Cutting and Scraping, Pounding Sheet Pile: Update on Bank Work at Bayou Bend

And a Word About the Bank “Stabilization” Plans in Memorial Park

Aug. 26, 2021

We’ve been meaning to update you on the “restoration” work on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou below the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens. (Although perhaps more significant are the still-developing plans for the banks in Memorial Park. See below.)

The bank below Bayou Bend is a section of the bayou upstream of the Shepherd Bridge at the end of Westscott Street. Now owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, it’s the former home of philanthropist and art collector Ima Hogg, who also donated the 15.5 acres that are now the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north bank opposite the gardens.

The Bayou Bend bank project involves cutting trees, stripping, grading, and pounding sheet pile and concrete into the bank. It was designed by the engineering firm Stantec, which has also been hired to develop the controversial bank scraping and “stabilization” project in a little-known forested section of Memorial Park west of Loop 610 called the Old Archery Range.

While parts of the bank at Bayou Bend now undergoing repairs previously have been reinforced with riprap, the natural bank along Memorial Park further upstream is perhaps the last publicly-accessible stretch where one can observe layers of our geologic history and witness the dynamic natural functioning of the living river, which is increasingly being smothered by concrete, metal, and bulldozers.

Losing Land Versus Signing It Away

The Memorial Park project is being proposed because the park is “losing land,” according to Shellye Arnold, chief executive officer of the Memorial Park Conservancy. But ironically, the plan proposed so far would slice through meanders, reroute the bayou, and cut off public access to public land, effectively signing over public property to private owners, including commercial interests. Note that this park project is sponsored in part by the Uptown Development Authority (TIRZ 16), an unelected board of mostly large, local property owners and developers which diverts for its own interests property taxes (public money) that would otherwise go into the city’s general fund.

Asked recently how people would have access to the public land that would be cut off by rerouting the bayou, Randy Odinet, vice president for of capital projects with the Memorial Park Conservancy, responded, “That’s a good question.” But he also pointed out that the analysis and plans for the Old Archery Range were still in development, delayed in part by heavy rains. We’ll have more of an update on that soon.

Here are some photos of the work at Bayou Bend.

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Another Big Tree Falls After Bank “Repairs”

Flood Control Recently Spent $10 Million, Scraped Healthy Bank for No Reason

Aug. 26, 2021

Almost a year ago we told you about the Harris County Flood Control District scraping and bulldozing healthy, green banks of the bayou in Buffalo Bayou Park near downtown Houston.

At the time we predicted that trees would likely fall due to the loss of supporting vegetation.

And now a big elm has fallen on the bank scraped by the district.

It’s not the first tree to go as a result of the district’s work on the banks of the park since 2010. Numerous trees have collapsed in the stretch from Shepherd Drive to Sabine. There’s also the trees deliberately cut in the park by contractors working for Flood Control. Watch this slideshow of the evolution of the park showing the numerous trees removed by the district in the last decade.

  • Buffalo Bayou between Shepherd and Waugh drives on June 27, 2005, before the Harris County Flood Control District's "natural stable channel design" project.
  • Cottonwood downed in Buffalo Bayou Park on south bank west of Waugh by loss of banks and stabilizing vegetation "restored" by the Harris County Flood Control District. Several more mature trees were lost since this photo was taken Jan. 26, 2015, by Jim Olive.
  • Same view of Buffalo Bayou downstream (east) of Shepherd on October 27, 2012, as the flood control district was beginning its channelization project.
  • Same stretch of Buffalo Bayou on March 27, 2015, after channelization begun in 2012. Note the extensive loss of trees and vegetation on the north and south banks of the bayou.
  • Massive sinkhole, since repaired, on south bank of Buffalo Bayou Park west of Waugh caused by bulldozing and grading of bank for "natural stable channel design" flood control project. Photo taken October 5, 2014, by Susan Chadwick
  • Bank erosion in Buffalo Bayou Park requiring repeated remediation after riparian buffer removal. Photo by Jim Olive on February 17, 2015.
  • Bank erosion in Buffalo Bayou Park after removal of riparian buffer by the Harris County Flood Control District. Photo Feb. 17, 2015, by Jim Olive.
  • Collapsing bank in Buffalo Bayou Park after "restoration" by the Harris County Flood Control District using "natural stable channel design." Photo taken April 8, 2015, below the site of the new Dunlavy restaurant west of Waugh by Susan Chadwick.
  • Buffalo Bayou at Waugh Drive on June 27, 2005, before recent channelization.
  • Same view of Buffalo Bayou on October 27, 2012, as the flood control district was beginning its "natural stable channel design" project.
  • Buffalo Bayou Park at Waugh on March 27, 2015, after channelization by the Harris County Flood Control District. Note tree and vegetation loss along both banks.
  • Buffalo Bayou east of Montrose on June 27, 2005.
  • Same view of Buffalo Bayou east of Montrose on March 27, 2015, after channelization by the Harris County Flood Control District.
  • Downstream stretch of Buffalo Bayou Park between the Houston Police Officers memorial and Sabine Street on June 27, 2005.
  • Same stretch of Buffalo Bayou above Sabine Street on March 27, 2015, after bank "stabilization" by the flood control district.

