Flood Control Destroys Forest on Buffalo Bayou
May 6, 2019
(Updated May 7, 2019, with clarification from Harris County Flood Control.)
They’ve done it. Last week the Harris County Flood Control District began knocking down towering sycamores and pines in one of the last remaining forested areas open to the public on Buffalo Bayou.
This tree-cutting is not new. The Flood Control District has been razing forest next to streams all over the county for decades, mainly to excavate floodwater detention basins. Slowing down, holding back rainwater runoff is a good idea. But trees do that. And more. Flood Control is damaging the environment, destroying the limited access we have to nature in the city, while doing little to reduce flooding. Possibly even making it worse.
Their private consultants don’t consider the benefits of trees when they spend millions of taxpayer dollars on flood studies and plans. And there are significant benefits, including flood protection.
Because Leaving Trees in Place is Not a “Project”
The problem is, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) points out (see pp. 7-9), leaving trees in place—nature-based flood risk reduction—is not considered a “project.” There is a political bias in favor of costly, large-scale structural approaches, despite the obvious advantages to small-scale, non-structural, green or natural approaches to flood management. (Although in this case, they seem to be doing the project because it’s “cheap and easy.”)
“Protection of a natural channel and adjacent river corridor, floodplain or wetland often does not meet the conventional concept of a ‘project,’” notes FEMA.
The District needs “projects” in order to look like it’s doing something, especially after county voters approved $2.5 billion in bonds for flood reduction “projects.” And contractors don’t make money from not doing or not designing “projects.”
Other factors preventing more enlightened, more effective flood management include the lack of multidisciplinary expertise, leading to a dependency on old, traditional, and familiar engineering approaches, points out FEMA.
Like spending millions repairing the channelized banks of the bayou in Terry Hershey Park where the straightened stream is attempting to restore its natural meanders. Allowing the bayou to recover its bends, thus lengthening itself, would increase its capacity naturally and for free. (p. 11)
Because That’s What They Always Planned to Do
The trees recently downed by Flood Control were on the south bank of upper Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park, a semi-wild wooded area beloved by hikers and bikers. The 500-acre rolling linear park runs for some six miles on both sides of the bayou below Addicks and Barker dams in west Houston.