Revising the Plan for Protecting Galveston Bay

Public Workshop Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Or Send Comments

Feb. 20, 2017

The Galveston Bay Estuary Program was established in 1989 to implement a comprehensive conservation plan for Galveston Bay. Established by the federal government and administered by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the program’s goal is to “preserve Galveston Bay for generations to come.” It is one of two estuary programs in Texas and one of 28 programs nationwide protecting estuaries “of national significance.”

An estuary is “a partially enclosed, coastal water body where freshwater from rivers and streams mixes with salt water from the ocean. Estuaries, and their surrounding lands, are places of transition from land to sea. … Estuarine environments are among the most productive on earth.”

As the Environmental Protection Agency points out, “what happens on the land affects the quality of the water and health of the organisms that live in an estuary. … For example, if a river or stream … passes urbanized and suburbanized areas, it gathers substances such as:

  • fertilizers or pet waste that wash off lawns;
  • untreated sewage from failing septic tanks;
  • wastewater discharges from industrial facilities;
  • sediment from construction sites; and
  • runoff from impervious surfaces like parking lots.”

Houston Ship Channel, Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Jim Olive

Buffalo Bayou is the main river flowing through the center of Houston and emptying into Galveston Bay. Numerous other creeks and tributaries, including Brays, White Oak, and Sims bayous, flow into Buffalo Bayou, which becomes the Houston Ship Channel.

Updating the Galveston Bay Protection Plan

The 22-year-old Galveston Bay management plan is being revised. The Houston Sierra Club is urging the general public to attend a Wednesday afternoon workshop in La Marque to “provide input on how we can have a cleaner and more ecologically intact Galveston Bay.”

Read the rest of this post.

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.

Read the rest of this post.

Frank C. Smith Jr., founding president of the board, Save Buffalo Bayou, in Memorial Park on a high bank above Buffalo Bayou. Photo taken May 5, 2016, by Jim Olive.

Frank C. Smith Jr., founding president of the board, Save Buffalo Bayou, in Memorial Park on a high bank above Buffalo Bayou. Photo taken May 5, 2016, by Jim Olive.

State of the Bayou

Downed Trees. New Channel. New Riprap. Washed Out Sidewalks, Beavers, and Turtles

But Some Banks Naturally Rebuilding

Does It Make Sense to Repair?

Sept. 1, 2016

Updated Sept. 11, 2016

You could not step twice into the same river. Heraclitus

We finally had a chance recently to float down beautiful Buffalo Bayou to see how things have changed. Our trip took us past Memorial Park in the middle of Houston. We also biked along the bayou through Terry Hershey Park far upstream in west Houston below the dams to see what was happening there.

The good news is that some of the high banks that had slumped in Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary during the Memorial Day 2015 flooding are naturally rebuilding.

The bad news is that the River Oaks Country Club has added more riprap to the south bank, hard armoring the bank with ugly, damaging concrete rubble, including where it should not be.

Nature’s Miraculous Way of Restoring. For Free.

Houston has had multiple record-breaking rains and flooding since the spring of 2015. When Buffalo Bayou overflows its high banks, as it did in the Memorial Day flood of 2015, the banks in places sometimes slump or slide away. This happens when the overflowing water seeps through the ground and saturates layers of sandy clay that liquefy, sometimes causing the bank to give way. Buffalo Bayou is 18,000 years old, and this has been happening for a very long time.

This natural tendency to slump is one reason why we think attempting to engineer these banks as proposed by the $6 million Memorial Park Demonstration Project won’t work. It’s also the reason why we think building and repeatedly repairing sidewalks at the bayou’s edge is wasteful and foolish.

Read the rest of this story.

The same high bank three months later on August 4, 2016.

The south-facing high bank of the Hogg Bird Sanctuary collapsed during the Memorial Day flood in 2015. Now self-restored. Photo on August 4, 2016.

