Yes, We Accept Donations. Thank you!

 

Nov. 30, 2019

So this is the thanks and the giving season, and everyone is asking for money. We almost never ask for money. But now we are.

Save Buffalo Bayou is a non-profit environmental advocacy organization supported by tax-deductible donations. We have a small budget and a large impact. We have almost 8,000 followers on Facebook and a mailing list of 1,600, including public officials and the media.

Please donate and help us continue our work. We need your support. (Fast and easy route: use the Paypal donate button up there on the right corner of the page.)

What We Do

Most of what we do is journalism. And there is no other voice like ours. We speak out. We advocate. We explain. We educate. We listen. We investigate. We report. We take positions that others cannot or will not take. Not everyone loves us.

We advocate for Buffalo Bayou, Houston’s ancient central river, and its many tributary streams and creeks, for nature and the natural landscape, so important in a city like Houston. We explain how streams work, how banks collapse, why trees are important, how the banks naturally rebuild and restore themselves. We do this because it benefits us, the people, the taxpayers.

We advocate for modern flood management, based on nature, because nature is the best engineer. Nature-based flood management works best and costs less. And it’s healthier for us too.

We believe in slowing the flow, rather than speeding it up. Yes, that sounds counter-intuitive, but draining more stormwater faster only causes more flooding, though engineering companies love it. Our motto is slow it down, spread it out, soak it in. We need to take more individual responsibility for that. Stop stormwaters before they flood the stream. And get out of the way.

It’s what the rest of the world is doing. But here they tell us rain gardens and prairies are useless because our clay soil is practically as hard as concrete anyway. Is that true? Stay tuned and find out.

More than ever our streams, prairies, and urban forests are threatened by development and by costly, large-scale engineering projects proposed by politicians pressured by the public to do something, anything, to protect us from flooding.

We want to make sure they do the right thing. Dredging, deepening, and widening our bayous, for instance, might seem like the right thing. But doing that only creates more costly problems.

So please donate. Use a credit card or write us a check. Send a dollar in the mail. Every penny counts.

Watch this slideshow of photographs, mostly by Jim Olive, documenting the same bend in the bayou throughout the seasons for the last five years.

  • 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.
  • Fall 2018 on that bend in the bayou. Water was high and the morning was cloudy just after sunrise. Photo by Jim Olive on Nov. 6, 2018. There was a monarch butterfly feeding on the daisies but it fluttered away to Mexico.
  • We were late with our winter shot, and this February morning was gloomy, the trees and banks bare. Flow was very low, about 150 cfs. The bend appeared to have been widened by floodwaters from Harvey, and possibly also by the damaging dredging done by maintenance contractors working to remove woody debris, some of which should have been left on the bank to allow it to rebuild, as well as for stability and sediment control. Photo Feb. 14, 2019, by Jim Olive
  • Spring again! That bend in the bayou, early in the morning of April 26, 2019. Jim Olive was back in town to continue our series documenting this same spot through time. Photo by Jim.
  • Summertime 2019 on that bend in the river with some of the destruction of the south bank visible in the distance. Pile of dirt is part of the River Oaks Country Club's costly and excessively damaging bank project. Photo by Jim on July 8, 2019, from that same high bank in Memorial Park.
  • That Bend in the River on a cool fall day--at last! Tractor is sitting on a pile of dirt dug out of the bank by the River Oaks Country Club for its very discouraging and deeply destructive "bank repair" project upstream and downstream. Photo by Jim on Oct. 12, 2019

 

Some Things We’ve Done Lately

This year we brought you multiple hard-hitting reports on the destruction of public forest on the upper bayou in Terry Hershey Park. We sought to persuade and prevent, publicly and privately, a hugely damaging and largely unnecessary bank “repair” project opposite Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, and pointed out the irregularities in the permit process.

We continued our ongoing photography series documenting the changes in the bayou throughout the seasons. (See above.) We published articles on flood tunnels and rewilding our urban landscape, on bugs, birds, and bats; and reminded people about public meetings on flooding (and reported on them too) and about public comment periods for flood-related projects and studies.

We published an editorial in the Chronicle in favor of protecting the trees and natural landscape in Memorial Park, another on why the banks keep collapsing in Buffalo Bayou Park, and alerted the public to plans to remove a lot of trees and alter wetlands and streams in Memorial Park. We publicized reports that showed new development in west Houston was increasing flooding and a third reservoir in northwest Harris County wasn’t going to stop flooding.

We were quoted about flooding and green, nature-based solutions numerous times in local and national publications.

And that’s just a short list.

So please donate now. It’s for all of us.

Thank you.

 

Susan Chadwick

President and Executive Director

p.s. Be sure to check out our YouTube page for videos of beavers, coral snakes, and other critters on Buffalo Bayou.

What America Lost When It Lost the Bison

By Migrating in Huge Herds, Bison Behave Like a Force of Nature, Engineering and Intensifying Waves of Spring Greenery that Other Grazers Rely On

 

By Ed Yong, The Atlantic, November 18, 2019

SBB note: Bison (buffalo) once roamed the prairies around Houston, crossing Buffalo Bayou through what is now Memorial Park, among other places, to graze.

