the U.S. state of Texas. It rises in extreme northern Texas, a few miles south of the Red River. The headwaters are separated by the high bluffs on the southern side of the Red River.


French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle, in 1687, named it Riviere des canoës ("River of Canoes"). In 1690 Spanish explorer Alonso de León named the river "La Santísima Trinidad" ("the Most Holy Trinity"), in the Spanish Catholic practice of memorializing places by religious references. [2]


Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge at Trinity River as seen in May 2020 Trinity River at Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge May 2020.jpg
Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge at Trinity River as seen in May 2020

The Trinity River has four branches: the West Fork, [3] the Clear Fork, [4] the Elm Fork, [5] and the East Fork. [6]

The West Fork Trinity River has its headwaters in Archer County. From there it flows southeast, through the man-made reservoirs Lake Bridgeport and Eagle Mountain Lake, and eastward through Lake Worth and the city of Fort Worth.

The Clear Fork Trinity River begins north of Weatherford, Texas and flows southeastward through Lake Weatherford and Benbrook Lake reservoirs. It flows northeastward, where it joins the West Fork near downtown Fort Worth and continues as the West Fork.

The Elm Fork Trinity River [7] flows south from near Gainesville through Ray Roberts Lake and east of the city of Denton, eventually through Lewisville Lake. The small city of Saint Jo, Texas, developed near it along the northern border.

The West Fork and the Elm Fork merge as they enter the city of Dallas.

The East Fork Trinity River (on old maps the Bois d'Arc River) begins near McKinney, Texas and flows through Lavon Lake then Lake Ray Hubbard before joining the Trinity River just southeast of Dallas.

The Trinity flows southeast from Dallas across a fertile floodplain and the pine forests of eastern Texas. This area gained in population during the period of the Republic of Texas; it had not been extensively settled by Mexican residents before that, although many Tejanas have deep roots here. The Trinity crosses Texas State Highway 31 in Henderson County, near where the first county seat, Buffalo, was established. Roughly 65 miles (105 km) north of the mouth on Galveston Bay, an earthen dam was built in 1968 to form Lake Livingston.

The river empties into Trinity Bay, an arm of Galveston Bay that is an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico. Its river mouth is near the town of Anahuac, southeast of Houston.


Public works projects

The Trinity River in downtown Fort Worth near West 7th Street. Trinity River view1.jpg
The Trinity River in downtown Fort Worth near West 7th Street.

Plans from the 1890s for a shipping channel along the length of the Trinity River were scrapped because it would have required extensive dredging to make the river navigable, although several overpasses were built with very high clearances in anticipation of the shipping channel. Locks were actually built 13 miles downstream of Dallas in the early 1900s. [9] Original federal plans called for building 36 locks and dams from Trinity Bay near Houston to Dallas. The first built was Lock and Dam No. 1 in the city of Dallas at McCommas Bluff. Lock construction came to a standstill in the wake of World War I, however. Only Lock and Dam Nos. 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 20 and 25 were built. There are currently no plans for addressing these old locks located in various spots along the Trinity River. However, the Corps is working nearby on the Dallas Floodway Extension Project. The DFE Project is under construction and is helping to fulfill their mission, as directed by Congress in cooperation with the city of Dallas. It is helping to lower flood risk, and provide ecosystem restoration and recreation to the citizens of Dallas. [10] [11]

The Trinity River Corridor Project is intended to transform the Trinity River flood zone in downtown Dallas into the nation's largest urban park, featuring three signature bridges designed by acclaimed architect Santiago Calatrava.

A similar project is planned by the Tarrant Regional Water District, City of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Streams & Valleys Inc., and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop an area north of "downtown" as "uptown" along the Trinity River. This plan promotes a large mixed-use development adjacent to the central city area of Fort Worth, with a goal to prevent urban sprawl by promoting the growth of a healthy, vibrant urban core. The Trinity River Vision lays the groundwork to enable Fort Worth's central business district to double in size over the next forty years.

Floods and Flood Protection

Major flooding occurred on the Trinity River in the years 1844, 1866, 1871, and 1890, but a major event in the spring of 1908 set in motion the harnessing of the river. On 26 May 1908, the Trinity River reached a depth of 52.6 feet (16.03 m) and a width of 1.5 miles (2.4 km). [12] Five people died, 4,000 were left homeless, and property damage was estimated at $2.5 million.

