A win for wetlands and communities affected by flooding!
By Kristen Schlemmer, Bayou City Waterkeeper, May 27, 2021
We’re excited to share an update in our lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Last summer, Bayou City Waterkeeper sued the Corps, challenging its decisions to allow development over wetlands and increase flood risk for residents in the Bayou Brae neighborhood of League City, Texas. The Corps sought to dismiss our lawsuit, saying our members’ concerns about flood risk were not something that they — the federal agency in charge of wetlands regulation — could address. In refusing to dismiss our lawsuit today, the court disagreed, validating our concerns about the important role wetlands play in mitigating flood risk. This victory will allow us to continue this important fight in court.
The Corps facilitated wetland destruction without required mitigation
In 2012, Broad Reach Partners, a residential real estate developer, applied for a permit from the Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Broad Reach requested permission to fill about an acre of wetlands on a 30-acre tract along Robinson Bayou, just across the county line in Galveston County in League City—but failed to disclose effects on nearly 9 additional acres of forested wetlands.
Broad Reach’s permit request fell through when the U.S. EPA raised concerns about the effect its project would have on these wetlands. Broad Reach moved forward with the project anyway and permanently filled in all wetlands but those closest to the bayou. Broad Reach also elevated the property several feet above the subdivision next door. When a resident complained, the Corps issued approvals based on information provided by Broad Reach’s consultant, allowing the developer to avoid the federal permit process altogether.
Unmitigated wetland losses have increased flood risk across our region
When Making Mistakes is Profitable
Museum, Park Conservancy Hire Firm That Gets Bank Collapse Wrong
Result: Costly Engineering, Bulldozing, Tree Cutting, Logs, Sheet Pile, Concrete Block and Damaged Buffalo Bayou
May 16, 2021
A decade ago a prominent engineering firm misdiagnosed bank failure on Buffalo Bayou for a controversial $12 million bank “restoration” project that was subsequently dropped. Now the same company has been rewarded with new bank repair contracts. And it appears to be making a similar error.
What could be the motive for repeating such basic mistakes? And why does it matter?
Inappropriate streambank projects can result in costly failure, of which there are too many examples littering Buffalo Bayou. Any alteration of the channel and banks can cause unforeseen problems, including environmental and property damage, increased flooding and erosion.
Watch this slideshow of some of the many failed erosion control projects on Buffalo Bayou:
There are two kinds of riverbank failure: banks that wash away with the horizontal flow of the stream and banks that collapse vertically from the top down. True, sometimes they do both.
But the slippery sand and clay banks of Buffalo Bayou primarily collapse vertically, usually when they get soaked from the top. They quiver and slump, sliding across the ancient hard red clay layer at the base of the bank. There’s not a whole lot to be done about that. However, common sense solutions include: stop doing what is causing the bank collapse.
But that doesn’t generate high-dollar contracts for engineering companies.
What does cost a lot of money? Cutting trees, bulldozing, scraping, grading, filling, pounding sheet pile, concrete, and logs into the bank, none of which will necessarily provide a long-term solution to bank slumping and can even make it worse.
Around 2010 a long-established engineering company was hired by the Harris County Flood Control District to develop a plan for a “natural channel design” project on Buffalo Bayou flowing between Memorial Park and the River Oaks Country Club in the center of Houston. The project, initiated by the Bayou Preservation Association (BPA) and supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy, was called the Memorial Park Demonstration Project. It would have stripped the trees and vegetation, scraped and graded the banks and channel and rerouted the stream for over a mile along one of the last publicly accessible forested stretches of the bayou in the city, a historic nature area. Though it would have destroyed the natural habitat and most aquatic life in the stream, the project was billed as “hastening recovery” of the river.
The engineering company was KBR (Kellogg Brown and Root), but at the end of 2015 KBR was purchased by Stantec. KBR’s manager for the demonstration project was Betty Leite, who also served on the advisory board of the nonprofit BPA at the time.
Now Stantec has been hired to develop plans for stabilizing the bank of the bayou below the historic Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens and in Memorial Park. The project manager is Betty Leite.
Public Flood Planning Meeting May 18
Regional Group Seeks Public Comments
Plus Meeting May 13 to Consider New Members
May 12, 2021
Updated May 17, 2021
The San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group is inviting the public to contribute comments about regional flood planning at a virtual meeting Tuesday, May 18, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
The purpose of the meeting is to “gather community concerns to aid with the development of the regional flood plan,” according to an announcement.
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), which now appears to have only two members, has divided the state into fifteen groups based on river basins in order to develop regional plans to reduce flood risk, as required by the state legislature in 2019. The San Jacinto group is Region 6.
The deadline to deliver the draft regional flood plan to the TWDB is Aug. 1, 2022. The groups must then deliver regional flood plans to the TWDB on January 10, 2023, and every five years thereafter. The state flood plan, to be based on adopted regional plans, must be prepared and adopted by the TWDB by September 1, 2024, and every five years thereafter.
The state board is also charged with administering the Flood Infrastructure Fund, which will be used to finance flood-related projects.
Here is how you can find out more about the Water Development Board and the regional flood planning groups.
Register in advance at http://hcfcd.org/regfloodplan to join the San Jacinto regional meeting on May 18.
Find the meeting notice and agenda here.
If you wish to provide written comments prior to or after the meeting, email your comments to SanJacFldPG@eng.hctx.net and include “Region 6 Flood Planning Group: Pre-Planning Meeting” in the subject line of the email.
Here is background on the May 18 public meeting, the San Jacinto region and the voting and non-voting members of the group.
Update May 17: Board Selects Technical Consultants, Presents Draft Drainage Plan at May 13 Meeting
At its regular virtual meeting May 13, the board of the San Jacinto group revealed that the Freese and Nichols engineering firm had been selected as the technical consultants for the regional flood planning effort.
They also selected Galveston City Manager Brian Maxwell for the new Coastal Communities position and Christina Quintero for the Public Position.
The group received a presentation on the San Jacinto River Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan.
As the outgoing representative for Environmental Interests, Sarah Bernhardt pointed out that the drainage plan is heavy on channelizing streams, which has been shown to increase rather than reduce flooding.
Presenter Andrew Moore responded that the channelized streams would be lined with grass rather than concrete. However, they would still be streams stripped and excavated to increase the flow, which is what causes flooding.
Here is how to submit a comment to Harris County Flood Control about the proposed master drainage plan.
Elisa Donovan, who represents agricultural interests, questioned the definition of “nature-based solutions” in the technical guidelines recently released by the Texas Water Development Board.
She also pointed out that berms and levees were not a benefit to agricultural interests and that agricultural lands should remain agricultural.
Bernhardt is the outgoing chief executive officer of the Bayou Preservation Association. The public has until May 28 to nominate someone to take her place as a voting member representing Environmental Interests on the San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning board.
Regular Meeting to Consider New Voting Members
The San Jacinto group is also holding a regular virtual meeting Thursday, May 13, at 9 a.m. The meeting will address recommendations for the new voting positions representing Public and Coastal Communities. Find meeting materials here.
Register at https://bit.ly/3tigMgp prior to the meeting for login information.