The bulldozing of the bank last year was part of a $9.7 million “repair” project that narrowed the channel, lined it with concrete riprap, and basically turned our scenic river into an ugly drainage ditch.

A Waste of Federal Funds and Natural Resources

The nearly $10 million in federal funds were supposed to be used to “reshape and protect eroded streambanks.” But these areas, particularly upstream of Waugh, were not eroded. The bank shape was fine. The bayou, according to its natural plan, had planted tall goldenrod and horseweed, young willows and cottonwoods along its banks.

The Flood Control District cut it all down and left bare dirt. It wasn’t a “repair” project. It was a landscaping project.

Now, almost a year later, here’s what some of those multi-million dollar banks look like. So will they keep scraping the banks after the bayou plants them again with the deep-rooted wild stuff that’s needed to hold the banks together?

  • North bank beach below the Shepherd Bridge on Aug. 24, 2021
  • Here's another view on Aug. 3, 2021
  • The north bank meadow bridge on Sept. 17, 2020, after scraping and bulldozing by Harris County Flood Control
  • The same bank on Sept. 9, 2020, before scraping by Flood Control
  • View of the meadow from the south bank on April 27, 2020, before scraping by Flood Control
  • Same view on Aug. 24, 2021, nearly a year after "repair" by Flood Control
  • The south bank upstream of the Jackson Hill Bridge just below the Dunlavy on Aug. 24, 2021
  • The same south bank on Sept. 17, 2020, after pointless scraping by Flood Control
  • The lush green bank on Sept. 9, 2020, just days before being scraped by Flood Control
  • Here's the south bank downstream of the Jackson Hill Bridge nearly one year after scraping by Flood Control
  • Here's what that bank looked like on Sept. 17, 2020, after being "repaired" by Flood Control
  • And here's what the bank looked like just days earlier, on Sept. 9, 2020, before Flood Control fixed it.

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Public Outreach Meeting on Flood Planning Aug. 31

Regional Flood Planners Want to Know about Your Flood Experience, Current Risk

Aug. 24, 2021

The San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group, which includes the entire watershed of the Houston metropolitan area all the way from Walker County to Galveston and more, is having a public engagement meeting on Aug. 31 at 6:30 p.m.

The virtual meeting will describe the tools and programs being developed to encourage members of the public to contribute information about their flooding experiences and current risks.

Members of the public can register to make comments. You can also submit written comments before or after the meeting.

The meeting will be online and will be translated into Spanish. Here is the public notice with information about how to join the meeting.

And here is a flyer about the meeting which includes a QR code to scan for easy registration.

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A map of the San Jacinto Regional Watershed, known as Region 6

Flood Plans, Studies, Committees Need Organization

Fundamental Recommendation: Create a Regional Coordinating Body

How We Are Doing and What We Should Do: Hold Water Where It Falls

Aug. 17, 2021

A major flood study by the US Army Corps of Engineers has concluded that our metropolitan region needs a coordinating body “across all levels of government,” including highway, railroad, and utility agencies, to “set priorities” and plan for flood protection. (pp. 75-76)

It also recommends holding rain where it falls, which is modern stormwater management. (See here,  here, and here pp. 32-33 and here. And also here.)