Now the wreckage of a shed or outhouse would move by, followed by a drowned swine or other livestock. The construction forces of the Texas & Pacific worked feverishly to safeguard the long trestle carrying their tracks across the stream. Suddenly, this whole structure turned on its side down-stream, broke loose from the rest of the track at one end and swung out into the middle of the current and began breaking up, first into large sections and then into smaller pieces, rushing madly along to some uncertain destination. [Approximately half a dozen of the workmen fell into the torrent at this point; exaggerated reports of their drowning swept the city.]

C.L. Moss [12]

Dallas was without power for three days, all telephone and telegraph service was down, and rail service was canceled. The only way to reach Oak Cliff was by boat. [13] West Dallas was hit harder than any other part of the city—the Dallas Times Herald said "indescribable suffering" plagued the area. Much to the horror of residents, thousands of livestock drowned in the flood and some became lodged in the tops of trees. The stench of their decay hung over the city as the water subsided. [12]

The Trinity River flooding on 8 July 1908. Dallas, Texas Trinity Flood 1908.jpg
The Trinity River flooding on 8 July 1908.

After the disastrous flood, the city's citizenry wanted to find a way to control the unpredictable Trinity River and to build a bridge linking Oak Cliff and Dallas. The immediate reaction was clamor to build an indestructible, all-weather crossing over the Trinity. This had already been tried following the 1890 flood; the result was the "Long Wooden Bridge" that connected Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff and Cadiz in Dallas, but the resulting unstable bridge was easily washed away by the 1908 flood. George B. Dealey, publisher of the Dallas Morning News , proposed a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) concrete bridge based on the design of a bridge crossing the Missouri River in Kansas City. Ultimately, a US$650,000 (US$17.2 million in today's terms) bond election was approved and in 1912, the Oak Cliff Viaduct (now the Houston Street Viaduct) was opened with festivities that drew 58,000 spectators. At that time, the bridge was the longest concrete structure in the world. [12]

Following from the 1908 flooding, levees were first constructed in 1932. They were heightened in 1960 to the 30 ft that has been maintained to the early 21st century. Current plans to improve the existing levees are part of what is known as the Dallas Floodway Extension project and the Trinity River Project. They entail extending two existing levees and raising two others, all adjacent to the downtown Dallas area.

Downtown Dallas also suffered severe flooding in 1990. Minor flooding of the Trinity River occurs frequently, such as, for instance, in the spring of 2015. [14]

The Trinity River in Dallas flooded up to the levees in June 2015. Seen from the Commerce Street bridge. Trinity Flooded June 2015.jpg
The Trinity River in Dallas flooded up to the levees in June 2015. Seen from the Commerce Street bridge.

See also

Related Research Articles

Red River of the North river in central Canada and the United States

The Red River is a North American river. Originating at the confluence of the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail rivers between the U.S. states of Minnesota and North Dakota, it flows northward through the Red River Valley, forming most of the border of Minnesota and North Dakota and continuing into Manitoba. It empties into Lake Winnipeg, whose waters join the Nelson River and ultimately flow into Hudson Bay.

Brazos River River in Texas

The Brazos River, called the Río de los Brazos de Dios by early Spanish explorers, is the 11th-longest river in the United States at 1,280 miles (2,060 km) from its headwater source at the head of Blackwater Draw, Curry County, New Mexico to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico with a 45,000-square-mile (116,000 km2) drainage basin. Being one of Texas' largest rivers, it is sometimes used to mark the boundary between East Texas and West Texas.

Grand River (Michigan) tributary of Lake Michigan in southern Michigan

The Grand River is a river in the southwestern portion of the southern peninsula of Michigan, United States, that flows into Lake Michigan's southeastern shore. It is the longest river in the U.S. state of Michigan, running 252 miles (406 km) from its headwaters in Hillsdale County on the southern border north to Lansing and west to its mouth on the Lake at Grand Haven. Native Americans who lived along the river before the arrival of the French and British called the river O-wash-ta-nong, meaning "Far-away-water'", because of its length.

Clark Fork River river in the United States of America

The Clark Fork, or the Clark Fork of the Columbia River, is a river in the U.S. states of Montana and Idaho, approximately 310 miles (500 km) long. The largest river by volume in Montana, it drains an extensive region of the Rocky Mountains in western Montana and northern Idaho in the watershed of the Columbia River. The river flows northwest through a long valley at the base of the Cabinet Mountains and empties into Lake Pend Oreille in the Idaho Panhandle. The Pend Oreille River in Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia, Canada which drains the lake to the Columbia in Washington, is sometimes included as part of the Clark Fork, giving it a total length of 479 miles (771 km), with a drainage area of 25,820 square miles (66,900 km2). In its upper 20 miles (32 km) in Montana near Butte, it is known as Silver Bow Creek. Interstate 90 follows much of the upper course of the river from Butte to northwest of Missoula. The highest point within the river's watershed is Mount Evans at 10,641 feet (3,243 m) in Deer Lodge County, Montana along the Continental Divide.