Informative Articles in Response to Tax Day Flooding

A Roundup of Opinion on What Happened and Why

April 25, 2016

Houston neighborhoods shouldn’t be detention ponds

Commercial developers are dumping their runoff into our homes

By Bruce Nichols for the Houston Chronicle

April 19, 2016

Houston has a lot of great characteristics. It is open to new people, new ideas. It encourages entrepreneurs. Its energy-based economy is strong, despite the slowdown. But one big flaw is our failure to organize local government to protect homeowner investments, a big share of life savings for most of us.

The latest example of what this flaw leads to: Hundreds of homes flooded April 18. It was not a one-off event, a freak of Nature, as we have been assured. It will happen again, to more people, as more and more land is paved over without developers’ controlling their excess runoff.

Read the rest of this story in the Houston Chronicle.

 

Gary Coronado

Gideon Miller, Natanya Abramson and Yari Garner canoe along the 9300 block of Greenwillow in the flooded Willow Meadows neighborhood on Monday, April 18. Photo by Gary Coronado for the Houston Chronicle.

Don’t blame Mother Nature for flooding. Blame City Council.

The disasters are predictable. Why aren’t we preventing them?

By Cynthia Hand Neely and Ed Browne, Residents Against Flooding, for the Houston Chronicle

April 19, 2016

Man-made, preventable flooding has surged dirty, sewage-ridden water through Houston living rooms three times now in seven years, yet city government fails to prevent these recurring emergencies.

Really? If losing homes, livelihoods, retirement savings, health and sanity (and at least one life) aren’t reasons enough to make emergency detention and drainage improvements, what in the world does it take?

Right now, too many real-estate developments do not detain storm water run-off from their new construction, and instead allow it to flow downstream into other neighborhoods, into people’s homes. This new development is responsible for unnecessary flooding of neighborhoods that previously weren’t flood plains, weren’t prone to flooding. That new development is also responsible for flood insurance rising 100 to 200 percent (before the Tax Day flood) in these non-flood plains.

City government is allowing this to happen. Developers use loopholes and grandfathering to avoid doing what the city’s laws require them to do. Is it ethical to allow a new office building to flood an entire neighborhood even if a loophole makes it legal?

Read the rest of this story in the Houston Chronicle.

 

Photo by Jon Shapley for the Houston Chronicle

Meital Harari pushes water out the back door at her Meyerland home, Monday, April 18. Photo by Jon Shapley for the Houston Chronicle

Disaster by design: Houston can’t keep developing this way

We can’t stop growing. But to avoid flooding, we’ve got to be smarter about it.

By John S. Jacob for the Houston Chronicle

April 20, 2016

Let’s review the facts before this teachable moment fades away.

We live on a very flat coastal plain — much of it only a four-foot drop over a mile. And much of it with very clayey, slow-to-drain soils.  We also live in the region of highest-intensity rainfall in the continental U.S. So it is going to flood. Mother Nature will continue to deliver floods no matter what we do. Don’t count her out.

Flooding does not occur uniformly across the region. There are floodplains, and areas near the floodplains. There are low areas and there are higher areas. We need to know where these are. Obviously! — and yet we don’t seem to know.

But humans have screwed things up royally.

Read the rest of this story in the Houston Chronicle.

Wrecked wetlands lead to flooding. Here’s what you can do.

By Jennifer Lorenz for the Houston Chronicle

April 20, 2016

For the past twenty years, we at Bayou Land Conservancy have watched, horrified, as the Houston region’s wetlands are scraped and filled in — directly resulting in increased flooding.

When wetlands are allowed to function, they’re the kidneys of the area’s watershed. Their special soil types are surrounded by particular wetland plants that help hold water in shallow depressions. They clean the water as they allow some of it to filter slowly into the ground, the rest to drain slowly into our bayous. That process is the foundation of our region’s ecology.

