New Photos of Destruction of Buffalo Bayou

Unnecessarily Damaging Bank Project Continues Opposite Memorial Park

Call and complain!

June 11, 2019

They had other options. They should have been required to use the least damaging alternative. But the City of Houston, in concert with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Harris County Flood Control District, gave the River Oaks Country Club a permit to grind up and bulldoze the bank of one of the loveliest stretches of Buffalo Bayou in the center of Houston. The club is doing this in three areas, pounding sheet pile deep into the bank, dumping dirt and concrete riprap onto it and more. And those public agencies, obligated to protect us and our environment, knew that environmentally-destructive projects like this often fail, that they cause more erosion and flooding to neighboring property.

They’re not even using silt fencing to prevent dirt from rolling into the bayou. We complained to the City last Thursday. As of Sunday still no silt fencing. We’ve also now complained to the US Army Corps of Engineers.

You can complain too. Call the City at 311 and complain about the failure to use silt fencing as required by law. The address is 1600 River Oaks Boulevard. The City floodplain permit is Project 19020694. Also call the Corps’ Regulatory Hotline at 409-766-3869. The permit number is SWG 2013-00593.


Area 3 on June 6, 2019. This is at the downstream end of the golf course next to the 3rd hole opposite private residences and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary owned by the people of Houston.

They Didn’t Have to Do It

Though club members have been told that the situation is dire and urgent,  their bank problems didn’t look that bad to our geologists. As one noted: their solution is “like using a sledge hammer to pound a tack.”

They are spending as much as possible, something like $20-24 million, when they could have spent a fraction of that using softer, natural methods like anchored brush, strategically positioned large woody debris, and plantings that would not have radically altered the flow of the stream, deflecting it onto the opposite bank, destroying the stream’s beneficial function of absorbing and cleansing the water and providing habitat.  They could have restored a strip of native trees and grasses to the edge of the mowed golf course to divert and absorb runoff currently flowing over the eroding bank. Because we have vertical collapse or slumping of the banks on Buffalo Bayou, the most effective path is simply to retreat, pull their large golf course, denuded of trees over the years, including in recent weeks, and expanded in 2015, back from the very edge. These practices—stripping the trees, planting short-rooted grass, mowing and watering the grass—among others, are contributing to their slumping problems. Instead they have used the most costly and environmentally-damaging methods possible, including in 2015 riprap that predictably failed, and have now opened themselves to the possibility of a lawsuit.

Read the rest of this post and see more photos.

As Hurricane Season Begins, ‘Green’ Flood Control Finds Support in Texas

As Greater Houston Seeks Protection from the Next Hurricane Harvey, Using Natural Features Like Prairies and Sand Dunes to Control Water Is Gaining Purchase

By Tom Dart, CityLab

June 4, 2019

HOUSTON— With the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season under way as of June 1, Texas has taken a major step toward improving its flood defenses by passing a bill to tap into the state’s savings—the aptly nicknamed Rainy Day Fund—for a sum of $1.7 billion. The move comes almost two years after Hurricane Harvey deluged Texas in August 2017, killing 68 people and causing an estimated $125 billion in damage statewide.

A chance to push for green infrastructure

With its loyal support for the oil and gas industry, it’s not often that the Texas legislature gives conservationists anything to cheer. But the text of Bill 7 cites “construction and implementation of nonstructural projects, including projects that use nature-based features to protect, mitigate or reduce flood risk.” Environmental advocates see a chance to push for green designs in a state better known for exploiting natural resources than preserving them.

Lawmakers still envision a significant role for traditional “gray” engineered solutions, such as pipes, levees, drainage channels, and retention basins. But Laura Huffman, state director for The Nature Conservancy, thinks politicians are “recognizing that green infrastructure can scale just like gray infrastructure,” she said.

“Engineering companies want to do the most expensive thing they can do,” complained Susan Chadwick, executive director of Save Buffalo Bayou, a local advocacy group. Her group argues that chopping down trees and vegetation reduces the land’s stability and potential to absorb water and capture pollution; adds to repair and maintenance costs; and has a negative impact on residents’ wellbeing.

The detention project feels like a compromise between natural and artificial flood-control techniques. “After Harvey, they needed to bring some stuff off the shelf and show they are ready to do something,” Chadwick said. She is skeptical that a city that used concrete to conquer swamps, marshes, and prairies can learn to restore green spaces—or just leave them alone.

Read the whole story in CityLab.


Aerial view of the flood-control work on the Buffalo Bayou, which falls somewhere between “gray” and “green” approaches. (Courtesy of Save Buffalo Bayou)

Detention We Hardly Knew You!

An Essay on Nature, Raindrops, and Stormwater


By Brandt Mannchen of the Houston Sierra Club

April 16, 2019

Now, particularly in these days after Hurricane Harvey, we hear the word “detention,” almost like a chant or mantra.  Flood control experts, agencies, public officials, developers, and many citizens talk about “detention” like it is the solution to our flood problems.  They usually only envision two types of “detention.”  These two types of “detention” are digging deep holes in the ground (called basins, reservoirs, or ponds) and digging deeper and wider channels to create “in-line detention.”


The reason for our failure to use natural “detention” effectively is our lack of respect for Nature and our place in it.  This reflects our failure to work with and not against Nature.  John Muir revealed our connection to Nature when he said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Aldo Leopold, the great “land ethic” thinker suggested that “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering” and that “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, the stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise”.  These concerns about our lack of vision and our head-long pursuit of development caused John Muir to rage, “Not blind opposition to progress, but opposition to blind progress.”

These quotes reveal that if we are going to survive and coexist with Nature in the Houston Area, we must stop our war against Nature.  Leopold saw this battle as deeply rooted in our existing Society, “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us.  When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

It is my belief that unless we acknowledge our pointless, harmful, and self-defeating struggle against Nature and change how we approach flood control and development we are doomed to fail.  I don’t want to leave our children with this negative legacy.  I now understand what Leopold meant when he said, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.”  No mas!

Read the entire essay on the Houston Sierra Club website.

After a $14-Billion Upgrade, New Orleans’ Levees Are Sinking

A Cautionary Tale About Big Engineering Fixes

Sea-level rise and ground subsidence will render the flood barriers inadequate in just four years

By Thomas Frank, E&E News,

The $14 billion network of levees and floodwalls that was built to protect greater New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was a seemingly invincible bulwark against flooding.

But now, 11 months after the Army Corps of Engineers completed one of the largest public works projects in world history, the agency says the system will stop providing adequate protection in as little as four years because of rising sea levels and shrinking levees.

The growing vulnerability of the New Orleans area is forcing the Army Corps to begin assessing repair work, including raising hundreds of miles of levees and floodwalls that form a meandering earth and concrete fortress around the city and its adjacent suburbs.

Read the rest of this article in Scientific American.

New Orleans levees. Photo credit Mario Tama, Getty Images.