Lines in the Sand on Buffalo Bayou
Nov. 19, 2017
Yes, we have alligators.
Reader Richard Lynn sent in these photos of alligator tracks on Buffalo Bayou. These photographs were taken recently on the north bank of what we called the middle meander. This is the big bend in the bayou at the eastern or downstream edge of Memorial Park. The indefinitely delayed “restoration” project proposed by the Harris County Flood Control District would fill in this meander, level the high cliffs, and reroute the bayou channel further south across the sandy point on the south side.
Lynn, a runner in the park, says the footprints were about six inches long. A reader on our Facebook page familiar with alligators estimated this one was probably six feet long.
Note that Parks and Wildlife says that alligators are generally afraid of humans and would rather just stay out of the way.
Lynn later sent in some photos of tracks that are a little more mysterious. One of the pleasures of walking or paddling on Buffalo Bayou is the beauty of the patterns of tracks in the sand.
The big drag track, however, is obviously a turtle.
On a recent float trip down the bayou with geologist Tom Helm, we saw these strangely beautiful tracks of something that waddled, sidled, or slithered up or down the bank.
County Commissioners Vote Yay
Approval to Go Forward with Contracts to Destroy Riparian Forest for Bayou Detention
Nov. 14, 2017
On the Radio
Excellent commentary from environmental lawyer Jim Blackburn on the vote by Harris County Commissioners today (Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017) to go forward with contracts for detention basins in public forest alongside the channel of Buffalo Bayou. Save Buffalo Bayou is quoted also.
Note that the KUHF reporter describes the issue as Not in My Backyard. No one on the Save Buffalo Bayou board or advisory board lives anywhere near this proposed project. This series of detention basins (not just one) will be built in a public park, public forest, riparian forest in west Houston. Creating only a modest amount of holding capacity (280 acre feet), they will not hold back water flowing into the bayou but will temporarily peel off water that is already in the bayou, and will have to be continually maintained and scraped of sediment.
Detention is important and vital. Bigger, wider floodplains are important. That means buyouts.
New motto: Stop Raindrops Where They Fall!
Public tax dollars should be spent where they will create the most benefit. Flood management policy should be focused on detaining stormwater before it enters our streams. The flood control district had the choice years ago of building bigger, more useful detention basins elsewhere. They chose not to do that.
And On the Tee Vee
KHOU reporter Adam Bennett’s report on the flood control proposal to remove trees on the forested public banks of Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park. The controversial plan, long in the works, is to create a series of basins to temporarily hold water overflowing from the bayou. Save Buffalo Bayou thinks the time to stop stormwater is before it gets into our streams. Forest provides valuable detention. Removing it makes no sense.
What would Terry do?
And In The Houston Chronicle
Flood control “improvements” will definitely destroy public forest along Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park. They’ve pulled an existing, long-opposed plan off the shelf to look like they are doing something, anything, about reducing flood damages. This won’t help. We are not in favor of trees because they look pretty. We’re in favor of trees because they help reduce flooding.
The Chronicle’s Mihir Zaveri’s report on the issue and the vote:
Commissioners Court on Tuesday voted unanimously to let the Harris County Flood Control District sketch out what exactly a study of that segment of the bayou would examine.
The Court would have to vote again to green light the actual study, which could recommend flood reduction measures, such as clearing trees and installing detention ponds.
Susan Chadwick, executive director of the nonprofit Save Buffalo Bayou, opposed the flood control district’s study, stating that residents in the area had been fighting for years to keep the forests’ natural aesthetic.
Removing Trees for Detention on Buffalo Bayou
Commissioners Court to Vote Tuesday on Trees, Stormwater Detention on Buffalo Bayou
Nov. 13, 2017
Harris County commissioners will vote Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, on whether to authorize the negotiation of contracts for removal of trees and excavation of detention basins in Terry Hershey Park on Buffalo Bayou.
The controversial detention project has long been opposed by homeowners near the forest on the bank of the bayou, many of them recently flooded out of their homes during Hurricane Harvey. Under pressure from their group, Save Our Forest, the City of Houston in September 2015 withdrew a plan to build a large detention basin on the bayou in the park. However, the vote Tuesday includes negotiating with the City for detention on the bayou along the length of the park.
