Petition to End Avoidable Flooding
Citizens Call for Regional Oversight Based on Science, Transparency, and Enforcement
Jan. 17, 2017
A Houston group called Citizens Solutions to Flooding is circulating a petition calling for the creation of a long-overdue Houston-Galveston regional body to ensure that new construction and development does not increase flooding.
The petition focuses on the inadequacy and lack of enforcement of current regulations regarding stormwater drainage and detention. It calls for transparency in the permitting process and financial incentives for property owners to retrofit properties to conform to more effective standards for controlling stormwater running off impervious surface.
Houston’s natural tendency to flood has been greatly worsened by uncontrolled development and the proliferation of hard surface like parking lots, building rooftops, and roadways that rapidly collect and concentrate rainwater rather than slowing, absorbing, and dispersing it.
In calling for regional oversight, the petition notes that “watersheds know no county boundaries.” And development in one watershed can worsen flooding in another watershed.
Notably, the petition does not call for widening and deepening our bayous and streams, an outmoded, costly, ineffective, and environmentally damaging solution preferred by city and county engineers. More green space, not less, is the consensus of leading experts, including Phil Bedient, director of the SSPEED storm center at Rice University.
Urban Riparian Symposium
The Challenges of Healthy Urban Streams
Jan. 14, 2017
There is still time to register for a February symposium in Houston on urban riparian areas — those special zones of trees and plants along stream banks so important for clean water, flood and erosion control, and wildlife.
The Texas Riparian Association has organized a three-day conference Feb. 15-17 largely directed at natural resource professionals but useful to anyone interested in the health of our urban bayous and creeks flowing into Galveston Bay.
Save Buffalo Bayou is a co-sponsor of the event, titled “Balancing the Challenges of Healthy Urban Streams,” to be held at Rice University’s BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC), 6500 Main Street. The registration deadline is Feb. 1.
Save Buffalo Bayou’s Tom Helm, geologist, naturalist, and river guide, will be presenting Friday morning, Feb. 17, on the topic “Searching for the Original Meanders of Buffalo Bayou.”
Helm and Save Buffalo Bayou will also be offering float trips on Buffalo Bayou past Memorial Park and into Buffalo Bayou Park in the middle of Houston to symposium participants. The three-hour trips take place Friday afternoon from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday morning starting at 10 a.m. Cost is $50 per person. For more info or to reserve a place, contact Tom Helm.
Among other topics to be addressed: daylighting buried urban streams, the capacity of Houston’s urban forest to cleanse polluted stormwater, the economics of using natural drainage systems in development, how Austin protects riparian areas, incorporating the value of ecosystem services into regional policy decisions, managing large woody debris in urban streams, and more.
Buffalo Bayou Beavers at Work in Downtown Houston
Jan. 6, 2017
Reader Thomas Jackson sent in this photo of the handiwork, or we should say, toothwork, of beavers, or a beaver, on a tree on Buffalo Bayou downtown. Jackson took the photo on the bank across from the University of Houston Downtown. He was surprised to find beavers at work downtown.
Our experts confirm this appears to be the work of beavers. Though there was some discussion that it could be an invasive nutria, and some puzzlement about why so many morsels had been left on the plate, naturalist and environmental lawyer Bruce Bodson explains that “one thing that they will often do is cut trees so that they fall into the water and then go nibble limbs from the relative safety of the water. Also, the tastiest stuff tends to be on top.”
Bodson should know. He’s also the new executive director of Galveston Baykeeper, a nonprofit organization working to ensure that every waterway is swimmable, fishable, and drinkable.
We also think the top part of the tree is the tastiest.
Thanks for the photo, Thomas Jackson.
A Gift to Nature: Photos of Buffalo Bayou
Prices Slashed for the Holidays!
Dec. 16, 2016
Here’s a wonderful gift idea. Limited time half-price offer!
Buy a photo of beautiful, wild Buffalo Bayou and help us protect it. And also help us promote sensible, cost-efficient flood management policies on all our urban streams. Working with nature, rather than against it, is cheaper, more effective, and more beneficial for us and our environment.
Photographer Jim Olive is offering a deep discount on high-quality prints of a selection of his stunning photos of our Mother Bayou. That’s because Jim is donating $50 to Save Buffalo Bayou for each print that he sells.
Jim is an internationally known photographer who has worked all over the world. He is a devoted conservationist who believes in the mission of Save Buffalo Bayou. He also is a founder of the Christmas Bay Foundation.
Lo and Behold Buffalo Bayou
Watch this slide show of photographs offered for sale by Jim.
And here is the low low low price list. Sale lasts only through Jan. 1, 2017. So act now! Make yourself and/or someone else happy and help Buffalo Bayou and our city too.
Three sizes are offered, and they are top-of-the-line prints using archival inks and paper, just as Jim prints them for his top collectors. Also offered are prints on Dibond aluminum. Larger sizes can be special ordered.
