Reminder: Buffalo Bayou Watershed Flood Bond Meeting July 30

Also Barker Reservoir Meeting on Aug. 1

 

July 23, 2018

The Harris County Flood Control District and members of county commissioners’ court continue to hold meetings around the county to present proposals for projects attempting to reduce the hazard of flooding.

The meeting about projects proposed in the Buffalo Bayou watershed will be held on Monday, July 30, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Memorial Drive United Methodist Church, 12955 Memorial Drive in Houston. A meeting to present projects proposed for the Barker Reservoir watershed is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Memorial Parkway Junior High, 21203 Highland Knolls Drive in Katy. Buffalo Bayou flows from its headwaters near Katy into and through Barker Dam.

The projects are to be funded with the proceeds of a $2.5 billion bond issue should the voters approve on August 25. The bonds would be issued over a period of ten to fifteen years, according to the flood control district, and repaid through a property tax increase of no more than two-three cents per $100 of home valuation. Homeowners with an over-65 or disabled exemption and a home worth $200,000 or less would not pay any additional taxes, according to the district.

Most of the projects proposed are projects that had long been planned. For instance, a controversial project to remove forest and excavate basins to capture and temporarily hold overflow on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park is listed with a $10 million cost estimate. The project in its initial stages would allegedly create 60-100 acre-feet of temporary storage alongside the bayou. The linear detention, siphoning flow out of the bayou, is planned to compensate for eventual additional City of Houston drainage into the bayou from neighborhood streets.

Barker and Addicks dams both drain into Buffalo Bayou, and overflow from Cypress Creek on the rapidly developing Katy Prairie in northwest Harris County also drains into the overburdened Addicks Reservoir, adding to the pressure of runoff into Addicks and the bayou.

Other than the Hershey Park detention project, some $21 million is slated for a new detention basin north of John Paul’s Landing on Upper Langham Creek, which drains into Addicks.

However, most of the projects listed for these watersheds mainly focus on repairing channels and improving conveyance – making more stormwater flow faster into and through the reservoirs. This has the potential to cause more problems and more flooding. Modern practice elsewhere is to focus on slowing the flow, making room for the river with wider floodplains. We would hope for more money to be spent on land aquisition, buyouts in floodplains, preservation of undeveloped land, forest, wetlands, prairies, and riparian vegetaton; creation of green space, restoring meanders, and programs to encourage slowing of rain runoff beginning with individuals and neighborhoods.

There are also funds proposed to be used in collaboration with Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates Addicks and Barker, to evaluate the effectiveness and operation of those 70-year-old dams.

A complete list of projects can be found on the flood control district’s website. The website also offers a way to make comments about the projects.

The meetings are not set up for the public to engage officials or voice opinions. They are informative only – with numerous stations staffed by flood control personnel to explain projects. However, paper and pencils are provided for citizens to write comments.

A house damaged by Harvey floodwaters in a still-recovering neighborhood north of Buffalo Bayou in west Houston. Photo on June 12, 2018, by SC

Engineers Caused the Flood That Led to Creation of Flood Control District

A Fact-Based Response to “Engineers’ View” in the Texas Tribune

March 6, 2017

A few weeks ago the Texas Tribune published an editorial comment written by engineers Michael Bloom and Steve Stagner responding to the excellent investigative work on flooding in the Houston region, “Boomtown, Floodtown,” published by the Tribune and ProPublica on Dec. 7, 2016. See our summary of the report here.

In their TribTalk editorial “Boomtown, Floodtown Reconsidered, An Engineer’s View,” Feb. 6, 2017, Bloom and Stagner repeat a couple of erroneous statements commonly used by representatives of the Harris County Flood Control District in support of the district’s shaky position that paving over the prairie, i.e. development, is not contributing to flooding.

According to this point of view, our native tallgrass prairie and its associated wetlands are hardly better than concrete when it comes to slowing and absorbing rainwater. These deep-rooted grassland prairies, with water-absorbing root systems that can reach 12-15 feet into the ground or more, once existed around and upstream of Buffalo Bayou, in Katy, west of Houston, for instance, source of Buffalo Bayou, as well as up and down the coastal plain. Practical people are trying to preserve and restore what remains.

In support of their argument, Bloom and Stagner summon up a point commonly made by members of the local engineering community: that the 1935 flood on Buffalo Bayou that devastated downtown Houston and led to the creation of the Harris County Flood Control District happened even though the Katy Prairie way upstream was then a big natural tallgrass prairie.

This argument is wrong on two points. Read why in this fact-based response by Save Buffalo Bayou to an “Engineers’ View” published as a comment in the Tribune’s TribTalk.

Or continue reading to find out the answers. With links!

Prairie switchgrass with root system. Photo by Sky Lewey

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

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.

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.”

Harris County Precinct Three Commissioner Steve Radack has been in office since 1989. Official photo courtesy of Steve Radack.

Harris County Precinct Three Commissioner Steve Radack. Official photo courtesy of Steve Radack.

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.

Read the rest of this story.

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.

Then And Now

The View From the Bridge

June 13, 2016

Okay, it was a trick question. We asked our readers to identify the location of Geoff Winningham’s lovely black-and-white photo of Buffalo Bayou taken in 1998. And we asked for a photo of the same view now.