The rampant destruction of our forested and prairie wetlands is upsetting this balance, drastically reducing the land’s ability to absorb water. By allowing so many wetlands to be turned into subdivisions, we’re not just kicking them to the curb; we’re turning them into curbs. We need the ecological equivalent of dialysis.

Read the rest of this story in the Houston Chronicle.

How policy fills Houston living rooms with water

We know how to lessen flood damage. But will we take the steps?

By David Crossley for the Houston Chronicle

April 21, 2016

The flooding of April 18, 2016, was a profound experience for many reasons. The electrifying videos from drones, so quickly and easily available on Facebook, and hours of television enterprise brought us the clearest picture we’ve ever had of the immensity and the tragedy of flooding in Houston, and another reminder that all neighborhoods are not equal.

It was a spooky and historic picture; that was the most one-day rain in Houston’s history.

Extreme rain events like this are going to be more common as we slide further into climate change. Are we doing things to ease the slide or are we making it worse?

Read the rest of this story in the Houston Chronicle.

People evacuate from Arbor Court Apartments in Greenspoint on Monday, April 18. Photo by Melissa Phillip for the Houston Chronicle

People evacuate from Arbor Court Apartments in Greenspoint on Monday, April 18. Photo by Melissa Phillip for the Houston Chronicle

Greenspoint, poverty and flooding

Would low-income families be better or worse off if flood-prone apartments were razed?

By Susan Rogers for the Houston Chronicle

April 22, 2016

Floods, like any natural disaster, are great levelers. All of those affected suffer equally. It is in the wake of a great loss that the disparity emerges. For some, it can be easy to find the resources to rent a new apartment, to move, to turn on your utilities — or at least not extremely hard. For others, those financial challenges are overwhelming.

That division shows sharply in Greenspoint, where some of this week’s worst flooding occurred.

The mall, office towers, multi-family apartment complexes, and strip retail development are disconnected and isolated from each other both physically and demographically. Fundamentally there are two communities: one community that caters to the area’s office workers, and one community for those who call the area home. The stores and restaurants that line Greens Road and Greenspoint Drive, which cater to office workers, are closed during the evenings and on weekends, when the area’s residents would be more likely to shop.

Read the rest of this story in the Houston Chronicle.

 

Environmental Photography That Works

Coastal Essence in Fotofest 2016

March 29, 2016

How do environmental and conservation organizations get their message across?

By showing the public photographs of what they are trying to protect.

That’s what Houston-based, internationally-known photographer Jim Olive has been doing for Save Buffalo Bayou and many other conservation organizations. Without Jim’s stunning photos of the historic natural stretch of the bayou flowing past Memorial Park, far fewer people would have any idea of the rare and valuable treasure we have running right through the middle of Houston.

A Fotofest 2016 exhibition titled Coastal Essence features Jim Olive’s photographs that have been used by local environmental organizations to illustrate their cause in print and social media. The exhibition, which includes a photograph of Buffalo Bayou at dawn used by Save Buffalo Bayou on its Facebook page, is on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Sugar Land, Texas. The show runs through May 8 at the museum at 13016 University Blvd.

Fotofest is one of the world’s leading photography festivals, and this year the theme is Changing Circumstances: Looking at the Future of the Planet. The festival, which continues through April 24, takes place every two years in galleries and exhibition spaces across the Houston metropolitan area, and draws photographers, curators, collectors, and other photography experts from all over the world.

Jim Olive, a native Houstonian, has been a professional photographer for fifty years and has traveled around the world on assignments. A longtime conservationist, he is the founder and executive director of the Christmas Bay Foundation.

Buffalo Bayou at dawn in the area targeted for destruction and "restoration" by the Harris County Flood Control District. Photo taken by Jim Olive on Dec. 9, 2014, from the bluffs of Memorial Park looking downstream towards the bank of the River Oaks Country Club.

