Links to Discussions: Corps’ Plans for Buffalo Bayou, Katy Prairie, and Coastal Barrier

Coastal Barrier Public Meetings Dec. 3 and 8. Public Comment Deadline Dec. 14

Harris County Looking for Nominees to the Community Flood Resilience Task Force. Deadline Dec. 11.

FEMA Updates Flood Policy to Support Nature-Based Solutions Rejected by Corps Plan

Nov. 25, 2020

So much happening!

Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Interim Report

We had an excellent discussion recently about the US Army Corps of Engineers’ controversial ideas for reducing flood risk in the Buffalo Bayou watershed. Mary Anne Piacentini of the Katy Prairie Conservancy and Susan Chadwick of Save Buffalo Bayou talked about the impact of the Corps’ plans and alternatives.

The online discussion Nov. 18 was moderated by independent journalist Sam Oser and hosted by Residents Against Flooding. Here is a link to the discussion.

Engineers Be Engineers

The Galveston District of the Corps of Engineers has $6 million to come up with plans to deal with the problem of increasing storms and increasing development causing too much stormwater flowing too quickly into the federal dams, Addicks and Barker, on upper Buffalo Bayou in far west Houston. The Corps released an Interim Report in early October that focused on deepening and widening Buffalo Bayou for some 22 miles from the dams to downtown Houston. This would be in conjunction with a new dam on Cypress Creek and a 22,000-acre reservoir on the Katy Prairie.

River otter on the Katy Prairie. Photo Michael Morton

Despite strong support for nature-based alternatives expressed at public meetings sponsored by the Corps in 2019 (p. 199), the Corps outright rejected nature-based alternatives, such as prairies, wetlands, green spaces, restored streams, etc. (p. 6)

However, environmental organizations, including Save Buffalo Bayou, have urged the Corps to reject deepening and widening Buffalo Bayou and building a reservoir on the Katy Prairie. Nature-based approaches are less costly, more practical and effective, quicker, more flexible, and produce a wider range of benefits for the community, including cleaner water and air, cooling, as well as social, mental, and health benefits.

Here is Save Buffalo Bayou’s comment to the Corps.

Here is the Katy Prairie Conservancy’s alternative plan.

Here is environmental attorney Jim Blackburn’s discussion of the plan with the Houston Chronicle’s Lisa Gray.

While the formal public comment period ended Nov. 20, the Corps says it will continue to consider public input and alternatives. The federal agency, founded during the Revolutionary War, expects to have a final draft report and environmental impact statement by late spring or early summer of 2021. There will be another public comment period then.

Here is how to send comments to the Corps about the study.

Here is how to contact federal representatives about the proposals and alternatives.

Note that the Federal Emergency Management Agency just recently updated its flood policy to support nature-based solutions in flood-risk mitigation projects. The Corps itself is under a mandate to incorporate Environmental Operating Principles in its projects and to “engineer with nature.”

Public Meetings, Public Comment: Corps’ Proposed Coastal Barrier

In the meantime the Galveston District, together with the Texas General Land office, is also working on a plan to protect the upper Texas coast and the Houston Ship Channel from a storm surge. (Buffalo Bayou becomes the ship channel four miles east of downtown.)

Recently the Corps released the Draft Feasibility Report and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Study, also known as the Coastal Texas Study.

The Corps is holding virtual public meetings on the study on Dec. 3 and 8 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

The deadline for public comment is Dec. 14.

For a highly informed explanation and discussion about the problems and impacts of the Corps’ proposed coastal barrier, watch this Nov. 19 presentation sponsored by Bayou City Waterkeeper, the Galveston Bay Foundation, Healthy Gulf, and the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Harris County’s Community Flood Resilience Task Force Seeking Nominations. Deadline Dec. 11

Harris County Commissioners Court has approved the first five members of the new Community Flood Resilience Task Force. The new task force takes the place of the long outdated Harris County Flood Control Task Force, established nearly fifty years ago and long dominated by engineers and developers, many of whom did business with the Flood Control District.

The first five members of the task force will select the remaining twelve members of the task force. Their charge is to “ensure Harris County develops and implements equitable flood resilience planning and projects that take into account community needs and priorities.”

The initial task force members were approved by Commissioners Court on Sept. 29. They are:

The new task force is looking for “multi-disciplinary members who are committed to serving the community and represent the geographic, gender, age, racial, and ethnic diversity of Harris County,” according to Judge Hidalgo’s office.

Anyone interested in serving on this task force should submit an application by December 11.

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