March 8, 2015
Defenders of Buffalo Bayou traipsed through clumps of wild chives and violets on the banks of the bayou Saturday, March 7, in order to hang colorful banners from bridges and trees and set out signs informing more than a thousand participants in the annual Buffalo Bayou Regatta about the grave threat to our wild bayou.
Operation Save Buffalo Bayou was a huge success as competitors paddling down the bayou waved and shouted “No bulldozers!” and “Leave it natural!” to members of the Buffalo Bayou defense team sitting on the banks in the project area.
Bayou defenders also handed out informational flyers at the end of the race in Sesquicentennial Park adjacent to the Wortham Center downtown and engaged participants and officials in conversation.
The regatta was organized by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP), a non-profit organization in charge of developing the $58 million Buffalo Bayou Park between Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway downstream of the project area. The partnership officially supports the $6 million plan to bulldoze one of the last natural stretches of the bayou as it flows past Memorial Park in the middle of Houston.
Sand on the Sidewalks
BBP President Anne Olson wrote a letter of support for the destruction project to the Army Corps of Engineers in June 2014 saying that the plan would “significantly prevent” the bayou from “depositing silt on Buffalo Bayou’s downtown parks and trails.” She also claimed that the project, known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, would demonstrate “a prototype that can be employed by bayou property owners who currently remedy their property erosion by all different types of inappropriate stabilization methods.”
In fact the amount of silt and sediment contributed by the historic nature area targeted for destruction by the Harris County Flood Control District is minimal. But the project itself would likely greatly increase the sediment flowing downstream as a result of dredging the bayou, removing trees and plants, and breaking up the soil structure of the banks.
Demonstrating Exactly the Wrong Thing to Do
In addition, the project demonstrates to property owners on the bayou exactly the wrong thing to do for erosion control. Property owners have problems with erosion when they remove trees and plants, known as the riparian zone, that protect the banks from eroding. Riparian zones are necessary for cleansing our water and for wildlife habitat, and virtually every federal and state resource agency has policies and programs protecting riparian zones.
Geologists and river experts on the Save Buffalo Bayou defense team also believe that the flood control project will greatly increase the volume and velocity of water through the engineered channel, threatening vulnerable property downstream, including Buffalo Bayou Park.
The BBP’s Buffalo Bayou Park, which is in part a project of the flood control district using “natural, stable, channel design,” is already suffering from erosion and unstable banks as a result of the removal of riparian vegetation and disturbance of the banks. Projects using so-called “natural channel design” have a high rate of washout and failure.
Save Buffalo Bayou set out signs all along the bayou beginning at the Woodway not-a-boat-launch in a section of Memorial Park that remains closed to the public for no good reason. A stunning twelve-foot high vertical banner of a night heron by Houston artist Frank Tolbert hung from the railroad trestle that crosses the park east of the Arboretum.
More signs announced the beginning and end of the nearly 1.5 mile destruction zone, the 10,000-year-old cliffs that will be obliterated and the forest and wildlife habitat that will be destroyed. Private property owners in the destruction area opposed to the project also hung banners and set out signs.
Someone removed our fourteen-foot-wide banner that said “Save Buffalo Bayou Before It’s Too Late” from the Shepherd Drive pedestrian bridge during the day. We hope it was a mistake, and we ask for the return of our banner.
Funding for the project comes from Houston and Harris County taxpayers, who are contributing a minimum of $4 million to destroy a valuable natural asset, and from the River Oaks Country Club, which owns the entire south half of the project area and which is “donating” $2 million to have the flood control district “restore” the banks of its golf course. The club is currently renovating the golf course.