This photo of Buffalo Bayou at dawn in the area targeted for destruction and “restoration” by the Harris County Flood Control District is on display in the Coastal Essence Fotofest exhibit through May 8 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Sugar Land, Texas. Photo taken by Jim Olive on Dec. 9, 2014, from the bluffs of Memorial Park looking downstream towards the bank of the River Oaks Country Club.

 

 

 

No Changes in Operation of Buffalo Bayou Dams

Release Rates May Be Looked At in Future

March 13, 2016

It was a dark and stormy night. Thunder boomed and heavy rain pelted the roof as a small group of us sat nervously in the middle of the rising Addicks Reservoir in far west Houston listening to the district commander of the Army Corps of Engineers tell us Addicks and Barker dams are safe.

Flanking Col. Richard Pannell last Wednesday, March 9, was a panel of officials from the Corps’ Galveston District office, as well as representatives from the Harris County Flood Control District and Granite Construction, the company awarded the $71.9 million contract to replace the leaky conduits in the 70-year-old earthen dams. The audience was a small crowd of about thirty hardy citizens who had braved the heavy traffic and heavy rain and managed to find the Bear Creek Community Center in the middle of a dark, wet forest despite the wrong address in the Corps’ public notice.

Col. Pannell made a thorough and convincing presentation of the history of the dams, the current problems, and what is being done about them. Among other work, the conduits in the two dams will be entirely replaced by new conduits in separate locations. This process will take about three years. He emphasized that the dams were in no immediate danger of failing and explained that the dams are labeled “extremely high risk” because of the potential consequences to Houston, the nation’s fourth most populous city, in the unlikely event that the dams failed.

Dams Operating Normally Despite Leaks

There were several questions about the capacity of the dams and the impact of repairs on the rate of future releases of water impounded behind the dams. The pattern of extended high releases and rapid drops has been criticized for damaging property on the bayou and killing trees and vegetation that control erosion.

After the enormous Memorial Day storm last year, the Corps began releasing impounded stormwater at 3000 cubic feet per second (cfs) for the first time. Normally the release rate is limited to 2000 cfs as measured by the Piney Point gauge. The Corps does not release water from the dams during a rain event, and the high releases began on June 1 and continued for ten days, finally dropping on June 12. The banks were already saturated from the storm, and the damage from the extended high flow was plainly visible up and down the bayou.

Read the rest of this story.

Tree on private property downed by extended high water releases from Buffalo Bayou dams in June 2015. Photo courtesy of Don Jones.

Tree on private property downed by extended high water releases from Buffalo Bayou dams in June 2015. Photo courtesy of Don Jones.

 

Film: Letting the River Heal

Learning to Respect A River’s Natural Process

October 18, 2015

“We have to be patient,” says Steve Nelle, Natural Resources Conservation Service, retired.

“Nature’s going to recover that area at her own timetable in her own way. It’s best to accommodate that natural process.”

Watch this moving and informative 14-minute documentary about a river’s natural process and Best Management Practices for protecting against erosion and preserving a river’s important role in cleansing our water, slowing storm water and runoff, and providing wildlife habitat.

All of this applies to Buffalo Bayou as well as our other bayous, creeks, and streams in Harris County. Even a small riparian buffer of native trees and vegetation a few feet wide is important for our waterways and the cleanliness of the water flowing through our neighborhood streams and into our bays and oceans. But on Buffalo Bayou, especially as it flows past Memorial Park, we are fortunate to have room for the river to move. Letting the river be a river is the most current scientific thinking on river management, even in cities. A dynamic river creates the most beneficial and biologically diverse environment.

Let’s work with nature, not against it.

This lovely, short film was made about the Blanco River and the impact of the 2015 Memorial Day flood on Wimberly, Texas. We can all learn from it.

Watch the film.

Steve Nelle, Natural Resources Conservation Service, retired. Still photo from the documentary, "Letting the River Heal."

Steve Nelle, Natural Resources Conservation Service, retired. Still photo from the documentary, “Letting the River Heal.”