Feather River river in the United States of America

The Feather River is the principal tributary of the Sacramento River, in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California. The river's main stem is about 73 miles (117 km) long. Its length to its most distant headwater tributary is just over 210 miles (340 km). The main stem Feather River begins in Lake Oroville, where its four long tributary forks join together—the South Fork, Middle Fork, North Fork, and West Branch Feather Rivers. These and other tributaries drain part of the northern Sierra Nevada, and the extreme southern Cascades, as well as a small portion of the Sacramento Valley. The total drainage basin is about 6,200 square miles (16,000 km2), with approximately 3,604 square miles (9,330 km2) above Lake Oroville.

Trinity River (California) River in northern California

The Trinity River is a major river in northwestern California in the United States, and is the principal tributary of the Klamath River. The Trinity flows for 165 miles (266 km) through the Klamath Mountains and Coast Ranges, with a watershed area of nearly 3,000 square miles (7,800 km2) in Trinity and Humboldt Counties. Designated a National Wild and Scenic River, along most of its course the Trinity flows swiftly through tight canyons and mountain meadows.

Eel River (California) river in northern California, United States

The Eel River is a major river, about 196 miles (315 km) long, of northwestern California. The river and its tributaries form the third largest watershed entirely in California, draining a rugged area of 3,684 square miles (9,540 km2) in five counties. The river flows generally northward through the Coast Ranges west of the Sacramento Valley, emptying into the Pacific Ocean about 10 miles (16 km) downstream from Fortuna and just south of Humboldt Bay. The river provides groundwater recharge, recreation, and industrial, agricultural and municipal water supply.

White Rock Creek river in United States of America

White Rock Creek is a 30-mile (48.3 km) creek occupying a chain of four sub-watersheds [1] within the Trinity River Headwaters watershed. From its source near Frisco, Texas at 42°21'36"N/96°46'54.58"W, this creek runs south-by-south-east through suburban Dallas for 23.5 miles (37.8 km) where it widens into White Rock Lake, then continues south for another 8 miles (12.9 km) to its mouth at 32°43'25"N/96°44'02"W on the Trinity River, of which it is a major tributary.

Lewisville Lake Reservoir in Texas, United States

Lewisville Lake is a reservoir in North Texas (USA) on the Elm Fork of the Trinity River in Denton County near Lewisville. Originally engineered in 1927 as Lake Dallas, the reservoir was expanded in the 1940s and 1950s and renamed Lewisville Lake. It was built for flood control purposes and to serve as a water source for Dallas and its suburbs, but residents also use it for recreational purposes.

Buffalo Bayou river in Harris County, Texas, United States of America

Buffalo Bayou is a slow-moving river which flows through Houston in Harris County, Texas. Formed 18,000 years ago, it has its source in the prairie surrounding Katy, Fort Bend County, and flows approximately 53 miles (85 km) east through the Houston Ship Channel into Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to drainage water impounded and released by the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, the bayou is fed by natural springs, surface runoff, and several significant tributary bayous, including White Oak Bayou, Greens Bayou, and Brays Bayou. Additionally, Buffalo Bayou is considered a tidal river downstream of a point 440 yards (400 m) west of the Shepherd Drive bridge in west-central Houston.

Joe Pool Lake lake of the United States of America

Joe Pool Lake is a fresh water impoundment (reservoir) located in the southern part of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex in North Texas. The lake encompasses parts of Tarrant, Dallas and Ellis counties. The lake measures 7,740 acres (31.3 km2) with a conservation storage capacity of 176,900 acre feet (218,200,000 m3). With a maximum depth of 75 feet (23 m) the lake drains an area of 232 square miles (601 km2).

Johnson Creek (Texas) Trinity River tributary in Texas

Johnson Creek is a creek and tributary of the Trinity River watershed in Dallas County and Tarrant County, North Texas.

