I have never wanted to live “on the water,” as so many do. Unless, of course, we are talking the Atlantic or Pacific, or a very large lake like Cedar Creek, which I saw over the holiday weekend and is glistening with promise. “Creek-view lot!” in town has never stirred my real estate loins, even though water view lots are more expensive and desirable. Small lakes are so pretty when the sun bounces off the water, but underneath the rainbow, slithery creatures have a direct route to the backyard.
Which is why I am finding Koi-Gate in Northeast Dallas an amusing story, funny to me, but probably not so funny to District 9 Dallas City Council candidate Paula Blackmon. Leave it to an election to bring out the fishiest of stories.
Candidate Paula Blackmon lives on Briar Creek, and is a member of the Lange Circle Lake Owner’s Association north of Mockingbird, in Briar Creek Estates. Think half acre lots and sprawling 1950’s ranch homes, many renovated, with a few newer builds. A coveted area, the homes seldom go on the market and when they do, they are gone. Pouf. With three actual lakes/creeks, the area has been called the Venice of Dallas. Briar Creek is also a significant tributary that feeds into White Rock Lake. Twenty-two property owners along it own to the middle of the creek, sharing joint maintenance responsibility for waterway upkeep.
If you have never owned part of a creek, maintenance and dredging can get mighty pricey.
The politics: Tuesday evening, at the Lakewood Neighborhood Association Forum, the two candidates in the District 9 run-off, Paula Blackmon and Erin Moore, were each sounding off. Neighborhood activist Carol Bell-Walton mentioned that children playing in puddles left by the recent rains near White Rock Lake have been finding Koi fish.
Where had they come from, and was White Rock again becoming a giant Koi pond?
Paula Blackmon jumped in to respond: Her neighbors have been adding Koi and Tilapia to Briar Creek to kill the algae, she said.
Koi fish, from Eastern Asia, are famous for their beautiful colors, and a Koi pond is often considered an enhancement to a property. Koi is a domesticated version of common carp — we know this. They also add ammonia to water, probably the least of Briar Creek’s problems.
Tilapia, particularly Mozambique Tilapia, is well-known for feeding on algae. By phone, Paula explained to me that Lange Creek has been getting more shallow — “years ago it was a swimmable creek!” — and the owners have had to deal with de-silting and dredging. The city also had a leaking sewer line under the creek (yuck). When creeks get shallow, the waters warm and algae blooms take over. Years ago, the neighbors responsible for maintaining the creek consulted an expert on lake and water management, who suggested introducing Tilapia into the creek to holistically and ecologically help clean up the algae.
It was her neighbor, Roger Albright, she said, who added the sterile Koi. Or so she thought.
I caught up with Roger by phone Thursday, who gave me the whole story. And sorry to tell you, we cannot go fishing for Mozambique Tilapia in White Rock: There are none.
In 2005, the Association talked about introducing environmentally acceptable fish, and African Tilapia, but nothing was done, he said.
(In a Facebook post, he said another homeowner may have bought some Tilapia in Tyler, added them to the creek, but the sewer leak finished them off.)
“There have not been any fish added to that lake by anyone in the last 10 years,” said Roger. “The last Tilapia added was 14 years ago if at all.”
As we spoke, the Association’s treasurer emailed to confirm that a purchase of the Mozambique Tilapia had never been made. It was a financial decision. The problem with the Mozambique Tilapia is they come from a warmer climate and cannot survive under 50 degrees. So the dustbusters of the creek have short-lived lives, at least in North Texas.
Paula was wrong, he said, but of course, in a political mode, the Tilapia became the tempest in a teapot.
In 2003 Briar Creek was dredged for $250,000, dredged again in 2009 and is choking with silt, making it ripe for another dredging. That sewer leak Paula told me about killed off all the fish (bass, bluegill, and catfish) and flowed right into White Rock. The city has never done anything to remediate.
But the Koi?
The Association did not put Koi in the lake, Roger told me, and he didn’t either. The owner of a Koi pond did put his fish into Briar Creek after shutting down a private pond. (He did not want to murder the fish.) This was 10 years ago. Roger knew about it, but he won’t name names. In a good faith effort to be totally transparent, he also told me that when his grown children were quite young, they also put two ducks in the lake.
“If anyone gets blamed for the Koi, it has nothing to do with Paula or the association,” says Roger. “It was me because I let this person put his Koi in. I was told the Koi were sterile.”
And this is the East Dallas Koi-Gate.
But any suggestion that the Lange Circle Lake Owners Association is not being environmentally responsible, says Roger, is just flat wrong.
“I keep hearing that the game wardens are looking for me,” he says. “Feel free to give them my number.”