New Aerial Photos of Buffalo Bayou!

Float In The Air Down Buffalo Bayou With Houston Photographer Jim Olive

October 17, 2015

Travel down the remarkable historic stretch of our 18,000-year-old bayou proposed for “restoration” by the Harris County Flood Control District and the City of Houston. The $6 million project, violating virtually every Best Management Practice for riparian areas, would pointlessly destroy and rebuild over 1.25 miles of a naturally-functioning bayou as it flows past Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north and the River Oaks Country Club on the south.

Photos taken on October 2, 2015. Thank you, Jim Olive!

  • This massive new drainage outfall on Buffalo Bayou at Woodway, soon to be once-again a public boat launch, is not in the project area targeted for "restoration" by the proposed $6 million Harris County Flood Control project. But this formerly forested area in Memorial Park, destroyed for a $1.3 million City "erosion control" project, is for many the beginning of a float trip through the threatened historic natural area in the park. Photo by Jim Olive, Oct. 2, 2015
  • The same drainage outfall/boat launch in Memorial Park at Woodway one year later after an "accidental" mowing of riparian plants by a Memorial Park maintenance crew and now, apparently, bulldozing of what remained for some reason. Photo by Jim Olive on Sept. 29, 2016
  • Concrete riprap placed by the River Oaks Country Club in August 2015 on a terrace below the high bank and adjacent to a wetland at the beginning of the proposed $6 million Harris County Flood Control project. The young box elder and other vegetation naturally planted there by the bayou were destroyed by soil-damaging heavy equipment. The mowed golf course extending to the edge of the high bank and the concrete path for motorized golf carts likely contributed to erosion of the high bank. Memorial Park on the left. Photo by Jim Olive, Oct. 2, 2015
  • Another view of the environmentally-damaging riprap recently placed by the River Oaks Country Club on the south bank at the upstream limit of the proposed project area. Sandy beach of Memorial Park on the left. Photo by Jim Olive, Oct. 2, 2015
  • Aerial view of a lovely meander in Memorial Park showing very old high bluffs on the right. The meander would be filled and the high bluffs leveled by the proposed Memorial Park Demonstration Project. Jim Olive photo, Oct. 2, 2015
  • Another view of the meander with its charming sandy beaches and magnificent high cliffs as we move downstream through this remarkable historic nature area in the middle of Houston targeted for destruction. River Oaks Country Club property on the left. Photo by Jim Olive on Oct. 2, 2015
  • The same meander nearly a year later on Sept. 29, 2016. Photo by Jim Olive
  • Brush on the banks taken down by the Memorial Day 2015 Flood is collecting sediment and naturally rebuilding the banks. The project proposed by Flood Control mimics this natural bank stabilizing process but would pointlessly spend millions of public dollars to destroy the superior work of nature and replace it with costly engineering likely to fail. Memorial Park on the left, River Oaks Country Club on the right. Jim Olive photo Oct. 2, 2015.
  • Sandy forested banks of the River Oaks Country Club on the right. Sandy beach on the left owned by the Harris County Flood Control District, though the property behind is privately owned. Photo by Jim Olive Oct. 2, 2015.
  • Kayakers on Buffalo Bayou in the area targeted for destruction on Sept. 29, 2016. Photo by Jim Olive
  • Kayakers on Buffalo Bayou on Sept. 29, 2016. Photo by Jim Olive.
  • Riprap installed by the River Oaks Country Club on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou in August 2015. Photo by Jim Olive on Oct. 2, 2015.
  • Aerial view of a wetland and the riprap placed on a denuded bank, once forested, by the River Oaks Country Club in August 2015. Sandy beach on the left owned by the people of Houston (as part of the Hogg Bird Sanctuary), with the point owned by Harris County Flood Control . Photo by Jim Olive on Oct. 2, 2015
  • Aerial view of the same riprap one year later on Sept. 29, 2016, showing additional riprap installed at the downstream end. Photo by Jim Olive
  • Wider view of the meander showing south bank armored by riprap in 2015 and 2016 and sandy point on north side owned by the Harris County Flood Control District in front of private residences. Photo by Jim Olive on Sept. 29, 2016
  • Aerial view of the tributary and high banks of the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north, a public park, and the River Oaks Country Club golf course on the south near the downstream limit of the area targeted for dredging, grading, and filling by the Harris County Flood Control District. The high bank in the sanctuary slumped during the spring high waters, but the brush lying there is collecting sediment and naturally rebuilding the bank. Photo by Jim Olive on Oct. 2, 2015

