Some Things That Did and Did Not Happen
January 15, 2019
The year 2018 was a year of adjustment and recovery for a city wounded physically and psychologically by the long-lasting impact of Hurricane Harvey in mid-2017.
Prior to Harvey, Save Buffalo Bayou and its supporters were able to stop a pointless, wasteful, and costly bayou “restoration” project that would have destroyed much of our public forest, a historic nature area, on Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park, damaging and weakening the ancient high banks and the bayou’s ability to recuperate after floods. In fact, the project, if it had been completed, would likely have washed away during Harvey, as did many other “erosion control” and landscaping projects on the bayou. (See this nine-minute film shot over a year later, referenced below.)
But outdated flood management policy and practice remained in place. The rest of the world is adopting enlightened, practical, and cost-effective ideas like slowing the flow of stormwater (rather than speeding it up), getting out of the way of flooding, and managing flooding in place—practices based on understanding and mimicking nature. But misguided assumptions about streams and drainage—based on faith in heavy engineering and concrete—continue to circulate locally.
SBB spent the year following Harvey trying to explain science-based flood and stream management to distraught homeowners and panicked politicians: how rivers work, why they flood, and why straightening, deepening, and widening the entire length of the bayou (and the rest of our streams) would not work and would not help, and in fact would only make things worse.
That important discussion continues.
Shocker! Save Buffalo Bayou finds itself defending the Army Corps of Engineers which announces a project, called the Metropolitan Houston Regional Watershed Assessment, to study the big picture of drainage and flooding in the Houston region: where raindrops fall, how they move across rooftops and pavement and land, through drain pipes and into our bayous and streams, and ultimately into Galveston Bay. We need to be talking about this.
At the same time Save Buffalo Bayou continues its defense of forests on the bayou, opposing questionable Harris County Flood Control District plans to rip out trees in Terry Hershey Park to create a series of detention basins along the channel for holding a small amount of overflow from the bayou in exchange for allowing the City to send more water into the bayou.
Result: So far the detention basins have not happened, though they are still a threat. (See below.) But for now we still have soothing trees to hug and thank for deflecting, slowing, and absorbing the rain and for holding the bayou banks together, among other vital functions. SBB is in favor of detention. Slow the flow! But it makes no sense to cut down trees to create detention, since trees serve as natural detention devices.
And in case you missed it, here is geologist and Save Buffalo Bayou board member Tom Helm explaining the origin of sand and the different kinds of sandstone in Buffalo Bayou. Because in January 2018 there was still a huge amount of sediment piled up the banks of the bayou downstream, and we were trying to explain to people where it comes from, why the banks slide away, and what can and cannot be done about that. (Hint: leaving some large woody debris, i.e. fallen trees, against the banks helps.)