The report documents that the Harris County Flood Control District continues its environmentally destructive, outdated, and counterproductive policy of stripping and straightening local streams, which increases flooding. (pp. 57-59) These “channel rectification” and widening projects include 15 miles of Clear Creek and 15 miles of White Oak Bayou upstream of Loop 610 North.

The report is not the first call for an overall organizing body to address flooding. The Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium made the same recommendation in 2018, as the federal report notes. (p. 75)

Hold Water Where It Falls

Buffalo Bayou looking east from the Shepherd Bridge during Harvey, Aug. 28, 2017

The lengthy draft report, called the Metropolitan Houston Regional Watershed Assessment, recommends an emphasis on communicating flood risk, equitable distribution of flood protection, and a greater reliance on green and nature-based features, including pervious surfaces, and small-scale individual and neighborhood efforts to “reduce risk to downstream communities and broaden awareness of shared responsibility.” (p. 77)

The basic thrust of its recommended individual and neighborhood actions is to “hold water where it falls before it enters the bayous.” (Like we’ve been saying: Slow the Flow! Here are some basic tips and resources.)

The long-awaited draft federal report is some 250-pages long and highly technical. Released in mid-June, the main report initially seemed like nothing but a regurgitation of stuff everybody already knew.

However, in addition to the 80-page main report there are three appendices addressing existing flood risk management, climate change, and protection of cultural resources. And in sum the draft is a good summary of existing programs and makes some worthwhile observations and recommendations.

The final report is due Oct. 5. A representative of the Corps said there have been no comments on the draft report. The purpose of the study changed significantly since it was first proposed in 2015.  Initially described as an analysis of “where raindrops fall and how they flow across our roofs, yards, parking lots and streets, through our drainage systems and waterways and into Galveston Bay,” that focus apparently changed, in part because the Harris County Flood Control District was doing its own study called MAAPNext, or the Modeling, Assessment and Awareness Project.

The Region, The Problem, the Studies

As defined by the Corps, the metropolitan Houston watershed region is the San Jacinto-Galveston Bay watershed, which is also the focus of the recently established San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group (Region 6) as defined by the Texas Water Development Board and similar to the Central Region as defined by the Texas General Land Office for its ongoing River Basin Flood Study.

Read the rest of this post. Includes a list of studies, plans, public committees working on flooding.

Some Interesting Things We’ve Been Reading

Breakthrough in Turtle Genetics Sends 27 Stolen Alligator Snapping Turtles Back to their Home Rivers in Texas

Aug. 16, 2021, Turtle Survival Alliance

  • Twenty-seven Alligator Snapping Turtles seized from illegal trafficking returned to the wild in Texas.
    • Turtle Survival Alliance and Tangled Bank Conservation collaborated on an innovative genetic map to guide wild repatriation.
    • Genetic database will serve as a tool for state and federal agencies to determine turtle origin.
    • Turtles will be monitored post-release to record movements, quantify survival, and qualify release efficacy.

TEXAS— Along with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) last week announced the release of 27 Alligator Snapping Turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) into waters of East Texas. This release represents a return to the wild for the turtles five years after their seizure from illegal traffickers and exemplifies a public-private partnership to re-wild animals with the use of innovative genetic mapping and DNA technology.

Read the rest of this report.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Completes 22 years of Work Restoring Curves to the Florida River They Destroyed 80 Years Ago

Aug. 15, 2021, Revitalization

The Kissimmee River once meandered for 103 miles through central Florida. Its floodplain, reaching up to 3 miles wide, was inundated for long periods by heavy seasonal rains.

Native wetland plants, wading birds and fish thrived there. Then, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers destroyed it.

On July 29, 2021 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District (USACE) hosted a ribbon-cutting event to celebrate the completion of the construction for the Kissimmee River Restoration Project. The Kissimmee River Restoration Project restores more than 40 square miles of the river floodplain ecosystem, 20,000 acres of wetlands, and 44 miles of the historic river channel.