Update on Puzzling Project to Bulldoze Wild Buffalo Bayou

Damaging, Expensive, Contradictory Plan Still Threatens

Conflicts Still Apparent, Purpose Still Unclear

No Permit Yet

October 8, 2015

The Harris County Flood Control District has responded to largely critical public comments to the Army Corps of Engineers about Flood Control’s misguided project to destroy one of the last natural stretches of Buffalo Bayou in Houston, a most remarkable asset to have in the middle of a city. The Corps is reviewing the Flood Control District’s responses, says Jayson Hudson, who has been the Corps’ Galveston District project manager for the permit application.

Flood Control must apply for a permit from the Corps of Engineers because the Clean Water Act requires the Corps to ensure that projects on federal waters do not damage the health of our waters. Federal waters are defined as navigable streams (Buffalo Bayou) up to the Ordinary High Water Mark, their tributaries and adjacent wetlands, all of which form the great living veins and arteries of our limited water supply. Some studies argue that all riparian areas , the highly biologically diverse natural gardens and forests along stream banks so vital for clean water, should be considered protected wetlands .

This beautiful meander, a natural detention area, would be filled in and graded, the woods and high cliffs destroyed, and the entire floodplain area obliterated by a permanent road. Aerial photo on Oct. 3, 2015, by Jim Olive

This beautiful meander, a natural storm water detention area, would be filled in and graded, the woods and high cliffs destroyed, and the entire floodplain area obliterated by a permanent road. Aerial photo on Oct. 3, 2015, by Jim Olive

Read the rest of this post.

While We Wait

The Flood Control District’s Failing “Natural Channel Design” Projects

July 11, 2015

Well, the comments are in to the Army Corps of Engineers. The comment period that ended June 5 was not extended. So now we wait to find out what the Corps will do next about a permit for the Harris County Flood Control District’s controversial $6 million Memorial Park Demonstration Project. The flood control district wants to destroy one of the last natural stretches of Buffalo Bayou as it flows past Memorial Park in the middle of the city so that engineers can “build it better,” thus demonstrating exactly the wrong thing to do for erosion control and bank stabilization on the bayou.

It’s the wrong thing to do because the specially adapted trees and plants on the bayou (known as the riparian zone) protect the land from erosion, slow storm water and runoff, filter pollution and bacteria (and trash) from the water, provide shade and habitat, among many other vital functions. Razing the riparian buffer, as this project would do, digging up and running heavy equipment over the banks and bayou bottom are all contrary to Best Management Practices and the policies of virtually every federal and state agency charged with protecting the health of our waters, our wildlife habitat, and our soil.

What Are the Options?

So what are the Corps’ options?

Read the rest of this story to find out and learn about the flood control district’s previous failing “natural channel design” projects.

 

Cottonwood downed on south bank west of Waugh by undercutting of banks in Buffalo Bayou Park "restored" by the Harris County Flood Control District. Several more mature trees have been lost since this photo was taken Jan. 26, 2015, by Jim Olive.

Cottonwood downed on south bank west of Waugh by undercutting of banks in Buffalo Bayou Park “restored” by the Harris County Flood Control District. Several more mature trees have been lost since this photo was taken Jan. 26, 2015, by Jim Olive.

Next Page »