Buffalo Bayou Doesn’t Like Sidewalks, It Seems

Buffalo Bayou Park Was Supposed to Be More Stable

Nov. 16, 2015

Updated Nov. 17, 2015

Update: “Endless Repairs: Buffalo Bayou Sets Its Own Terms,” Houston Chronicle, Nov. 20, 2019

Well, we can’t help but wonder if constantly scraping and repairing the sidewalks, forever reinforcing the collapsing banks somehow, and repeatedly replacing the trees and landscaping is fully covered by the $2 million annual maintenance budget for Buffalo Bayou Park paid by Houston city taxpayers.

The popular, much praised, and much needed park on the banks of the bayou between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive is suffering from some serious erosion problems. And that matters to us not just because of the expense and waste. This $53.5 million project, a boon to adjacent property owners and those who live and work nearby, was touted as a successful example of what the Harris County Flood Control District, egged on by the Bayou Preservation Association, wants to do to our healthy, historic wild bayou further upstream in and around Memorial Park. Buffalo Bayou Park was supposed to be more stable! The flood control district calls it Natural Stable Channel Design, but it always looked to us like they were doing everything you’re not supposed to do on the banks of streams: dig up the banks, run heavy equipment over the banks, remove the trees and vegetation (yes, they did a lot of that), build concrete and asphalt sidewalks on the banks, plant grass and mow it.

Let’s Work With Nature, Not Against It

Once you’ve done all that, and the banks and channel start falling apart, it’s pretty difficult to fix it. Best to let the bayou do what it will do anyway. (And eventually the bayou will rebuild and replant it all.) But it seems unlikely that the City and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership are going to sit back and patiently let millions of dollars worth of sidewalks, lamps, and bridges collapse into the bayou. Can they stop it? Time will tell.

In the meantime, it does make one wonder about all those concrete trails they are carving out of the banks and floodplains of the bayous for the Bayou Greenways project. A nice idea, but is that going to work?

Here’s what we’re talking about. What this slide show of photos of Buffalo Bayou Park between Shepherd and Montrose taken on Nov. 15, 2015 (and updated with later photos).

  • Deposition, erosion on north bank and problematic drainage project on south bank at Shepherd Drive. There were trees here once. Photo Nov. 16, 2015, by SC
  • Increased deposition and erosion in same meadow, caused by runoff, exposing irrigation pipes. Photo Feb. 24, 2017, by SC
  • Another view of deposition and erosion in the formerly forested "meadow" on the north bank at Shepherd Bridge. Photo Feb. 24, 2017
  • Slumping in south bank downstream from Shepherd, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Lone cottonwood still standing on south bank of Buffalo Bayou in November 2015 after parts of it were downed the previous winter.
  • Undermined by removal of surrounding vegetation, big cottonwood falls. Notice that the bayou has steepened its bank previously graded by Flood Control. Photo June 13, 2016.
  • Same fallen tree and bank on August 5, 2017.
  • Same location, former site of tall cottonwood as well as other trees, since removed, on Dec. 18, 2018.
  • Slumping south bank near Dunlavy threatening sidewalk, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Same location on Feb. 24, 2017, after repeat repairs. Our research show that where the banks are collapsing is where the bayou's original meanders were.
  • The boat launch at The Dunlavy on the south bank, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Boat launch and bank below The Dunlavy on Jan. 27, 2019
  • Sidewalk threatened on north bank, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Detail of sidewalk about to collapse on north bank, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Another section of sidewalk about to collapse on the north bank, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Jogger on another section of sidewalk threatened by collapsing bank on north side of the park, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Same location of repeat collapse on north bank opposite the Dunlavy two years later on Feb. 8, 2017.
  • Attempted repairs on same section of north bank on Feb. 8, 2017.
  • Collapsing south bank east of the Dunlavy, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Collapsing south bank threatening sidewalk east of the Dunlavy, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Erosion on same south bank below Wortham Fountain on Feb. 8, 2017
  • Vegetation destroyed and bank covered with sediment on north side of park, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Bank collapse threatening to take out sidewalk on south side of park just west of Rosemont Bridge, Nov. 16, 2015
  • Deposition on south bank of Buffalo Bayou in the park near Montrose, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Sediment collected on north bank of the park, possibly scraped from sidewalks, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Sediment deposited by flooding bayou on north bank of park. Photo Feb. 7, 2017
  • Sediment on south bank scraped out of the dog park, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Deposition and erosion on north bank near Montrose, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Looking upstream at sunset west of the Rosemont Bridge, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • North bank of Buffalo Bayou in Buffalo Bayou Park moving upstream towards Dunlavy, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Collapsing bank threatening sidewalk on south bank west of Montrose, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Runner gazing into same bank collapse on south bank of the bayou, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • The upstream section of the same collapsing bank on the south bank moving upstream towards the Dunlavy, Nov. 16, 2015.
  • Repeat repair of collapsing bank where Buffalo Bayou is seeking out its original meanders. Photo Feb. 8, 2017.
  • Erosion undermining sidewalk on north bank on February 22, 2017
  • Slumped south bank again after Harvey, west (upstream) of the Dunlavy. Photo by SC March 30, 2018
  • The still-closed sidewalk upstream of the Dunlavy with the bank of Buffalo Bayou stabilizing itself naturally with vegetation. Photo Sept. 15, 2019 by SC

Operation Save Buffalo Bayou: Banners, Signs Erected During Big Regatta Saturday, March 7

March 8, 2015

Defenders of Buffalo Bayou traipsed through clumps of wild chives and violets on the banks of the bayou Saturday, March 7, in order to hang colorful banners from bridges and trees and set out signs informing more than a thousand participants in the annual Buffalo Bayou Regatta about the grave threat to our wild bayou.

Operation Save Buffalo Bayou was a huge success as competitors paddling down the bayou waved and shouted “No bulldozers!” and “Leave it natural!” to members of the Buffalo Bayou defense team sitting on the banks in the project area.

Bayou defenders also handed out informational flyers at the end of the race in Sesquicentennial Park adjacent to the Wortham Center downtown and engaged participants and officials in conversation.

The regatta was organized by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP), a non-profit organization in charge of developing the $58 million Buffalo Bayou Park between Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway downstream of the project area. The partnership officially supports the $6 million plan to bulldoze one of the last natural stretches of the bayou as it flows past Memorial Park in the middle of Houston.

Sand on the Sidewalks

BBP President Anne Olson wrote a letter of support for the destruction project to the Army Corps of Engineers in June 2014 saying that the plan would “significantly prevent” the bayou from “depositing silt on Buffalo Bayou’s downtown parks and trails.” She also claimed that the project, known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, would demonstrate “a prototype that can be employed by bayou property owners who currently remedy their property erosion by all different types of inappropriate stabilization methods.”

In fact the amount of silt and sediment contributed by the historic nature area targeted for destruction by the Harris County Flood Control District is minimal. But the project itself would likely greatly increase the sediment flowing downstream as a result of dredging the bayou, removing trees and plants, and breaking up the soil structure of the banks.

Read the rest of this story.

Beautiful banner of a night heron drawn by Houston artist Frank Tolbert hanging over Buffalo Bayou during the annual Regatta.

Beautiful banner of a night heron drawn by Houston artist Frank Tolbert hanging over Buffalo Bayou during the annual Regatta.