Their actions change the landscape. In areas where bison graze, plants contain 50 to 90 percent more nutrients by the end of the summer. This not only provides extra nourishment for other grazers, but prolongs the growing season of the plants themselves. And by trimming back the plant cover in one year, bison allow more sunlight to fall on the next year’s greenery, accelerating its growth. When Geremia’s team looked at parts of Yellowstone where bison numbers have fluctuated, it found that the green wave grew in intensity and crested over a longer period as the herds grew larger. The bison engineer and intensify the spring. And astonishingly, they had a stronger influence on the timing of plant growth than weather and other environmental variables. They’re equivalent to a force of nature.

That force would have been even more powerful in centuries past, when 30 to 60 million bison roamed North America. “They would have been everywhere,” says Matthew Kauffman of the University of Wyoming, who led the new study. “The productivity of those grasslands would have been radically different because there are that many bison, trampling, eating, defecating, and urinating.” These herds must have changed the path of the green wave, and inadvertently governed the fates of other animals that surf it, from deer to elk to bighorn sheep. What happened, then, when European colonizers virtually eliminated the bison? By 1900, fewer than 600 remained.

When we lose animals, we also lose everything those animals do. When insects decline, plants go unpollinated and predators go unfed. When birds disappear, pests go uncontrolled and seeds stay put. When herds of bighorn sheep and moose are shot, their generational knowledge disappears and migration routes go extinct, as Kauffman showed last year. And when bison are exterminated, springtime changes in ways that we still don’t fully understand.

Read the rest of this article in The Atlantic.

Bison grazing on Wichita Mountains at sunrise in southwestern Oklahoma. Photo by Justin A. Morris, Getty Images, The Atlantic

More Good Reasons to Ban Leaf Blowers

Leaf Blowers Contributing to ‘Insect Armageddon’ and Should Be Avoided, German Government Warns

 

By Andy Gregory, The Independent UK, Nov. 19, 2019

Leaf blowers are fatal to insects and should not be used unless absolutely necessary, the German government has told citizens, days after a disturbing new report warned than an ongoing “insect armageddon” threatens all life on Earth.

The often noisy gardening tools are heavily polluting and pose the “risk that small animals are absorbed or blown and thereby damaged”, the Ministry for the Environment said.

It is the latest in a raft of measures taken by the German government to protect insect populations, after a 2017 study suggested that within 30 years flying insects had declined by more than 75 per cent in 60 of the country’s protected areas.

The move follows a report from a top UK ecologist, published last week, which warned bugs are dying out eight times faster than larger animals, with 40 per cent of the roughly one million known insect species facing extinction as a result.

Read the rest of this article in The Independent UK.

 

Leaf blower blowing leaves. Getty image from the Independent UK.

Endless Repairs: Buffalo Bayou Sets Its Own Terms [Opinion]

Will There Be a Final Solution?

 

The Chronicle has graciously published an edited version of the article that appeared on our website on Nov. 12. We have long been concerned that the constant and fruitless engineering of the banks in Buffalo Bayou Park would eventually lead to hardening the banks there with sheet pile or concrete. And in fact, we have it on good authority that as part of the current $9.7 million repair project, the Harris County Flood Control District had planned to insert sheet piling into the bank near the Police Officers Memorial. But apparently the contractor was unable to get his heavy equipment into position to do it. SC

 

By Susan Chadwick, Houston Chronicle, Nov. 20, 2019

The park on that warm, sunny day looked gorgeous, lush, green and glittered with goldenrod. The feathery purple blooms of the Gulf Muhly grass wafted alongside the trails.

But what about that orange plastic netting everywhere, the iron barriers and warning signs, the closed trails and sidewalks collapsing into the water, the white entrails of irrigation pipes hanging out of the dirt?

Buffalo Bayou Park between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive is one of Houston’s great treasures, providing a rare experience of nature in the city. The lovely 160-acre park is the result of a $58 million landscaping effort, led by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, funded largely by private donations, though the public annually provides some $2 million in maintenance and operating funds for the park through the Downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) #3. Designed by landscape architecture firm SWA Group, the park has won national and international awards.

But what’s happening to the banks of the bayou there?

Regularly described as “designed to flood,” the park, built in a floodway, was more or less completed just in time for what Eric Berger and Matt Lanza have called “the wettest period in Houston history.” The Harris County Flood Control District had just finished a $5 million project to stabilize the banks. Now it’s in more trouble than ever.

Read the rest of this editorial in the Houston Chronicle.

 

Bank and sidewalk failure with irrigation pipes exposed on the north bank of Buffalo Bayou east of Waugh Drive. Photo Oct. 28, 2019 by SC

Dinosaurs of the Turtle World Right Here in Bayou City

Learn About Alligator Snapping Turtles in Our Houston Bayous at the Houston Sierra Club Monthly Meeting. Open to the Public

Nov. 12, 2019

The Houston Sierra Club has invited the public to hear about the largest freshwater turtle in North America. The bayou systems of Houston are home to the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii), a species of turtle known as the dinosaurs of the turtle world.

