Spring 2017 on Buffalo Bayou

Never the Same River Twice

March 18, 2017

Out on Buffalo Bayou early this morning, Saturday, March 18, 2017, with photographer Jim Olive. We were looking for our Spring 2017 shot of the same bend of the bayou we have been documenting for the last three years throughout the seasons. Flow was low base flow, about 150 cubic feet per second. Birds singing. Frogs burping. Squirrels quarreling. Warmth wafting off the water. Was foggier than Jim had hoped, and he had to be patient, as always, for just the right shot. We’d been waiting for a clear morning for days.

For the entire series see A Bend in the River under Photos and Films. This scene is in the historic nature area targeted for destruction and “restoration” by the Harris County Flood Control District, the Memorial Park Conservancy, and the Bayou Preservation Association.

An update on that costly, misguided project, which sadly still threatens, is coming up next.

Morning on Buffalo Bayou, March 18, 2017, shot by Jim Olive from a high bank in Memorial Park looking downstream with River Oaks Country Club property on the right.

Wasting Money the Old-Fashioned Way

Costly Bayou Repairs Do More Harm Than Good, Won’t Last

Nov. 21, 2016

Updated April 23, 2017 — The Harris County Flood Control District reports that repair costs through March 2017 are $1.25 million. Terry Hershey Park remains closed until construction work is complete.

See also “Commissioner Radack Responds.”

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.

Read the rest of this story.

Dump truck and excavator at work on the north bank of Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park on Nov. 3, 2016. Photo by Jim Olive

Dump truck and excavator at work on the north bank of Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park on Nov. 3, 2016. Photo 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.

Sad News

A Beaver Has Died

Boy Scouts Documenting Wildlife on Buffalo Bayou Make Unexpected Find

February 2, 2016

 

A beaver dead of unknown causes on the sandy bank of Buffalo Bayou just east of Loop 610. Photo taken Jan. 30, 2016

A beaver dead of unknown causes on the sandy bank of Buffalo Bayou just east of Loop 610. Tool in front of nose for scale is four inches long. Photo taken  Jan. 30, 2016

A group of Boy Scouts researching wildlife on Buffalo Bayou came across a sad scene on a sandy bank opposite the Arboretum last Saturday, Jan. 30.

Paul Hung is a fifteen-year-old Boy Scout from Bellaire who is working with Save Buffalo Bayou on a project to inventory the wildlife on the 18,000-year-old bayou as it flows past the Arboretum, Memorial Park, and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary. The project is Paul’s Eagle Scout Service project, and he had organized a group of six Boy Scouts with Troop 55, Sam Houston Area Council, to float down the bayou looking for and photographing wildlife tracks on the sandy banks. Paul had carefully organized his float trip, checking first to see that the water level was low enough to see the banks, and accompanied by several adults, the group put in at the recently re-opened boat launch in Memorial Park at Woodway west of Loop 610, a wooded area known as the Old Archery Range.

Boy scouts and guides putting in at the Memorial Park Woodway boat launch Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016

Boy scouts and guides putting in at the Memorial Park Woodway boat launch Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016

The group floated round a bend and another, passing under the West Loop 610 bridge, working in pairs in canoes to identify and photograph tracks and record their locations. But on a sandy south bank below a high-rise parking lot, the group encountered something surprising: the corpse of what appeared to be an otherwise healthy beaver.

According to witnesses, the deceased beaver showed no signs of trauma and there were no tracks surrounding the beaver’s final resting place in the sand, which was near an area of willows known for beaver activity.

Deceased beaver on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Paul Hung, Jan. 30, 2016

Deceased beaver on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Paul Hung, Jan. 30, 2016

Otherwise, he and his fellow scouts had a “great trip,” reports Paul. They saw an “amazing” amount of wildlife.

“I was surprised by how many animal tracks we found on the Bayou,” he writes in an email.  “My partner and I alone found over 30 tracks. We saw Great Blue Heron, Coyote, Turtle, Raccoon, Beaver, and Great White Egret evidence.