Sizes and prices are:
Archival Lustre Paper
12” x 18” $150
16” x 24” $200
20” x 30” $250
12” x 18” $200
16” x 24” $300
20” x 30” $400
Here’s how to contact Jim Olive. Take advantage of this generous offer and acquire a beautiful photographic print of Buffalo Bayou while helping to protect this amazing urban river and its tributaries. Support intelligent, cost-effective public policies that work with nature, not against it.
Time Flows on Buffalo Bayou
A Hot Foggy Winter’s Day
Dec. 13, 2016
For the last two years Jim Olive has been documenting the changes in the seasons on Buffalo Bayou from the same vantage point. Setting up his tripod on a high bank in Memorial Park, Jim has photographed the same bend in the bayou during low and high water, and in every season. Documenting the same spot helps show how the river adjusts and adapts over time to different conditions.
Actually Jim has had to move his tripod slightly upriver. Following the record rains and high flows in the spring of 2015 and this year, parts of the bank sloughed away, and Jim had to move his camera somewhat upstream. The photograph below was taken closer to the original viewpoint on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, around 7:30 a.m. Note how the slumped left bank is slowly rebuilding itself. It was unseasonably warm, about 75 degrees, with even a warm breeze seemingly wafting up from the water below. The flow was moderate, around 800 cubic feet per second as measured by the gauge at Piney Point, high enough for a couple of air boats, likely belonging to the Harris County Flood Control District, to come roaring up the river just as we left. We couldn’t see them; but we heard them as we were walking through the woods.
Jim had already been out to the park several times to try to catch just the right foggy conditions on the bayou, only to have the fog lift. This shot was taken looking downstream from the same high bank just upriver from a large tributary draining through the center of the boggy park. River Oaks Country Club property is on the right.
Science vs Engineers
Flood Control District and Scientific Experts In Opposite Corners
“You need to find some better experts.” — Former Harris County Flood Control District Director Mike Talbott to reporters for the Texas Tribune
Dec. 9, 2016
Excellent reporting from the Texas Tribune and PropPublica on the battle over what causes flooding in the Houston area and what to do about it. The Houston Press has also published an informative follow-up interview with the current director of the Flood Control District, Russ Poppe, after the recent retirement of Talbott.
Scientists say the fundamental problem is that Houstonians have assumed they can simply engineer their way out of flooding.
They can’t. And widening and deepening our bayous and streams is the wrong answer. We need to understand and work with nature. It’s cheaper, more effective, and better for us. Storm water needs to be absorbed, slowed down, and spread out before it reaches our streams.
Houston-area officials could work to preserve green space; strengthen regulation on development; plan for a changing climate; and work harder to remove the 140,000 homes that remain in the 100-year floodplain. …
As wetlands have been lost, the amount of impervious surface in Harris County increased by 25 percent from 1996 to 2011, [Sam] Brody [of Texas A&M Galveston] said. And there’s no way that engineering projects or flood control regulations have made up for that change, he said.
Between 2001 and 2005, his research found, the loss of flood-absorbing land along the Gulf of Mexico increased property damage from floods by about $6 million — much of that outside floodplains.
“There’s no doubt that the development … that we’re putting in these flood-prone areas is exacerbating flooding over time,” Brody said. “There’s a huge body of research out there beyond Houston, across the world” supporting that argument.
Research by [then Director Mike] Talbott’s own Harris County Flood Control District points to the effectiveness of prairie grass to absorb floodwater. ‘The restoration of one acre of prairie,’ a 2015 report by the district wrote, would offset the extra volume of runoff created by two acres of single-family homes or one acre of commercial property. (The district says that data is preliminary.)
But Talbott and his successor, Russ Poppe, don’t buy the research.
And then read the follow-up interview with Poppe, the current director of Flood Control, in The Houston Press.
Commissioner Radack Responds
“Buffalo Bayou Not a Natural River”
Supporting Costly Engineering to Slow the Flooding River. Spending Money to Stop the River Slowing For Free.
Nov. 30, 2016
Harris County Precinct Three Commissioner Steve Radack called to comment on our article criticizing unnecessarily costly and destructive “repairs” to the north bank of Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park. The six-mile long park is in Precinct Three in far west Houston and Commissioner Radack is the boss there.
Radack’s main point, apparently in support of needlessly spending an excessive amount of money, was that Buffalo Bayou is not a natural river. Because the bayou is not natural, it “does not naturally meander.”
For background: the naturally meandering bayou in Terry Hershey Park was stripped and straightened in the 1940s and ‘50s. Last spring high waters from record rains and extended high flows from the federal dams immediately upstream ate away at the bank in places and damaged the asphalt hike-and-bike trail on the north side. We pointed out that this had occurred where the old meanders or bends were. The bayou, we said, was seeking out its historic meanders, adjusting to the flow.
Our point was that it would make more sense, in accordance with the most advanced river management practices across the country and around the world, to move the asphalt trail slightly away from the very edge of the water and allow the river room to move and restore itself. This would be far cheaper, prettier and more natural, and healthier for the bayou, the beneficial trees and plants and creatures that grow there, and for the water flowing through it to the bay. Doing that rather than hardening the bank in an artificial straight line is also less likely to cause flooding and erosion downstream and less likely to require expensive repairs all over again. It’s also federal policy.
