Are Costly Flood Basins Proposed Where Natural Basins Already Exist on Buffalo Bayou?
Swales Holding Overflow May Be Natural Remnants of Bayou’s Original Meanders
Numerous Large Trees Cut Along Bayou Banks
June 19, 2018
Went for a stroll in the late morning heat a week ago Saturday along the south bank of Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park in west Houston. Started out on the pedestrian bridge at Eldridge Parkway and walked mostly but not always in the shade downstream. This is the area where the Harris County Flood Control District plans to remove trees and build the first of three linear detention basins at the edge of the stream to hold overflow from it.
The surprising find was that a significant amount of natural floodwater detention in the form of deep swales or depressions and levees already exists in this wooded area alongside the bayou.
Disturbingly, we also found that numerous large trees, sycamores and oaks, on both sides of the bayou recently had been pointlessly cut down, likely by Flood Control employees or by contractors clearing woody debris from the channel. Flood Control pays maintenance contractors by the weight of the wood they collect. Trees on the banks are important for protecting against erosion and cooling the stream, as well as absorbing water, among other important functions.
The Natural Path of the Bayou
The swales and depressions, filled with trees and bushes, may correspond to the original path of the bayou, once a meandering wooded stream through this 6.2-mile long linear park. In the late 1940s, in conjunction with construction of the two federal dams, Addicks and Barker, immediately upstream, the US Army Corps of Engineers razed the forest and dug a straight, artificial channel for the bayou, a costly, environmentally-destructive practice long ago abandoned because it increases flooding, among other problems.
The Bat Trip
Happy Hour with Bats
June 13, 2018
Float with geologist, river guide, and Save Buffalo Bayou board member Tom Helm on a relaxing sunset trip to watch the hundreds of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats emerging from under the Waugh Bridge on Buffalo Bayou to catch their evening meal while evading the high-flying avian predators hoping to make a meal of them. The Bat Paddle is one of Helm’s most popular float trips. Meet about an hour before sunset for an easy paddle upstream from downtown to the bridge. Park the canoes on the beach and enjoy some locally brewed beverages. Enjoy the Houston skyline in the moonlight. Trip lasts for three hours. All skill levels welcome. Cost is $50 per person. For more information, contact Tom Helm.
New Community Meetings on Flood Projects To Be Financed by Bond Election
June 11, 2018
Updated June 13
The Harris County Flood Control District and Harris County Commissioners’ Court have added several new community meetings for residents to discuss flood management projects and the upcoming bond election with county and flood control representatives. County commissioners have scheduled a county-wide vote Aug. 25, 2018, on issuing $2.5 billion bonds to finance projects. The bonds would be repaid out of property taxes.
Meetings have now been scheduled for Addicks Reservoir (June 21), Carpenters Bayou (June 14), Cypress Creek (June 15), Greens Bayou (June 16), and White Oak Bayou (June 12). Meetings have recently been held for Armand and Sims bayous.
June 13 Update: Meetings now scheduled also for Clear Creek (July 17), Halls Bayou (June 20), Hunting Bayou (June 23), San Jacinto River (July 10), and Spring Creek (June 27).
Recent Photos of Buffalo Bayou
Floating Past the Hogg Bird Sanctuary and Memorial Park
June 4, 2018
Watch this slide show of recent photos taken during a float trip on May 28, 2018, to document Buffalo Bayou after maintenance contractors working for the Harris County Flood Control District had been through removing Large Woody Debris and cutting trees.
And this slideshow documents some of the trees cut by the maintenance contractors.
Flood Control’s Destructive Bayou Maintenance Will Lead to More Erosion, More Maintenance
Practices Fall Behind Standards Elsewhere
June 3, 2018
For months we have been receiving complaints about the damage the Harris County Flood Control District is doing to Buffalo Bayou.
Citizens have been sending us video and photographs of contract workers dredging, banging, mucking, bulldozing, slamming and damming the channel and banks; dragging, cutting, and removing large trees, live trees, trees fallen against the banks, trees fallen in the woods.
And now we have reports that they’ve done the same to Cypress Creek in northern Harris County.
The “maintenance” they have done – virtually clearing out the channel and banks — will lead to greater erosion and instability, more sediment and more flooding. And more costly maintenance.
Harvey and the flooding that followed left a huge amount of woody and other sorts of debris in our bayous, our natural drainage system. Buffalo Bayou, our main river, flows from its source in the Katy Prairie for some 75 miles east through the center of Houston, becoming the Houston Ship Channel and emptying into Galveston Bay. For much of that route, the 18,000-year-old bayou remains one of the few relatively natural streams in the city. It accumulated a lot of debris, logjams and snags during Harvey, as did Cypress Creek.
