Flood Control Sends Notice to Residents Adjacent to Terry Hershey Park
Jan. 29, 2019
The Harris County Flood Control District has notified residents living on upper Buffalo Bayou in west Houston that construction of controversial stormwater detention basins on the forested south bank will begin soon.
The district sent an email, including a flyer about the project, to neighborhood leaders last Thursday, Jan. 24, asking them to spread the word that construction would begin in late January on three initial basins between Eldridge Parkway and Dairy-Ashford Road. The shallow linear detention basins require the clearing of trees and vegetation near the bank of the bayou. They would capture and temporarily hold about 100-acre feet of overflow from the bayou during a storm.
The district says in the flyer that it will attempt to preserve some trees and vegetation between the basins and neighboring property as well as along the water’s edge.
The district owns some 500 acres of land along the bayou for a little over six miles below Barker and Addicks dams. The bayou there was stripped and straightened by the Corps of Engineers in the late Forties. An analysis by Save Buffalo Bayou showed that straightening and narrowing the bayou there actually reduced its capacity, making future residents more vulnerable to flooding. At the time, the land—other than the natural riparian forest along the banks of the meandering bayou—was mostly agricultural.
Trees grew back, and the flood control district purchased the land from the Corps in the Sixties, leased it in the Nineties to Harris County for a public park named after environmentalist Terry Hershey, and began stripping trees again on the north bank for linear detention basins similar to those planned on the south bank. In the meantime, trails through the south bank woods became popular with hikers and bikers, and by 2012 local residents had formed a committee called Save Our Forest to fight plans to remove forest and excavate detention basins there.
Save Our Forest was largely successful until Harvey, after which the district revived its plans for a series of linear basins temporarily holding some 280 acre-feet of bayou overflow on the south bank between Highway 6 and Beltway 8.
Let the Bayou Expand Itself
In line with modern practice, Save Buffalo Bayou is in favor of slowing and holding stormwater before it floods a stream, not after. A better, more effective, less expensive approach would be to allow the bayou to restore its natural meanders, naturally lengthening and increasing the capacity of the stream, which is what it will keep trying to do anyway, eating away at the banks long ago weakened by artificial straightening as well as by ongoing digging and compressing by heavy equipment. Instead the county and the district spend millions repairing the unstable channel in order to keep it straight.
The district has already spent millions on the south bank linear detention basin project, including paying engineering firms for vegetation surveys and design. Lecon, Inc. has the $1.8 million contract to construct the initial basins scheduled to begin any day now.