Invasive Erosion Control Plan Could Destroy Buffalo Bayou


Memorial Park plan would reduce unique waterway to a ditch

Reprinted from The Houston Chronicle.

By Olive Hershey and Frank Salzhandler, Houston Chronicle OUTLOOK, May 18, 2014 Section B

A Harris County plan to alter Buffalo Bayou as it runs through our publicly owned Memorial Park would destroy one of the last remaining river forests in Houston, an ecologically important riparian wilderness that cannot be replaced.

The county intends to bulldoze both sides of the bayou – up to 100 feet from the water’s edge in places and including a tributary in the Hogg Bird Sanctuary – stripping wide swathes of native trees, vines and undergrowth from the bayou’s natural sandy banks.

Vital habitat for hundreds of species of birds, animals and water creatures will be lost. The slow-moving bayou’s shady banks will be denuded and replanted as a sun-baked lawn.

This expensive, invasive plan is called the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now considering whether to issue a permit for it. Citizens have only until May 30 to submit comments. We urge you to ask the Corps for a 60-day extension of time to submit comments on the damage this badly planned project will do to our bayou and park. (Visit our website,, for information about how to contact the Corps and what you can do to help.)

River science tells us there are better and cheaper ways to control erosion and help Buffalo Bayou without destroying the bayou’s unique ecosystem and turning it into an ordinary ditch.

Buffalo Bayou at sunrise as it flows past Memorial Park on the left and River Oaks Country Club on the right. Photo by Frank Salzhandler.

Buffalo Bayou at sunrise as it flows past Memorial Park on the left and River Oaks Country Club on the right. Photo by Frank Salzhandler.

Memorial Park, a 1,500-acre wilderness, is one of the largest urban parks in the country and includes the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, a public treasure. Here, the 18,000-year-old Buffalo Bayou winds through a unique bioregion of three intersecting ecosystems of forests, meadows and wetlands. Within these ecosystems are 85 species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish, 167 species of birds and 102 varieties of trees, shrubs and vines.

Our urban bayou is home to red-tailed hawks, snowy egrets, great blue herons, and more. Beaver swim the waters in the early morning. This wild region of our city, open to everyone, is part of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, and the bayou is an official Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife paddling trail. Birding and other ecotourism are a major industry in Texas, drawing people and outside dollars from all over the world to Houston.

The threat in Memorial Park is only the beginning. The Harris County Flood Control District calls the plan a “demonstration project” because the county intends to use this disputed, heavy-handed method on the natural landscape of Buffalo Bayou in neighborhoods upstream, areas saved from the same fate decades ago by dedicated Houstonians such as George H.W. Bush, Army and Sarah Emmott, Terry Hershey and George Mitchell.

The flood control district’s “erosion control” project affects 6,600 feet and nearly 14 acres of bayou, as well as a significant portion of the Hogg Bird Sanctuary. The original but growing cost of $6 million is being funded by Houston and Harris County taxpayers and by the River Oaks Country Club, which has been convinced that the project will stop erosion of its golf course. Instead, the club will lose valuable forest and land.

Riparian forests, along with native understory, are critical to storm water management – absorbing runoff. Among other problems, the project would ruin critical wetlands and send floodwaters downstream faster, making downtown Houston more susceptible to flooding.

Dr. Mathias Kondolf, fluvial geomorphologist at the University of California, Berkeley, describes the plan as “pseudo-science.” Projects using the proposed methods have failed and washed out in other states, including Maryland, Washington and California.

Buffalo Bayou is a stressed river and needs our help. Re-establishing riparian forests alongside existing trees provides the most valuable stream bank stability and benefit for wildlife and natural habitat.

Harris County has bulldozed virtually all our other bayous, which are now mostly mowed monoculture ditches. A river system like Buffalo Bayou within the city of Houston is unique in the United States and enhances our quality of life. We urge Houstonians to oppose the current plan.

Hershey is a poet, novelist and environmentalist. Salzhandler, director of the Buffalo Bayou Project and the Endangered Species Media Project, is chair of the Natural Heritage Program for the Harris County Historical Commission.

© 2014 Hearst Newspapers, LLC

3 thoughts on “Invasive Erosion Control Plan Could Destroy Buffalo Bayou”

  1. Comment from Marian Curran emailed to Save Buffalo Bayou
    Today at 12:08 PM

    My native Houston, Texas just doesn’t get it. I just returned from Yellowstone National Park less than 24 hours ago. Beautiful, pristine, indescribable. The wildlife there was phenomenal. The area was covered in signs to stay on the paths, recycling bins were everywhere, even in the towns. The locals and visitors appreciated every living thing around them. And yet, I had to come back to a city that just won’t keep up with the green movement that the rest of the country has already been doing for years. It’s heartbreaking to say the least.

    I am a former Texas Parks & Wildlife employee with a wildlife science degree, a current wildlife rehabilitator, an avid birdwatcher, a native plant enthusiast, and a huge conservationist. We have such a treasure right here in the 4th largest city, yet projects like this keep popping up without the right foresight in planning to keep our wonderful city landscape as intact as possible.

    Have we not heard of ecotourism? Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast has the largest migration of birds of any other major city in the United States. Just ask the Audubon Society. If this project is halted for at least 60 days, we have the most amazing, knowledgeable and experienced resources to consult with right here in our own city and state to seek out the best possible ways to use to avoid disturbing this irreplaceable, amazing riparian environment that currently exists right in the middle of Houston.

    The Native Plant Society of Texas, Texas Parks & Wildlife Biologists (Freshwater & Wildlife Biologist to be exact), the Buffalo Bayou Preservation Society, the Audubon Society and many other awesome agencies and organizations that can offer advice on how to approach this project to keep it as pristine and sustainable as possible.

    I get it, we are a big city and progress is unavoidable. But do it the intelligent way. I realize there will probably be some egos to deal with, setbacks, controversies, etc. But once we destroy a natural environment like this, it’s gone. ‘Replanting’ for aesthetics to please the average city dweller is sad…they are inner city citizens that move in closer to live and work, okay, understandable. But WE citizen scientists and environmental professionals can go one step further and say, ‘hey, let’s do it this way!’ and teach people why we just left things alone.

    Keeping the native grasses and plants not only feeds the wildlife, it keeps the city from having to fertilize (which pollutes our waters, destroys fish habitats), mow constantly, and allows an area where the city could establish birding tours to bring income into the city. Imagine that…making money off of things that already exists inside our city. Brilliant! We already have a bat population right under Waugh Street bridge. Word is spreading. Go to Austin and see the amount of people that watch the bats under Congress Street Bridge. Do you know how many restaurants and bars profit off the crowds that show up? Go ask them!

    Is our current mayor, Annise Parker, just trying to push this project through to boost her political career for AFTER she leaves this city? Doesn’t she call herself ‘progressive?’ Seems to me that her agenda to beautify the city in tearing down old buildings and promoting our recycling is only part of it, but not geared towards the native habitat. Does she not understand that’s even bigger??? I’ve seen her on television bragging about this bayou project for inner city dwellers but never ONCE did she say that this project was maintaining as natural an environment for plants and wildlife. That just wouldn’t be kosher, would it? Maybe she’s just ill informed.

    Please reconsider the future development of this irreplaceable treasure we have called Buffalo Bayou for decades.

    Thank you for time.


  2. Patrick McDougle says:

    Contact the Hogg Family Att. I don’t think the city and engineers can do this…..

  3. kirk farris says:

    Indian Jones was asking what they were going to do with the Ark, they said they had top men working on it!
    Top Men. This is the same level of science offered HCFC and just to be fair the idea that this project reduces sediment down stream…is a learned script.

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