Public lecture by Mathias Kondolf, Nov. 21, 2014: Buffalo Bayou and the National River Restoration Controversy

 

What: Public lecture by Mathias Kondolf, world renowned river expert

When: Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Where: St. Theresa Memorial Park Catholic Church, Assembly Hall, 6622 Haskell

World-Renowned River Scientist to Speak in Houston on the State of Buffalo Bayou and the Controversial $6 Million Project to Dredge and Channelize Wild Bayou in Memorial Park

Public invited to hear Mathias Kondolf of Berkeley, leading voice in national debate over river restoration industry, on Friday, Nov. 21, at 6:30 p.m.

Houston, TX, Nov. 8, 2014—Mathias Kondolf of Berkeley, one of the world’s foremost river scientists and a leading critic of the often-failing methods proposed for the controversial $6 million project to dredge and channelize one of the last natural stretches of Buffalo Bayou in Houston, will give a public lecture in Houston on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014.

Mathias Kondolf

Mathias Kondolf

Dr. Kondolf will speak about the natural process and dynamics of river systems, the importance of riparian zones, and the state of Buffalo Bayou in particular. He will address the prospect of failure and the lack of science underlying the experimental techniques proposed by the Harris County Flood Control District for the bayou project and place the controversy in the context of the ongoing national debate about river restoration and so-called Natural Channel Design.

The public presentation will be at St. Theresa Memorial Park Catholic Church, 6622 Haskell, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. All are invited. There will be an open question-and-answer period.

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Riparian Buffers: What Are They Good For?

 

A workshop in Houston, Monday, Nov. 17, 2014, about the benefits of riparian buffers.

Let’s hope they discuss the importance of riparian buffer right here on Buffalo Bayou.

Speakers include representatives from Texas Forest Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Texas Water Resources Institute—and Harris County Flood Control, which plans to demonstrate erosion control by ripping up riparian buffer on the bayou. Should be an interesting workshop.

Sponsored by the Houston Galveston Area Council. 10 am to 12 pm, 3555 Timmons Lane, Suite 120, H-GAC Conference Room A, Second Floor.

Here’s how to sign up.

Here’s an example of what happens to landowners who raze the riparian buffer on their property. The lovely River Oaks property featured below once had riparian forest protecting its sloping banks on Buffalo Bayou. The new owner built a new house and cut down the buffer, likely for the view of the river, and planted grass.

The photo on the left was taken at base flow (low water) on July 12, 2014. The photo on the right was taken, also at low flow, from the same angle although slightly farther away on Oct. 24, 2014.

This property is immediately adjacent to the project area where the Harris County Flood Control District and the Bayou Preservation Association plan to demonstrate erosion control to property owners on Buffalo Bayou by eliminating the riparian buffer. The project is known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project.

The same property on Oct. 24, 2014. Photo taken slightly farther away but from the same angle.

The same property on Oct. 24, 2014. Photo taken farther away but from the same angle and approximately same water level.

Riparian forest buffer was cut down and replaced by grass on this sloping property on Buffalo Bayou in River Oaks. Photo taken July 12, 2014.

Riparian forest buffer was cut down and replaced by grass on this sloping property on Buffalo Bayou in River Oaks. Photo taken July 12, 2014.

Parks Department: Take Down That Fence

When is a Public Boat Launch Not a Public Boat Launch?

A boat launch is no longer a boat launch after the City spends $1.3 million designing, building, and landscaping it and doesn’t include access for the people and their boats.

That’s the explanation from representatives of the parks department and the Uptown TIRZ 16 for why the once-popular official Parks and Wildlife boat launch at Woodway in our Memorial Park remains fenced-off and closed to the public more than six months after it was transformed into a massive drainage outfall.

The maintenance ramp cleared of mud at the Woodway not-a-boat launch on Nov. 1, 2014. It's not safe for people, says the City.

The maintenance ramp cleared of mud at the Woodway not-a-boat launch on Nov. 1, 2014. It’s not safe for people, says the City.

Coincidentally, being able to put in at Woodway allows the public to float down Buffalo Bayou through the historic natural area that the City and County want to obliterate. That nearly 1.5-mile stretch of the river further downstream is one of the last remaining wild reaches of our 18,000-year-old mother bayou. So keeping the put-in closed makes it more difficult for people to see the majestic very old cliffs, lovely forested banks, and sandy beaches of this little known wilderness area that will be destroyed.

Officially it’s not a boat launch at all, which is why it is closed, although it might be a boat launch again sometime in the future, according to Rick Dewees, assistant parks department director in charge of Memorial Park, and Sarah Newbury, the Uptown TIRZ 16 project director for the Memorial Park Master Plan. The Uptown TIRZ 16 financed the project at Woodway with taxpayer funds.

But wait, what’s that gently sloping, winding paved ramp leading down to the water?