Eric Munscher, director of the Turtle Survival Alliance, and Kelly Norrid, an urban wildlife biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife, will speak about about two studies currently being done in Buffalo and Greens Bayou to learn more about the habitat needs of these special turtles.

The meeting is Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. in Pecore Hall, St. Stephen’s Church, 1805 West Alabama in Houston.

Munscher is currently a regional scientist with SWCA Environmental Consultants and based in Houston, Texas. He obtained his B.S. from Penn State University and an M.S. from the University of North Florida in 2007. Munscher is also the director of the Turtle Survival Alliance – North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group (NAFTRG). He has been studying freshwater turtle populations across the United States including study sites in in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey for over twenty years. He and his research group have published over thirty peer-reviewed articles concerning their various research projects. Munscher is also a Florida-certified Gopher Tortoise agent. He has extensive experience in wetland delineation and threatened and endangered species surveys throughout the southeast.

Kelly Norrid is an Urban Wildlife Biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife. Here is where you can find more info on the Urban Wildlife Program of TPWD.

Articles on Alligator Snapping Turtles in Buffalo Bayou:

Giant Turtles and Other Bayou Creatures

Beasts Beneath the Bayou: How Alligator Snapping Turtles Thrive in the Heart of Houston

Alligator snapping turtle trapped for research on Buffalo Bayou. Note pink tongue used to attract prey into jaws. Photo by Jim Olive, February 10, 2017

What’s Happening to the Bayou Banks in Buffalo Bayou Park?

Repairing Repairs

 

Nov. 12, 2019

The park on that warm, sunny day looked gorgeous, lush, green, glittering with goldenrod. The feathery purple blooms of the Gulf Muhly grass waft alongside the trails.

But what about that orange plastic netting everywhere, the iron barriers and warning signs, the closed trails and sidewalks collapsing into the water, the white entrails of irrigation pipes hanging out of the dirt?

Buffalo Bayou Park between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive is one of Houston’s great treasures, providing a rare experience of nature in the city, an opportunity to stroll and bike past fields of tall grasses and wildflowers, birds singing alongside the flowing stream. But what’s happening to the banks of the bayou there?

We sometimes get comments from people like, “Wow, Hurricane Harvey really chewed up the park,” referring to the historic August 2017 storm that flooded the Houston region.

But the fact is that the banks and sidewalks began collapsing in the park soon after the Harris County Flood Control District completed its $5 million “Natural Stable Channel Design” project in the park in 2015. (See also p. 33). Now the district is spending nearly $10 million to repair it.

Sidewalk collapsed on north bank of Buffalo Bayou in Buffalo Bayou Park. Photo Oct. 28, 2019 by SC

 

The district’s Natural Stable Channel Design (NSCD) project began near the Sabine Bridge around 2010 and involved the removal of large amounts of native (and non-native) trees and vegetation, scraping and grading the banks, and altering the channel for more than two miles all the way upstream to the Shepherd Bridge.

Natural Channel Design or Natural Stable Channel Design, as the Flood Control District refers to its version of the controversial “stream restoration” methodology, was the basis for the Memorial Park Demonstration Project on Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park. First proposed in 2010, that $12 million project, based on a flawed analysis of the type of bank collapse we have on Buffalo Bayou, met with popular opposition and fortunately was dropped by the Flood Control District after Harvey.

Natural Channel Design, widely used in government agencies, also has been widely criticized as unscientific, damaging, and prone to failure. The Harris County Flood Control District has a policy of using Natural Stable Channel Design wherever feasible (p.9), though the district did not use it in Terry Hershey Park in 2017, where it spent nearly $2 million to harden the north bank with massive concrete blocks.

 

This sidewalk upstream of the Dunlavy in Buffalo Bayou Park began collapsing in 2015 soon after the “improvement” of the banks was finished. Photo Nov. 10, 2019, by SC

The Buffalo Bayou Park Project

The $5 million-plus taxpayer-funded NSCD project downstream in Buffalo Bayou Park was part of the $58 million renovation and landscaping of the 160-acre park, led by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, largely privately funded. SWA Group was the landscape design firm. The public annually provides some $2 million in maintenance and operating funds for the park through the Downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) #3.

Regularly described as “designed to flood,” the park, built in a floodway, was more or less completed just in time for “the wettest period in Houston history.” Since 2015, the concrete and asphalt sidewalks built into the lower banks, along with the concrete ponds in the dog park, have been repeatedly closed for lengthy repairs, with the large dog pond permanently filled in 2018, even after cracks had been sealed. The Partnership, which operates the public park through an agreement with the City of Houston, has spent some $3 million in private and public funds on flood-related repairs since the park was opened, including at least $400,000 in 2016 and $2.5 million following Harvey. This sum does not include the $3 million in federal funds the Flood Control District planned to spend in 2018 repairing trails and removing sediment.

Read the rest of this post.