Shoulda been easy. The photo was published in Winningham’s beautiful photographic study of the bayou, Along Forgotten River, which traces our Mother Bayou from its source in the Katy Prairie to its end in Galveston Bay. And the photo was identified, of course.

Except that somehow the identification in the book was wrong, says Winningham. He went out and checked himself last week. The photo was taken looking upstream from the Waugh Bridge, not the Montrose Bridge. Still, the view doesn’t look much the same. The river seems to bend differently now, after the “channel conveyance improvements” by the Harris County Flood Control District starting in 2010. Not so many trees either. Here’s the way it looks now. Still lovely.

View of Buffalo Bayou looking upstream from the Waugh Bridge. Photo by Anonymous, June 13, 2016

View of Buffalo Bayou looking upstream from the Waugh Bridge. Photo by Anonymous, June 13, 2016

And here is the way it looked in 1998.

Somewhere on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Geoff Winningham prior to 2001.

Buffalo Bayou from the Waugh Bridge. Photo by Geoff Winningham, 1998.

Anonymous photographer wins a Save Buffalo Bayou bumper sticker, which everyone should have. Get yours by donating to Save Buffalo Bayou, and help us promote responsible flood control that works with nature rather than against it.

Can You Identify This View of Buffalo Bayou?

Take a Photo, Win A Prize

May 29, 2016

Where was this photo taken? And how does the bayou look there now?

Somewhere on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Geoff Winningham prior to 2001.

Somewhere on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Geoff Winningham prior to 2001.

Okay, it’s not difficult. It’s in Geoff Winningham’s beautiful book of black-and-white photographs of Buffalo Bayou. Winningham, who teaches photography at Rice University, spent five years from 1997 to 2001 chronicling Buffalo Bayou from its beginning in the Katy Prairie to its end in Galveston Bay. The book, Along Forgotten River, published in 2003, includes accounts of early travelers in Texas from 1767 to 1858. The book can be purchased here.

Send us your shot of this location on Buffalo Bayou as it looks now. We’ll publish the best of what we get and send the winner a Save Buffalo Bayou bumper sticker.

We’re going to make this a regular series so keep looking.

… Often along these shady banks have I rowed my little skiff and wondered if ever some Bard had consecrated its border shades by a correspondent flow of song …  — J.C Clopper’s Journal and Book of Memoranda for 1828, Province of Texas, quoted in Along Forgotten River by Geoff Winningham.

Proposed Roads to Damage Katy Prairie Preserve

Urgent Notice of Public Meeting and Comment Deadline

May 1, 2016

Updated May 3, 2016

The Katy Prairie Conservancy has announced that the Harris County Engineering Department has corrected the email link for commenting on proposed changes to the Harris County Major Thoroughfare and Freeway Plan that will damage the Katy Prairie.

The correct email address is:

us290amtstudy@hcpid.org

Update May 8, 2016

The comment period has been extended until May 13.

The Katy Prairie Conservancy has sent out an urgent notice of a Harris County plan to build new roads in and around the Katy Prairie Preserve. The preserve is a nonprofit land trust project to restore and protect historic wetland prairie in Waller and western Harris counties.

Buffalo Bayou originates in the Katy Prairie. Prairie wetlands, rapidly being destroyed and paved over by development, are vital for clean water and flooding mitigation, as are forested riparian zones along the banks of streams such as Buffalo Bayou and its tributaries.

When, Where, and How

The Harris County Engineering Department is holding a public meeting Monday, May 2, 2016, on proposed changes to the Major Thoroughfare and Freeway Plan (see particularly pages 25 through 29) that will “degrade the Katy Prairie Preserve System,” according to the conservancy.

The meeting takes place from 5:30 to7:00 pm at the Hockley Community Center, 28515 Old Washington Road, in Hockley, Texas.

The conservancy urges that if you cannot attend the meeting, please submit your comments in writing by May 13, 2016, via email to us290amstudy@hcpid.org or by mail to:

Harris County Engineering Department

10555 Northwest Freeway, Suite 120

Houston, Texas 77092

Attn: Fred Mathis, P.E.

Proposed future development map of roads crisscrossing the Katy Prairie Preserve. Map from page 27 of the Harris County Engineering Dept. US 290 Area Major Thoroughfare Study.

Proposed future development map of roads crisscrossing the Katy Prairie Preserve. Map from page 27 of the Harris County Engineering Dept. US 290 Area Major Thoroughfare Study.

Key Talking Points

The conservancy says that while Harris County is proposing to dispense with parts of the one-mile road grid through some of the preserves, the county also recommends constructing new roads in sensitive and/or inappropriate areas.

Here are some of the conservancy’s main objections:

  • In general, the plan does not effectively take into consideration the importance of the Katy Prairie preserves in reducing flooding, improving water quality, providing wildlife habitat, and offering recreational opportunities for the residents of the Greater Houston area. Roads should go around the Katy Prairie preserves and not through them. Roads can move, nature cannot.
  • KPC does not support the new proposed east-west road through the upper third of the Warren Ranch; it will cause fragmentation and impair ranch operations.
  • KPC does not support the new proposed north-south road through the conservation easement lands owned by KPC’s conservation easement donors; this land provides sensitive habitat and flood protection as well as other environmental benefits. It should be protected.
  • A number of the proposed new roads, if built, would be under water during flood events if the most recent flood event is any indication of where floodwaters go on the prairie.

For more information visit http://www.katyprairie.org/