That’s not for people; that’s only for maintenance trucks, said Dewees. Newbury agreed.

Read the rest of the story.

Will the New Memorial Park Master Plan Be for the People?

 

Public Meeting Monday, Nov. 10, 2014, on proposals for a new Memorial Park Master Plan.

The prison-grade fence preventing access to the $1.3 million landscaped  not-a-canoe launch and secret wild woods with spring-fed pool in Memorial Park west of 610.

The prison-grade fence preventing public access to the $1.3 million SWA Group- landscaped not-a-canoe launch and secret wild woods with spring-fed pool in Memorial Park west of 610.

The Memorial Park Conservancy, Houston Parks and Recreation Department, and the Uptown Houston TIRZ are holding the second of four community meetings Monday, Nov. 10, 2014, about proposals for a new $1.8 million Memorial Park Master Plan.

The meeting will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the White Oak Conference Center, 7603 Antoine Drive, 77004.

Go and ask them why they have locked up an entire forested section of our Memorial Park south of Woodway west of 610 and closed off access from there to Buffalo Bayou, access that historically had always been open to the public.

As far as we know, which is not much, the proposals for the new master plan make no mention of Buffalo Bayou. The previous master plan from 2004 recommended that the bayou be left alone as “a symbol of dynamic natural process.”

The 2004 plan reported that “a study of the Bayou’s dynamics and stability concluded that, after adjusting to increased urban runoff and water management structures upstream, the Bayou is vertically and horizontally stable, i.e., it is not deepening its channel nor is it dramatically widening its path.”

The landscape architecture firm of Nelson Byrd Woltz is leading the development of the new master plan. The City of Houston and the Uptown TIRZ plan to spend  $100 to $150 million in tax money on capital improvements to the park in the next twenty years. None of that money is for park maintenance.

The Lovely Hidden Pool in the Secret Memorial Park Closed to the Public

 

Why Is the City Shutting Off Access to Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park?

The secret pool hidden behind a closed fence in Memorial Park. This lovely pool in the woods is filled with clear water from a spring-fed tributary of Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Susan Chadwick, Nov. 1. 2014.

The secret pool hidden behind a closed fence in Memorial Park. This lovely pool in the woods is filled with clear water from a spring-fed tributary of Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Susan Chadwick, Nov. 1, 2014.

We were exploring in the woods yesterday (Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014) behind the “prison-grade” apparently permanent fence now surrounding the mysteriously closed $1.3 million not-a-canoe launch, “erosion control” project and drainage outfall in Memorial Park just south of Woodway. This is the park area just west of Loop 610 that used to be called the Archery Range because it was in fact used as an archery range from the 1950s until about 1988.

The bayou here was the site of an old sandstone ford near the current Woodway Bridge that was known in the nineteenth century as Dutchman’s Crossing, and the woods contain the remnants of a large brick kiln (and bricks), charcoal manufacturing, and antebellum market garden, orchard, and plant nursery dating from about 1838 to the 1930s, according to landscape architect and historian Janet Wagner.

We were looking for the much newer paved pathway that until recently led to the bayou from Woodway and that only a few years ago was used by the sporting public to haul and unload their canoes and kayaks on the banks of the bayou underneath the 610 bridge.

For some reason the entire wooded area has been fenced off and the public pathway we were looking for has been eradicated. Only a few pieces of concrete remain, lost under the overgrowth.

Read the rest of the story.

Opponents of Bulldozing Wild Banks of Buffalo Bayou Shut Out of Meeting

 

Harris County constable protecting secret meeting of engineers and developers from potential disruption by overly polite defenders of Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Dave Fehling, KUHF.

Harris County constable protecting secret meeting of engineers and developers from potential disruption by overly polite defenders of Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Dave Fehling, KUHF.

Nobody Was Pepper-Sprayed But Door-Holding Constables Didn’t Smile Either

The unsurprising vote was 18-1 Monday, Oct. 27, 2014, in favor of stripping the forested banks, dredging, channelizing, and rerouting the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou as it flows past our great Memorial Park in the middle of Houston.

The Harris County Flood Control Task Force, dominated by engineers, builders, architects, bankers, developers, and realtors, voted behind closed doors on secret ballots to spend $4 million in tax money to make our wild Buffalo Bayou a bigger drainage ditch for development of west Houston. That seems to be the gist of it. Along with helping the River Oaks Country Club shore up the banks of its currently being renovated golf course. The club, which owns half the property in the project, is contributing one-third of the $6 million cost.

Whether the experimental project will work is another question. But hey, if it washes out, it’s only beautiful public parkland and a stretch of the river that teaches us the healthy benefits of what natural rivers do.

Evelyn Merz, the Sierra Club representative, cast the lone opposing vote. Representatives of the Citizens Environmental Coalition and the Audubon Society did not attend the meeting, as far as we could tell. The representative of the League of Women Voters apparently voted in favor.

