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.

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.

It’s Not Dead Yet

Flood Control Still Pushing Costly, Destructive “Stabilization” Project on Buffalo Bayou

July 31, 2016

It’s a pointless, wasteful, ill-conceived, and maybe illegal project to rip up and raze trees and plants and wildlife habitat, dig up the banks, plug up tributaries, dredge and reroute the channel along one of the last natural stretches of Buffalo Bayou in Houston. This is a dreamy stretch of the river in the middle of the city, filled with beaver, otter, alligators, fish and flying creatures, and even edible plants.  It flows for more than a mile past our great public Memorial Park, a natural detention area and significant geologic site that features very old high bluffs and sandstone formations. All of which would be obliterated.

And after almost three years of adamant public opposition, the Harris County Flood Control District is still promoting the project, which will cost the taxpayers at least $4 million plus, not including future costs of maintenance and repair.

It’s mystifying why they want to do this, why they think it would even work, why they don’t realize that the bayou would wash it away or that it would simply all slump away, as has happened in Buffalo Bayou Park downstream, where taxpayers are footing the ever-mounting bill for constantly repairing the banks dug up and stripped of trees and vegetation by Flood Control.

Do They Not Have More Urgent Problems?

Surely, the flood control district has more urgent problems that require our hard-earned tax money. Harris County is one of the most flooded places in the country. And this project, billed as a “stabilization” and “bank restoration” program, will do nothing to address flooding and could even make it worse. The county should focus on the hundreds of miles of channelized bayous and streams unwisely covered in now-aging concrete that should be restored to something more natural and beneficial.

The project, called the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, was first proposed in 2010 by the Bayou Preservation Association under then board chair, Kevin Shanley, landscape architect and principal with SWA Group, the firm responsible for the ugly, obtrusive bridges, collapsing sidewalks, poorly-functioning dog park and non-functioning faux Hill Country fountain and stream in Buffalo Bayou Park.

Read the rest of this post.

Excavate fill

This map prepared by the Harris County Flood Control District shows the areas to be excavated (yellow) and filled (orange) in the proposed Memorial Park Demonstration Project. Note also the rerouting of the channel. Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, including a tributary, are on the north, with houses in between. The entire south bank is River Oaks Country Club golf course.

Summer on Buffalo Bayou

A Bend in the River in July

July 11, 2016

Here is the latest photo from Jim Olive of that lovely bend in Buffalo Bayou we have been documenting through the seasons since the summer of 2014. This most recent photo was taken by Jim at around 8 a.m. on Friday, July 8, 2016, from the same high bluff in Memorial Park looking downstream with the River Oaks Country Club on the opposite bank. The record high flows from the reservoirs behind Addicks and Barker dams in western Harris County had finally drained the last of the waters impounded from the record April 18 Tax Day rains, and the flow in the bayou had dropped to its base flow of around 100-200 cubic feet per second, as measured by the gauge at Piney Point.

To see all the photos of this same spot since 2014, go to A Bend in the River under Photos and Films.

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.

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.

Flooding on Buffalo Bayou

The View from Above with Photographer Jim Olive

April 19, 2016

Photographer Jim Olive took these shots from the air over Buffalo Bayou yesterday (Monday, April 18, 2016) following the extraordinary amount of rainfall that fell mainly on the far west side of town.

These photos show Buffalo Bayou as it flows past Memorial Park and the River Oaks Country Club as well as the confluence of White Oak Bayou and Buffalo Bayou downtown.

Buffalo Bayou flows from the Katy Prairie in west Houston through the center of the city through the Houston Ship Channel into Galveston Bay.

  • Looking east towards downtown with Memorial Park on the left, River Oaks Country Club golf course on the right. Photo April 18, 2016 by Jim Olive
  • Buffalo Bayou, April 18, 2016, with Memorial Park on the lower frame and River Oaks Country Club golf course above. Photo by Jim Olive
  • Looking north over Buffalo Bayou. River Oaks Country Club golf course on the south bank. Photo by Jim Olive
  • The confluence of White Oak and Buffalo bayous in downtown Houston on the afternoon of April 18, 2016. Photo by Jim Olive

 

 

 

 

Reminder: The Threat is Still Alive

Operation Save Buffalo Bayou II

March 14, 2016

Okay, so we harshed the mood a little with our small, silent reminders that regatta contestants were paddling through a historic natural area still threatened with destruction.