“This gives us a better appreciation of the Bayou, because it is right in the middle of Houston. This is the first of many expeditions on the Bayou. It will take 6 to 8 months to complete [the wildlife inventory], and I hope this will be helpful for Bayou education.”

Save Buffalo Bayou and Paul plan to publish the results of his Eagle Scout Service project as a pamphlet in order to educate the public about the abundance of wildlife living on Buffalo Bayou.

 

 

 

 

A Bend in the River

Photographs of Buffalo Bayou through the Seasons

Dec. 23, 2015

These lovely photographs document the changes in the seasons on Buffalo Bayou, and in the dynamic river itself. Taken (with one exception) by Houston photographer Jim Olive, they were shot from the same high bank in Memorial Park looking downstream with the River Oaks Country Club on the right. This bend in the bayou is in the stretch proposed for destruction and “restoration” by the Harris County Flood Control District and the Bayou Preservation Association, with the support of the Memorial Park Conservancy and the City of Houston.

  • This first summer photo was taken by Susan Chadwick in July 2014. Proponents of Flood Control's destruction/restoration project claimed there was no overhanging tree canopy in the area. River Oaks Country Club on the right.
  • Late fall at sunrise from the same bend of Buffalo Bayou. Taken on Dec. 9, 2014, by Jim Olive from Memorial Park looking downstream.
  • Early spring on Buffalo Bayou at high water. Photo by Jim Olive on March 25, 2015.
  • Summertime view of the same bend in Buffalo Bayou from Memorial Park on August 1, 2015. Photo at low water (base flow) by Jim Olive.
  • Looking at Buffalo Bayou from Memorial Park from the same high bluff on Nov. 24, 2015. Photo by Jim Olive.
  • Sun rising over a bend of Buffalo Bayou at low water on Dec. 10, 2015. Photo taken by Jim Olive from a high bluff in Memorial Park looking downstream with the River Oaks Country Club on the right.
  • Early morning at high water on March 21, 2016, the day after the vernal equinox. The dams in west Houston were open, and water was flowing from the reservoirs at 2,000 cubic feet per second. Photo by Jim Olive, of course, from a high bluff in Memorial Park. River Oaks Country Club on the right.
  • Summer on Buffalo Bayou after the record high water from the spring rains had finally drained from Barker and Addicks dams upstream. Taken on July 8, 2016, by Jim Olive from the same high bank in Memorial Park looking downstream with the River Oaks Country Club on the right.
  • Foggy, warm winter morning on Buffalo Bayou at moderate flow, about 800 cubic feet per second. Photo by Jim Olive on Dec. 13, 2016.
  • Spring 2017, shot by Jim Olive on the morning of March 18 from Memorial Park with birds singing, frogs burping, squirrels quarreling, and warm air drifting up the high bank from the river at low flow.
  • Summer 2017. Flow was about 500 cubic feet per second after a nighttime storm on the morning of July 10, 2017. Slumped bank was healing. Frogs were a courting. Photo by Jim Olive.
  • That bend in the river on Sept. 1, 2017, after Hurricane Harvey dropped record rain all over. Flow was around 12,000 cubic feet per second. Photo by SC
  • The bend in the river on Sept. 11, 2017, around 2:30 p.m. as the floodwaters from Harvey were slowly draining. Flow was about 7,000 cubic feet per second, down from at least twice that. Photo by SC because Jim Olive was flying around taking photos of disastrous flooding all over the Gulf.
  • After the flood. That Bend in the River post-Harvey on Friday, 13 October, 2017, just after dawn. The flood control reservoirs behind the federal dams on Buffalo Bayou upstream had emptied finally and flow had dropped to base flow, about 200 cubic feet per second (cfs). Large amounts of sand and slumping of the high banks. Many downed trees. Photo by Jim Olive
  • Winter photo by Jim Olive on Jan 13, 2018. Flow was about 600 cubic feet per second. Temperature was a chilly 34 degrees shortly after sunrise about 7:30 a.m. The banks were much changed after the floodwaters of Harvey, with lots of slumping, fallen trees and missing vegetation. We could hardly find our spot. Note the buildup of sediment on the opposite bank.