“It makes me mad,” said one displaced and distracted homeowner active with Save Our Forest. “They’re taking advantage of the flood to ram things through.”
The plan in 2013 was to destroy forest in order to create 280 acre-feet of stormwater detention in a series of basins on the banks of Buffalo Bayou between Highway 6 below Barker Dam and Beltway 8.
Removing trees and vegetation for stormwater detention makes little scientific sense. Trees and vegetation are powerful natural devices for slowing and holding rainwater runoff, not to mention their role in cleansing our polluted urban runoff and other valuable ecological services. A study by American Forests found that a single front-yard tree can intercept 760 gallons of rainwater in its crown. Vegetation can reduce runoff from a site by as much as 90 percent, according to a study by the University of Arkansas. While it would take a whole lot of trees to store as much water as even a small detention pond, it still seems like a better idea to create artificial detention where there are no trees.
Save Our Forest, the Briar Forest Super Neighborhood, and other neighborhood groups supported an alternative plan to create larger regional detention basins, in particular the Clodine Ditch Detention Basin, which would have created some 1,600-acre feet of detention.
The Harris County Flood Control District last year spent over $1.25 million to fill and “repair” parts of the north bank in the park where the bayou was attempting to recover its former meanders. The US Army Corps of Engineers stripped and straightened the 6.2 mile stretch of the bayou in the park and directed the flow into an artificial channel, cutting off the meanders in the 1940s.
The flood control district is legally bound by its 1937 charter to conserve forests. (p. 6)
The five county commissioners will vote at a session that begins at 10 a.m. in the commissioners’ courtroom, 1001 Preston Street., Suite 934. The long agenda includes consideration of whether to approve negotiating contracts with:
R.G. Miller Engineers, Inc., for design, bidding, and construction phase engineering services for construction of linear detention on Unit W100-00-00 in the Buffalo Bayou Watershed in Precinct 3.
The City of Houston for additional linear stormwater detention along Buffalo Bayou between SH-6 and Beltway 8 on Unit W100-00-00 in the Buffalo Bayou Watershed in Precinct 3.
Buffalo Bayou is Unit W100-00-00.
The public can sign up to speak during the meeting for up to three minutes.
The Problem with Dams
If You Build Them, They Will Come
Nov. 9, 2017
Some two months after the flood, neighborhoods on upper Buffalo Bayou were still haunted. A moldy, gray pall hung in the air like the Spanish moss draped in the trees. Houses were empty, their windows dark, walls stained where the dark floodwaters rose. Lawns and gardens were ruined, muddy and brown. Scattered piles of debris, broken mirrors and plasterboard, lined the nearly lifeless streets. The air, even out of doors, smelled of mildew.
“They’re having a hard time being more …. positive,” said resident Michelle Foss, her voice trailing off, looking towards a house where a family with children had to be rescued by helicopter from the roof.
Foss’s neighborhood is Briargrove Park. Like most of the subdivisions along Buffalo Bayou, it was developed in the decades after the federal government built two earthen dams west of Houston on what was then, in the late 1940s, mostly prairie—ranch and farmland. But the land next to the ancient meandering river, in the natural floodplain, was graced with forests of tall oaks and other trees—ideal for upscale residential development. With the construction of the dams, the floodplains were now considered safe. During heavy rains, the reservoirs behind the dams, Addicks and Barker, would hold back the waters of Buffalo Bayou, Houston’s main river, its Mother Bayou, and several creeks flowing into it, until the rain runoff collected in the bayou below the dams could empty into Galveston Bay.
It was a classic case of moral hazard, a situation identified by the late renowned geographer Gilbert White as early as 1942 in a paper titled, “Human Adjustment to Floods.” Government sponsorship of structural solutions like levees and dams that protect floodplains encourage development in those floodplains, which leads to damages that are often worse than what would have happened prior to construction of the levees and dams. (pp. 17-18) (See also p. 2.)
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the calls for a new or third reservoir in west Houston are virtually unanimous. It’s worth considering whether that might be a mistake.