Task Force Chairman Ranney McDonough of McDonough Engineering refused to allow Merz to speak, though she tried.

“It wasn’t always like that,” recalls Frank C. Smith Jr., past chairman of the task force, who was allowed into the meeting as a guest of Merz. In the past, says Smith, the task force was more evenly balanced between development and environmental interests.

The thirty-one members of the little-known task force, founded in 1973 through the efforts of citizen activists like Smith, are appointed by the Harris County Commissioners’ Court. It is an advisory body, and the vote Monday was symbolic. A committee of the task force, appointed to “investigate” the controversial project, voted 5-1 in favor of it Oct. 15. Again, Merz was the only negative vote.

The Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether to issue a permit to the Harris County Flood Control District for the project, known officially as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project.

The Houston city council has already voted to waste $2 million on destroying an irreplaceable natural resource in the middle of the city. However, councilmembers must eventually vote on whether the test experiment (the often-failing techniques haven’t been proven to work on a river like ours) is a legal taking and use of public parkland according to state law.

So let your city council representatives know what you think about that.

Listen to Dave Fehling’s report on the meeting on KUHF 88.7.

 

 

 

 

Task Force Plans to Vote in Secret on Buffalo Bayou Destruction Project

 

The chairman of the Harris County Flood Control Task Force has closed the upcoming Monday afternoon meeting during which the task force will vote on the project to destroy the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou in Houston.

Task Force Chairman Ranney McDonough said in a phone call late Thursday afternoon that the doors to conference room 100 in Flood Control District headquarters, 9900 Northwest Freeway, will be closed to the public and anyone who tries to attend the meeting without authorization will be turned away.

The alligator snapping turtle lives in Buffalo Bayou. It is listed as threatened in Texas. Photo by Ashley Tubbs.

The alligator snapping turtle lives in Buffalo Bayou. It is listed as threatened in Texas. Photo by Ashley Tubbs.

The Sierra Club representative on the little-known 31-member task force said she was surprised by the move. “I never heard of the meetings being closed,” said Evelyn Merz, chair of the conservation committee of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Most often they have difficulty getting enough people to attend to have a quorum.”

McDonough’s legal authority to close the meeting is dubious, based on the Texas Open Meetings Act. The task force, appointed by the Harris County Commissioners Court, makes no binding decisions, and the vote Monday is symbolic. The purpose of the task force, founded in 1973 as a result of citizen activism, was to balance the interests of flood control, economic development, and preservation of our diminishing natural resources.

Opponents of the $6 million project, officially known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, will be attending the 2 p.m. meeting despite McDonough’s declaration. All are urged to attend to witness the proceedings in defense of the bayou. We must shed light wherever we can on the absurdity of this wasteful enterprise and those who are responsible for it.

Read the rest of this story.

A Bold Stand on Buffalo Bayou from A Long-Time Conservationist

It’s time again to stop the bulldozers on the bayou

Flood-control plans are a ‘tragic, misguided, destructive experiment’

October 24, 2014 | Updated: October 24, 2014 5:22pm

I feel responsible.

In 1966 Terry Hershey asked me to join with her, George Mitchell, and then Congressman George Bush in their campaign to stop the Army Corps of Engineers and the Harris County Flood Control District from bulldozing the natural banks of Buffalo Bayou near our homes on the west side of Houston.

At the time none of us knew what we know now: that the trees and vegetation that grow on the bayou’s banks are so important to the quality of our water, to erosion and flood control. We just knew that we preferred and respected nature. My house backed up to the bayou, and I let the enchanting forest back there grow wild. I was one of the only homeowners in our small neighborhood on the river who never had problems with erosion. Others who cut down the wild trees and plants saw their backyard gardens and lawns wash away.

We stopped the bulldozers on the bayou back then, and at other times too over the years. The organization that we formed became the Bayou Preservation Association, and eventually I became the president of it. I am still on the executive committee of the BPA, as it is called, though the organization no longer serves the cause of preservation. The BPA has lost its way.

Read the rest of the editorial in Gray Matters in the Houston Chronicle.

Great egrets flying past Memorial Park. The banks here will be bulldozed, and the bayou filled in and a new channel cut further south  through River Oaks Country Club property.

Great egrets flying past Memorial Park. The banks here will be bulldozed, and the bayou filled in and a new channel cut further south through River Oaks Country Club property. Photo by Jim Olive.

Engineers Vote for More Work for Engineers on Buffalo Bayou

Developers Eager to Pave More Streets and Parking Lots

Raise your hand if you ever heard of the Harris County Flood Control Task Force.

The Katy Freeway in west Houston, widest freeway in the world.