Geography of Houston

Houston, the most populous city in the Southern United States, is located along the upper Texas Gulf Coast, approximately 50 miles (80 km) northwest of the Gulf of Mexico at Galveston. The city, which is the ninth-largest in the United States by area, covers 601.7 square miles (1,558 km2), of which 579.4 square miles (1,501 km2), or 96.3%, is land and 22.3 square miles (58 km2), or 3.7%, is water.

Cedar Creek Reservoir (Texas)

Cedar Creek Reservoir is a reservoir located in Henderson and Kaufman Counties, Texas (USA), 50 miles (80.5 km) southeast of Dallas. It is built on Cedar Creek, which flows into the Trinity River. Floodwaters are discharged through a gated spillway into a discharge channel that connects to the Trinity River.

Grapevine Lake

Grapevine Lake is an American reservoir located in the North Texas region, approximately 20 mi (32 km) northwest of Dallas and northeast of Fort Worth. It was impounded in 1952 by the US Army Corps of Engineers when they dammed Denton Creek, a tributary of Trinity River.

Benbrook Lake reservoir on the Clear Fork of the Trinity River in Tarrant County, Texas

Benbrook Lake is a reservoir on the Clear Fork of the Trinity River in Tarrant County, Texas, USA. The lake is located approximately 10 miles (16 km) southwest of the center of Fort Worth, where the Clear Fork and the West Fork of the Trinity River join. The lake is impounded by the Benbrook Dam. The lake and dam are owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District.

North Fork Feather River river in the United States of America

The North Fork Feather River is a watercourse of the northern Sierra Nevada in the U.S. state of California. It flows generally southwards from its headwaters near Lassen Peak to Lake Oroville, a reservoir formed by Oroville Dam in the foothills of the Sierra, where it runs into the Feather River. The river drains about 2,100 square miles (5,400 km2) of the western slope of the Sierras. By discharge, it is the largest tributary of the Feather.

The Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) is a water district in Texas. It provides raw water for over 2.1 million people, implements vital flood control measures and creates recreational opportunities for the residents of 11 North Texas Counties. Today, TRWD is led by a publicly elected five-member board and owns/operates four major reservoirs, including Lake Bridgeport, Eagle Mountain Lake, Cedar Creek Reservoir and Richland-Chambers Reservoir. TRWD has also constructed more than 150 miles of water pipelines, 27 miles of floodway levees, more than 72 miles of Trinity River Trails and a 2,000 acre wetland water reuse project designed to increase future water supplies for the area..

Village Creek is a tributary creek of the West Fork of the Trinity river in Tarrant and Johnson county, Texas, USA. It is the main inflow of Lake Arlington. It is approximately 23 miles (37 km) long. Its watershed is approximately 143 square miles (370 km2).

Cottonwood Creek (Sacramento River tributary) river in Tehama County, California, USA

Cottonwood Creek is a major stream and tributary of the Sacramento River in Northern California. About 68 miles (109 km) long measured to its uppermost tributaries, the creek drains a large rural area bounded by the crest of the Coast Ranges, traversing the northwestern Sacramento Valley before emptying into the Sacramento River near the town of Cottonwood. For its entire length, it defines the boundary of Shasta and Tehama counties. Because Cottonwood Creek is the largest undammed tributary of the Sacramento River, it is known for its Chinook salmon and steelhead runs.


  1. USGS discharge data for Riverside, accessed 2011-06-19
  2. Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. "Trinity River"
  3. "Upper West Fork Trinity Watershed". United States Environmental Protection Agency . Retrieved March 19, 2013.
  4. "Lower West Fork Trinity Watershed". United States Environmental Protection Agency . Retrieved March 19, 2013.
  5. "Elm Fork Trinity Watershed". United States Environmental Protection Agency . Retrieved March 19, 2013.
  6. "East Fork Trinity Watershed". United States Environmental Protection Agency . Retrieved March 19, 2013.
  7. "Denton Watershed". United States Environmental Protection Agency . Retrieved March 19, 2013.
  8. "West Fork Trinity River". Geographic Names Information System . United States Geological Survey.
  9. Barton, Julia. "How Landlocked Dallas Once Tried to Become a Port City". Slate . The Slate Group . Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Payne, Darwin (1982). "Chapter V: A New Century, A New Dallas". Dallas, an illustrated history. Woodland Hills, California: Windsor Publications. pp. 119–155. ISBN   0-89781-034-1.
  13. Dallas Historical Society - Dallas History Archived 2006-04-22 at the Wayback Machine . Retrieved 20 April 2006.

Coordinates: 29°44′35″N94°42′12″W / 29.74306°N 94.70333°W / 29.74306; -94.70333