But according to Radack, this doesn’t matter, because Buffalo Bayou is not natural. It’s not natural because the Corps of Engineers “controls the flow.” The bayou “only has water in it,” Radack explained patiently, if the Corps opens the floodgates. “The water comes from the reservoir system.”
Therefore, according to Radack, the bayou is “not natural.”
Is that all true? Beg pardon, but no.
But here’s a puzzle: Radack supports spending tens of millions in public funds to carve up the banks and engineer some two dozen in-channel detention basins on the bayou in Terry Hershey Park. (See below.) But he opposes allowing the bayou to carve out for free its own detention by widening and restoring its old bends. Instead he approves spending taxpayer funds to keep the bayou from doing that.
Does that make sense? Seems contradictory to us.
Wasting Money the Old-Fashioned Way
Costly Bayou Repairs Do More Harm Than Good, Won’t Last
Nov. 21, 2016
From a distance you could hear the monstrous roar of the heavy equipment in the woods. Following deep, wide tracks smashed into the bare dirt along the bank of Buffalo Bayou, passing large cottonwoods apparently cut to make way for the big equipment, we came across a scene of troubling destruction.
A gigantic articulated 30-ton dump truck with six massive wheels was slowly rolling towards us with a large load of fresh dirt and dripping mud dug up from the bayou bank. Further along a 60-ton excavator on tracks sat on the very edge of the bank, expertly swiveling back and forth, scraping up the dirt bank and dumping it into the truck, scooping up loads of white limestone rock and dropping it in a layer where the excavated bank once was.
We’d seen the eroded bank before the “repairs” began. This damage was far worse.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Support Save Buffalo Bayou
What Would Be Lost. What We Could Gain.
October 24, 2016
See this beautiful stretch of Buffalo Bayou? They were going to raze it and fill it in. They still might. And dredge and reroute the bayou, tearing down the trees. For no good reason.
We are saving it. Against great odds. But we urgently need your help. Please donate now to Save Buffalo Bayou. It’s tax-deductible.
See this lovely sandy meander? They want to cut down the trees, bring in heavy equipment, level it and fill it all in. That’s our public Memorial Park. It’s a historic nature area. Note the high Pleistocene (very old) cliffs on the far right. They would be leveled too.
Checks can be made out to Save Buffalo Bayou and sent to 4121 Mandell # 3, Houston 77006.
Or just click on our easy-peasy Donate button. Note that PayPal deducts 2.9 percent for donations.
Look at this amazing stretch of our 18,000-year-old Buffalo Bayou flowing through the middle of Houston, past ancient high cliffs and sandstone formations, home to beaver and otters and more.
City and county officials want to spend millions in taxpayer money to rip out the trees and vegetation and destroy the ecosystem. And not just on Buffalo Bayou. They do that and will continue to do that on all our streams.
We think there’s a smarter, cheaper way.
Did you know that the trees and vegetation on the banks clean the water better than sewage treatment plants?
Everything they are doing violates best management practices. Floodplain management around the world has moved on. Let’s move with it.
Please support Save Buffalo Bayou with a tax-deductible gift now. We stand for the environment and the intelligent use of public funds. Stand with us.
We’re for sensible, green flood control measures that work and last. Let’s stop with the costly, destructive, outdated engineering projects that need constant repair.
Let’s work with nature, not against it.
Donate now. We’ll send you a colorful Save Buffalo Bayou bumper sticker.
Donate more than $150, and we’ll send you a handsome cotton t-shirt with our yellow-crowned night heron logo designed by Frank X. Tolbert 2.
Frank Smith, Conservationist
A Lifetime of Achievement and Service, Flying, Sailing, Driving with the Top Down
October 16, 2016
The year was 1933. Frank Smith was twelve years old and he had just climbed to the 14,255-foot summit of Long’s Peak while at Camp Audubon in Colorado.
It’s an achievement that still makes him proud. But more importantly, being in the snow-capped Colorado mountains changed the perspective of a young boy born and raised in a flat, humid city, albeit in one of the leafiest, most privileged neighborhoods in Houston.
“They made us pay attention to the flowers and the trees, and study and identify the mammals,” he recalls of his summers at Camp Audubon. “It was the first time my attention was directed toward natural things.” He had learned “a lot of other things,” he says. “But I had never been taught anything about the natural world.”
Those fortunate summers in the Rocky Mountain high forest wilderness during the Great Depression set Smith on a remarkable path of conservation and environmentalism. He read the books of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club in 1892, including The Mountains of California. That path would lead Smith to found and lead numerous organizations, most recently Save Buffalo Bayou, that have helped protect and preserve bayous and streams, including Buffalo and Armand bayous, Galveston Bay and its estuaries, and create public park lands around the state of Texas. He would work with virtually all of the region’s prominent conservationists, all of them becoming close personal friends. Some of them had been friends since childhood.
But first he would have to grow up, join the Navy, establish several engineering businesses, invent some things, and meet Terry Hershey.