The Katy Freeway in west Houston, widest freeway in the world and major conduit of stormwater into Buffalo Bayou. Engineers voting for bulldozing Buffalo Bayou work on Interstate 10 and other highway and paving projects as well as public drainage systems.

Thought not.

Try looking on the Internet for any mention of this 31-member semi-secret committee and you’ll find almost nothing except for an occasional reference in someone’s bio and a brief note on the website of the Bayou Preservation Association. Founded in the 1970s to create “a community collaboration of engineers, developers, and interested citizens,” according to the BPA, the task force is now mostly a collaboration of engineers and developers, as is the BPA.

County Judge Bill Elliot is reported to have said that the time: “How can Harris County government adequately protect homes and businesses from the hazards of flooding and facilitate economic development, while at the same time preserving the God-given resources we have that are still in their natural state for the present and future enjoyment of our citizens?”

Last Tuesday, Oct. 15, a county task force committee looking into that question voted 5-1 in favor of spending $6 million to wreck the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou in Houston, a perfectly healthy 1.5 miles of wild bayou flowing in and around our Memorial Park. The project would destroy riparian forest crucial to the health of our water, to erosion and flood control. Riparian zones are increasingly being recognized as wetlands that should be federally protected for our own health and survival.

On Monday, Oct. 27, 2014, at a public meeting in the Harris County Flood Control District headquarters, 9900 Northwest Freeway, the full flood control task force will be voting on whether to go ahead with the controversial project. Update: The chairman of the task force, Ranney McDonough, said in phone call late Thursday afternoon to Save Buffalo Bayou that the doors of the meeting will be closed and the public will be turned away. But we are going anyway.

The flood control district declined to provide us with the names of the current members of the full task force, suggesting we contact the Harris County Commissioners’ Court since the commissioners’ court created and appoints the task force. No response to those emails by press time. Update: Courtesy of one of the members,  we now have a reasonably current list of the members of the task force. And generally we know that of the 31 positions approved by the commissioners, about nine seats go to engineers and architects, another eight go to developers and builders, another two go to business groups, three or four go to government agencies, and another seven go to environmental or civic groups or individuals. Several positions are empty.

We will do our best to provide their contact information. These task force members need to be contacted and informed. Please let them know of your opposition and why. In addition, please note that Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who represents Memorial Park, is up for election on Nov. 4.

Not In. In a Meeting. On the Other Line.

As of this writing, it is unknown how many of the five task force committee members who voted in favor of the bulldozing project have seen this part of the bayou. We’ve made fruitless calls and left messages and talked to one engineer on the committee who voted in favor of bulldozing and channelizing the last wild bayou. He’d never seen the area to be destroyed; he thought there was no vegetation there.

Read the rest of this story.

KUHF Radio Broadcast Room Filled With Smoke from Burning Pants

 

An Outstanding Job by Environment Reporter Dave Fehling on Buffalo Bayou and the Importance of Riparian Forest

Dave Fehling did an outstanding job of reporting for the Houston Matters radio show on the Buffalo Bayou bulldozing project that aired last Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (Segment starts at 18:35.) Fehling is Houston Public Media’s State Impact reporter for Energy and the Environment.

Most importantly Fehling recognized and addressed the main issue completely ignored by the project promoters: the importance of riparian forest, which is basically wetlands necessary for cleansing our waters, controlling erosion and flooding, and providing wildlife habitat. (Yes, in addition to clean water, we need hawks and dragonflies and alligator snapping turtles to survive. We are all linked in the chain of nature.)

This project would destroy most of the perfectly healthy riparian buffer along almost 1.5 miles of the last natural stretch of our 18,000 year-old Buffalo Bayou as it flows between Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north and the golf course of the River Oaks Country Club on the south. (The club happens to be in the process of rebuilding its entire golf course.)

Two important points that we’d like to clarify and that are causing confusion in the public mind:

  1. This is not a disagreement between conservationists. This is a battle between conservationists on the one side and developers and profiteers on the other. The influential Bayou Preservation Association, which was instrumental in creating this project and which continues to be its strongest advocate, is no longer a preservation group. The president of the BPA works for the Energy Corridor District, the development agency for the Katy Prairie in West Houston, one of the fastest growing areas in Houston and source of Buffalo Bayou. The BPA board is heavy with representatives of major engineering, construction, and landscape design companies. On the board is a representative of KBR, the engineering contractor for this bayou project. Representatives of the flood control district sit on the advisory board.
  1. This area is not suffering from severe erosion. See below.

Read the rest of this story.

Edible smart weed and young box elder, black willow, and sycamore building a new riparian forest on a sandy marsh of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park. Great white egret in the background. Photo taken on October 6, 2014, by Susan Chadwick.

Edible smart weed and young box elder, black willow, and sycamore building a new riparian forest on a sandy marsh of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park. Great white egret in the background. Photo taken on October 6, 2014, by Susan Chadwick.

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