  • That Bend in the River on April 15, 2018. Springtime all over the place. Flow was about 650 cubic feet per second after a brief thunderstorm the day before. Photo by SC
  • A trackhoe on a barge stuck in the sandy channel bottom of Buffalo Bayou at that bend below the high bank in Memorial Park. Maintenance contractor with flood control was removing fallen trees from the banks and channel. Photo by SC May 19, 2018
  • Summer sunrise on Buffalo Bayou. That bend in the bayou on July 1, 2018, with flow at about 280 cubic feet per second. Photo by Jim Olive, of course.
  • Fall 2018 on that Bend in the River. Water was high and the morning was cloudy just after sunrise. Photo by Jim Olive on Nov. 6, 2018.
  • We were late with our winter shot, and this February morning was gloomy, the trees and banks bare. Flow was very low, about 150 cfs. The bend appeared to have been widened by the damaging dredging done by maintenance contractors working to remove woody debris, some of which should have been left on the banks for stability and sediment control. Photo Feb. 14, 2019, by Jim Olive
  • Spring again! That bend in the bayou, early in the morning of April 26, 2019. Jim Olive was back in town to continue our series documenting this same spot through time. Photo by Jim.
  • Summertime 2019 on that bend in the river with some of the destruction of the south bank visible in the distance. Pile of dirt is part of the River Oaks Country Club's costly and excessively damaging bank project. Photo by Jim on July 8, 2019, from that same high bank in Memorial Park.
  • That Bend in the River on a cool fall day--at last! Tractor is sitting on a pile of dirt dug out of the bank by the River Oaks Country Club for its very discouraging and deeply destructive "bank repair" project upstream and downstream. Photo by Jim on Oct. 12, 2019
  • Jim Olive's Winter 2019-20 photo of that bend in the bayou with continuing destruction activity on the bank opposite. Photo Dec. 19, 2019
  • Since Jim Olive was on a general coronavirus lockdown in California, Susan took this Spring 2020 photo around 3 p.m. on March 23. Flow was high, about 900 cubic feet per second. We're hoping JO will be back soon to take a better one.
  • Jim O. was still locked down in California, where temperatures were shooting past 120, so Susan took this summer photo just after sunrise on July 12, 2020. After nearly two weeks of high flow from the release of stormwaters from the federal dams, flow had dropped to base flow at about 150 cfs as the flood-control reservoirs, Addicks and Barker, were finally emptied.
  • Fall on that bend in the bayou, looking through the yaupon downstream on Nov. 6, 2020. Photo by Jim Olive
  • That bend in winter several days after a historic freeze and snowstorm. Photo Feb. 20, 2021, by SC because highways were closed and JO couldn't make it through ice storm.
  • Jim Olive's late winter photo of that bend in the bayou. Taken on a drizzling, foggy morning just after sunrise on March 2, 2021.
  • A temporary shot for spring until Jim Olive gets back to town. Taken by SC around 6 p.m. on April 21, 2021.
  • That bend in the bayou in summer during high flow, over 2,000 cubic feet per second, as the Corps of Engineers continued to release stormwater impounded behind the federal flood control dams. Photo June 18, 2021, by Jim Olive.
  • Looking lush and green on that bend in the bayou right before the autumnal equinox. Tropical Storm Nicholas had just passed through. Fall photo Sept. 17, 2021, by Jim.
  • Early morning mist rising on the bend. Photo by Jim Olive on Nov. 12, 2021, showing a bit of fall color.
  • The bend in spring 2022. Photo by SC on April 7, 2022
  • The bend in summer, during record heat and drought. Flow was exceptionally low. Photo July 7, 2022 by SC
  • A misty fall sunrise on the bend in the bayou. High flow from stormwater being released from the federal dams upstream after a big rain. Photo by SC, Oct. 30, 2022