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 .
Update on Our Campaign to Save the Last Natural Stretch of Buffalo Bayou in Houston
Oct. 5, 2014
Where are we now and what should you do?
The Harris County Flood Control District has applied for a permit to bulldoze most of the riparian forest and vegetation along both banks of more a mile of the last remaining stretch of natural Buffalo Bayou in the city. This is our bayou as it passes by Memorial Park. Also targeted are the tributary and high bluffs of the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, as well as other ancient cliffs and prehistoric sandstone used in the past as water crossings by buffalo and people. The project would excavate, fill, grade, and artificially rebuild the banks; dredge, deepen, and reroute the bayou channel, damming tributaries. Hundreds of trees will be cut down, many of them riparian species too small or too young to be counted by the district’s inappropriate tree survey. The shading tree canopy will be removed (project proponents claim there is no tree canopy!); the water temperature increased. The soil, packed with protective, binding roots small and large, will be dug up, tossed around, and compacted by heavy equipment. Wetlands and lovely sandy beaches will be obliterated along with the colonizing and stabilizing plants that have taken root there, a crucial stage of the natural process of building the riparian buffer so important to water quality, flood and erosion control.
All of this and more violates best management practices for riparian zones. It will destroy the bayou’s ecosystem. And this is a project developed and promoted by the Bayou Preservation Association, supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy.
Timelines Are Difficult to Predict — Updated Oct. 30, 2014
The Harris County Flood Control District has responded to the public comments sent to the Army Corps of Engineers during the public comment period, which ended June 30. The district has posted its responses on its website, and you can read them here. (Caution: big pdf.)
The Bad Things That Happen When You Strip Forest from the Banks of Bayous
Aug. 2, 2014
We Have Forgotten The Wisdom of Our Predecessors
The early settlers knew better than to cut down the trees and vegetation from the banks of Buffalo Bayou and other streams.
Even where they set up sawmills along the bayou in the 1820s and ’30s, the mill owners had the common sense to leave the trees standing along the riverbank to protect the land from erosion, says Janet Wagner, chair of the Harris County Historical Commission.
Before that, says Wagner, the indigenous people who lived and camped along the bayou left the riparian forest intact, understanding its importance for holding the banks in place, cleansing and cooling the waters, slowing storm waters, providing fish and wildlife habitat, and much more.
The Harris County Flood Control District, in a wrongheaded plan promoted by the Bayou Preservation Association and supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy and the City of Houston, is proposing to strip most of the riparian forest buffer from some of the last wild banks of Buffalo Bayou in Houston. Known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, the controversial $6 million project is demonstrating to landowners up and down the bayou and elsewhere exactly what they should not do to protect their property. Preservation of riparian zones along waterways is both federal and state policy, but apparently the city and the county have not yet understood that message.
Recently the flood control district announced another misguided “restoration” project to strip trees and vegetation from the banks of a tributary of Greens Bayou.
The costly experience of the Houston Country Club ought to be instructive. The club not too long ago bulldozed a significant amount of trees and vegetation from the banks of Buffalo Bayou as it passes by the club golf course in Tanglewood. This was a project designed by the engineering firm AECOM, which also designed the failing “erosion control” project in the former Archery Range in Memorial Park at Woodway. A representative of AECOM sits on the board of the Bayou Preservation Association.
Watch this slide show of the disastrous results of razing riparian forest at the Houston Country Club. The photographs were taken on June 27, 2014, and annotated by geophysicist Richard Hyde, a longtime supporter of Buffalo Bayou.
Here is another shocking slide show of photographs taken almost three months earlier on April 2, 2014, of the same, formerly forested area of the Houston Country Club. (See comparison aerial photos below.) The photos were provided by Evelyn Merz, conservation chair of the Houston Regional Group of the Sierra Club. Note in the photos shown above how much more damage had been done three months later.
The flood control district proposes to bulldoze, dredge, and trample with heavy equipment nearly 1.5 miles of Buffalo Bayou and its banks as it flows between Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north and the River Oaks Country Club on the south. The taxpayers of Houston and Harris County are paying $4 million and the country club $2 million for this project.
The Army Corps of Engineers is currently considering whether to issue a permit for the project to the flood control district.
Seeing What Will be Destroyed: Our Article in the Houston Chronicle
July 26, 2014
The Bayou Banks We Could Lose
Once again, a flood-control project threatens Buffalo Bayou
By Susan Chadwick for the Houston Chronicle
July 25, 2014 | Updated: July 25, 2014 3:21pm
We have pulled the canoe up to a clean, white sandy beach on Buffalo Bayou in the middle of the city. It’s still early morning, and all along our slow paddle from the bridge at Woodway great white egrets and a great blue heron fly ahead of us, leading us to our destination: the prehistoric cliffs and forested banks that could soon be obliterated by the Harris County Flood Control District.
It’s a bizarre project, all the more incomprehensible in that the project is primarily promoted by the influential Bayou Preservation Association (BPA), founded in the 1960s to prevent the flood-control district from bulldozing the natural beauty of Buffalo Bayou.
Read the rest of the article in the online edition of the Houston Chronicle. Note: This article also appeared in the print edition of the Chronicle on Sunday, August 3, 2014, Page G4.
A Moving Comment from Preservation Texas
July 6, 2014
The period is now closed for public comment to the Army Corps of Engineers on the application from the Harris County Flood Control District to bulldoze the wild banks of Buffalo Bayou in and around Memorial Park. The fight for the life of our beautiful southern bayou grows stronger. We must continue to raise awareness about this little known project, educate our friends and neighbors about the senseless destruction that is planned, and try to change the minds of our politicians and civic leaders. See What To Do Now.
The Army Corps received numerous comments opposing the project from experts in the field and ordinary citizens who cherish access to this unique treasure in the middle of our city. Among other things, the project violates state (pdf) and federal policy (pdf) protecting riparian buffer on our waterways.
Here is a particularly eloquent comment sent to the ACE from Preservation Texas:
June 30, 2014
Mr. Dwayne Johnson
Regulatory Branch, CESWG-PE-RB
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
P.O. Box 1229
Galveston, Texas 77553-1229
Re: SWG-2012-01007 (Memorial Park Demonstration Project)
Dear Mr. Johnson:
We write this letter to urge denial of the permit application referenced above.
Preservation Texas included the site of the Memorial Park Demonstration Project on our 2014 Texas’ Most Endangered Places list. The scope of the project far exceeds the limited erosion problem this particular stretch of Buffalo Bayou faces. The project should be narrowed to address only portions of the Bayou that are actively eroding and in a manner that does not destroy significant vegetation, rock outcroppings, potential archaeological sites and otherwise alters the slowly, naturally evolving course of the historic waterway by cutting and filling.
A recent 14-mile paddle down the Bayou reveals that most of the erosion in the project area has been caused by the removal of trees. Coupled with increased water volumes caused by overdevelopment of areas in the Bayou’s watershed, it becomes clear that the challenges of the Bayou extend beyond the waterway itself. A radical grading and replanting project does not address root causes.