Now, after 22 years of work, they have repaired much of the structural damage they inflicted. It’s a good example of the dynamic stated in the 2020 book, RECONOMICS: The Path To Resilient Prosperity: “80% of the revitalizing, resilience-enhancing work done by urban planners and civil engineers in the 21st century will undo 80% of the work done by their predecessors in the 20th century.”

Read the rest of this report.

Native Seed Study Laying Roots for a More Sustainable Tomorrow

Press Release from the Harris County Flood Control District, August 2021

The Harris County Flood Control District is sowing seeds for a more sustainable tomorrow. The Flood Control District is partnering with Texas Native Seed (TNS) on a new project that studies native grasses in an effort to develop a genetically improved seed mix. This study will benefit future Flood Control District site stabilization, as well as green infrastructure projects throughout the region.

Native grass seeding on Flood Control District projects has been a long-sought-after goal. However, identifying a commercially available and locally adaptable species suitable for the region has been challenging. Recently, the Flood Control District in conjunction with TNS, part of Texas A&M Kingsville, broke ground in April of 2021. TNS has a proven track record of producing seed varieties  adapted for various parts of the state. Uniquely, instead of randomly seeding test plots with existing seed varieties, they will be starting with known species native to the region to produce a seed mix more inclined to thrive in the local environment.

Read the rest of this press release.

Trashy Ditch or Urban Oasis? Buffalo Bayou Paddle Offers New Perspective

By Emily Foxhall, Houston Chronicle, Aug. 14, 2021

A spotted sandpiper flies across the water. A great egret stands on the river’s edge. Sycamore trees offer shade. According to one member of that day’s paddling group, there are three species of gar, three species of catfish and a whole host of birds.

“So many people don’t even know about it,” said Steve Green, a former river guide who left his sailboat in Clear Lake to paddle along. “Those that do really enjoy it.”

Read this lovely report in the Houston Chronicle.

Bruce Bodson paddles his kayak down Buffalo Bayou on Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021. Photo by Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle

Photographer Fighting State Over Copyright Theft

Business School Claims Stealing Property is Good

Fundraiser for a Righteous Cause

Aug. 1, 2021

Internationally-known professional photographer Jim Olive is a native Texan, a longtime devoted environmentalist, generous contributor to many environmental causes, and a founding member of Save Buffalo Bayou, now on the advisory board.

He is also the founder and executive director of the Christmas Bay Foundation. Jim is a rare native species.

Now he is trying to raise money to appeal a very important property rights case to the United States Supreme Court. Ironically, it’s a business school on the other side, claiming they have the right to take private property without compensation.

An aerial photo Jim Olive took for Save Buffalo Bayou in April 2017. Buffalo Bayou flows between the forest of Memorial Park on the right and the River Oaks Country Club on the left.

The Issue

Recently the University of Houston Bauer College of Business, in an ugly teachable moment, won a case in the Texas Supreme Court, claiming that they can just take and use without any compensation or even any credit the copyrighted work of a photographer (among other copyrighted property).

Jim’s legal team had won in state district court. Three years ago State District Court Judge Caroline E. Baker held that the Texas Constitution prohibits governmental agencies from taking private property without adequate compensation.

But the school appealed and the state court of appeals reversed that decision. And in June the state supreme court agreed that the State of Texas and its institutions have “sovereign immunity.” They can’t be sued. The university can use Jim’s copyrighted materials for three years without paying a dime in compensation.

The University of Houston could have paid Jim a fair market price for using his work. Instead they decided to steal it and generate a lot of bad publicity for themselves.

Jim is appealing this decision to the United States Supreme Court. It’s an important case. But the appeal costs money. Jim is trying to raise at least $20,000 to pay for it. He already has some $125,000 in legal costs.

Here is how you can donate to this important cause.

Not the First Time

As Jim writes on his GoFundMe Page, “Over the past 20 years, there have been dozens of so-called ‘sovereign immunity’ cases brought against Texas state institutions. They’ve involved not only the theft of copyright, but also of patents and trademarks. It’s time we put an end to this wrongdoing.”