‘Silent sentinels’ protect county from floodwaters

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, July 2, 2016

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Wise County gets a gold star for water conservation, at least in the eyes of Dr. Dan Sebert, executive director of the National Watershed Coalition.

Sebert, who lives in Pawnee, Okla., talked about managing flood control structures across the country, and specifically, the 108 local dams, at Tuesday night’s mobile commissioners meeting.

“Wise County has a history and heritage of doing an excellent job,” he said. “If I had to name the No. 1 county for partnerships to take care of flood control structures, the people doing the best job would be Wise County, Texas.”

Sebert said the coalition is made up of groups that oversee 12,000 dams, and every dam has a local sponsor, either a city, county or soil and water conservation district that is responsible for the dams’ maintenance.

“Some people have called these dams silent sentinels,” Sebert said. “We drive by them on the way to work. We may have one that’s a favorite fishing spot or we may have a friend that runs cattle and that’s where their cattle water. They serve multiple functions.”

But their primary purpose is flood protection. Sebert said many of the dams were orginally built to protect farmland, but as the land use changed, they now protect neighborhoods in some cases.

“They provide millions of dollars of protection when we have a heavy rain, whether it’s protecting county roads or school bus routes or keeping commerce open during heavy rainfall,” he said. “They provide a whole lot of benefits.”

Sebert said the first person he met when he started working with Wise County was the late Lou Vee Bridges of Paradise. He said she was an advocate for smaller lakes that still provided protection, instead of large lakes that covered lots of ground.

“She was a fearless woman and would talk to anyone who would listen and about the need for funding,” Sebert said. “I personally have seen her work over a couple of Congressmen pretty good and come away with things that she needed and wanted for Wise County.”

Her perseverance has carried over into other citizens and government officials, leading the county government, Soil and Water Conservation District and Water Control Improvement District to work together and with nearby counties to keep the system in check.

“These things were built in a series, and they work together,” Sebert said. “They catch a whole lot of sediment, and the water in Wise County is cleaner because it goes through those systems in Montague. And the water that goes to Fort Worth and Eagle Mountain Lake is cleaner because it goes through the system of flood control here.

“It’s a program that does a lot, but it does it somewhat quietly,” he said.

Sebert said the Wise County government, as well as leadership in the other county entities, have been generous with their time and efforts to do things in Austin and Washington that not only benefit Wise County, but the entire state.

Sebert also noted that Public Works Director Tom Goode, who oversees the maintenance of the dams, and his crews have participated in trainings and shared techniques they have found to be successful in Wise County.

“You’re No. 1, and I just want to call your attention to it,” he said. “And really, it’s a big deal.

“I use Wise County as an example when I do what I call marriage counseling with other units of government trying to get them to work together,” he said. “Many times I use things I’ve seen here as a positive example.”

About 25 people, which included a large number of county employees, attended the mobile commissioners meeting. County Judge J.D. Clark and Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns also addressed the crowd.

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