“Thanks for polluting my day,” yelled one paddler in the crowd of hundreds of Buffalo Bayou boaters playing loud music and stopping to pee in the woods. We were watching from the sandy bank of the lovely middle meander, forested with young willows and box elder that would all be cut down, the meander filled, graded, and planted with grass.

The event was the 44th Annual Buffalo Bayou Regatta on Saturday, March 12. And once again we hung our beautiful Save Buffalo Bayou banner (Night Heron by Houston artist Frank X. Tolbert 2) from the railroad bridge and set out small white signs alerting participants to the fact that the wild stretch they were passing through would all be bulldozed under a plan proposed by the Harris County Flood Control District and the Bayou Preservation Association (BPA).

Save Buffalo Bayou banner hanging from the railroad trestle crossing Buffalo Bayou from Memorial Park. Photo March 12, 2016, by Richard Hyde.

Save Buffalo Bayou banner hanging from the railroad trestle crossing Buffalo Bayou from Memorial Park. Photo March 12, 2016, by Richard Hyde.

The project, known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, demonstrates exactly the wrong thing to do. (See Buffalo Bayou Park and Fonteno Park.) It would raze most of the trees and vegetation along more than 1.25 miles of the 18,000-year-old bayou as it passes by Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary. These trees and vegetation and even the sand are part of the riparian zone, essentially wetlands, that hold the banks together, cleanse and filter the water, slow and absorb storm runoff, provide wildlife habitat, among many other important ecological functions. The $6 million “natural channel design” project, financed with $4 million in county and city taxpayer funds, would dredge and reroute the bayou and plug tributaries, obliterate ancient cliffs, destroy 250,000-year-old sandstone formations, and fill in our lovely meander (a natural detention area). Killing the bayou’s ecosystem in the name of “restoration.” And landscape design.

And no, contrary to rumors, the project, although holding its breath, is not dead. The Army Corps of Engineers is still deciding whether to issue a permit for the project, which is otherwise a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

The Bayou Preservation Association first formulated the plan for the project in private meetings in 2010 and  former BPA president Kevin Shanley, then a principal with the landscape architecture firm SWA Group, was the primary promoter. SWA Group is the design firm that is also responsible for the landscape design of Buffalo Bayou Park downstream east of Shepherd.

So this is why we had signs up warning of landscapers lurking. In Buffalo Bayou Park downstream, we set out a few signs pointing out that landscaping has washed away (several times actually) and that removal of vegetation has caused erosion problems, and that repairs were $$$$ (paid with City funds). Yes, we were bad! Those signs did not last long, however.

Educational signs posted on expensive repairs to eroding banks that previously had been "stabilized" by the Harris County Flood Control District in Buffalo Bayou Park. Photo March 12, 2016, by AC Conrad.

Educational signs posted on expensive repairs to eroding banks that previously had been “stabilized” by the Harris County Flood Control District in Buffalo Bayou Park. Photo March 12, 2016, by AC Conrad.

Upstream around Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary our signs pointed out where beavers live, where banks were being naturally rebuilt by the bayou, and the Pleistocene bluffs that would be graded into a slope. Interestingly, the bayou, during and after the Memorial Day flood in 2015, has already graded the lower banks of those steep bluffs into a slope.

The River Oaks Country Club is theoretically a one-third partner in the demonstration project and owns the entire south half of the project reach. But in the meantime the club in two places has armored its banks with ugly concrete riprap, one of the most environmentally destructive methods of erosion control (pdf), and also, we allege, in this case illegal, as we contend that much of the riprap was placed in public waters, also a violation of the Clean Water Act.

The club, unfortunately, is having erosion problems on its high banks in those places because it cut down a lot of trees and extended the mowed and watered grass of its golf course up to the edge of the banks.

We put out signs pointing out that riprap damages the ecosystem and is part of the problem, not the solution.

But we’re glad people had fun, enjoyed the bayou, and picked up some of trash.

Maybe they’ll think about the future of the bayou.

And special thanks to river guide Tom Helm and to Richard Hyde for extra long duty putting out and picking up our banner and picking up our signs.

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.

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.

Next Page »