The Importance of Fallen Trees
There are trees along Buffalo Bayou, great tall trees in places, and they sometimes fall into it. Trees have been doing this on rivers for over a hundred million years. Trees, before and after they fall, are a crucial part of the river’s natural system. Overhanging trees shade the water, regulating the temperature. Their extensive roots, together with the roots of riparian plants, anchor the bank, protecting the bank from washing out. When trees fall into the channel, they continue to provide stability to the stream and its banks, trapping sediment, fortifying against and deflecting heavy flows, helping the channel to maintain a healthy width and depth and to form riffles and pools, helping the stream to restore itself more quickly after a flood, and providing food and habitat for the diversity of creatures large and small that sustain the bayou’s ecosystem.
Flooding in SE Texas: The Science Behind the Floods
Hear What Scientists Have to Say About Flooding in the Region
The Houston Geological Society, in cooperation with local universities and agencies, has organized a two-day educational conference bringing together stakeholders, including business, scientists, engineers, citizens coalitions, and government agencies to exchange current knowledge and ideas for the future.
Speakers include representatives from Rice University, University of Houston, the US Army Corps of Engineers, Harris County Flood Control District, the City of Houston, and others. The list is here.
The conference takes place next week, Wednesday and Thursday, June 6 and 7, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the University of Houston, Student Center, 4455 University Drive, Houston 77204. Cost is $200.
Save Buffalo Bayou is a sponsor of this event.
Flood Control Releases List of Projects for August Bond Election
Series of Community Meetings Planned
May 31, 2018
Updated June 4, 2018
The Harris County Flood Control District on Wednesday, May 30, posted on its website an interactive map of projects proposed to be funded with the proceeds of a $2.5 billion bond election scheduled for vote on Aug. 25.
You can see the map of the bond program here.
The schedule of community meetings to discuss these projects is not yet complete but you can find the list here.
And here is where you can make a comment to the flood control district about projects in the Buffalo Bayou watershed.
We’ll have more on this soon.
Tell Flood Control: No! Stop Destroying Forest on Buffalo Bayou
Stop Stormwater BEFORE It Floods the Bayou
May 30, 2018
Harris County Flood Control plans to destroy forest on the south bank of Terry Hershey Park in west Houston in order to create 100-acre feet of stormwater detention siphoned off of Buffalo Bayou. This minor amount of detention is to compensate for INCREASED stormwater that the City of Houston plans to drain into the bayou from surrounding neighborhoods. We need to stop stormwater BEFORE it enters our streams. Tell Flood Control you are OPPOSED to the project by taking their survey on this page. Do it now! They’re starting soon. The survey doesn’t really let you say no to the project. But you can express your opposition and displeasure in the comment box at the end.
Power and Will: Eminent Domain for Preserving Land and Surviving Floods
The Moral Hazard in a Golf Course
May 18, 2018
Mention “eminent domain” and ugly associations come to mind. The brutal power of the state. Taking homes and beloved ranch and farm land for development of oil pipelines, highways, powerlines, private for-profit rail lines. Destroying neighborhoods in the name of “urban renewal.” Condemnation.
But what if the government instead used its power of eminent domain to preserve undeveloped land urgently needed for stormwater detention and green space? It can do that. Other cities have done that. Why, the government can even use this power to preserve much needed affordable housing, say for people displaced by flooding. Local governments elsewhere are doing that. (See New York City and Richmond, California.)
Recently there has been controversy over the City of Houston’s role in allowing residential development on more than 100 acres of an unused golf course on Gessner Road in west Houston just east of Addicks Reservoir. Discussion has focused on the folly (and taxpayer burden) of constructing (federally-insured) homes in a floodplain.
But the more critical issue is that local golf courses, including this particular golf course, have been identified as one of the few remaining sources of undeveloped land vitally needed for detaining stormwater and reducing flooding in our highly developed city.
The golf course in question, Pine Crest, drains into Brickhouse Gully, which in turn drains into White Oak Bayou. Both streams are among the top ten fastest rising streams by flow in the state of Texas, according to a recent study by hydrologist Matthew Berg. Also in the top ten is Cole Creek, which flows into the same spot, pointed out Berg in a recent interview.
The decision to allow development of this open space, instead of using it for stormwater detention, is a prime example of creating a moral hazard: placing people in harm’s way knowing that others will pick up the tab for the damages.
No Dispute: This Green Space Is Urgently Needed to Hold Rain Runoff
Neighborhoods along all of these streams have experienced repeated flooding, reported the Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium, a group of local scientific experts organized after Harvey. The consortium recommended creating detention, among other remedies, along these streams in its recently released report. (p. 44).
Springtime on Buffalo Bayou
Through the Woods on a Brilliant Sunday Morning
April 19, 2018
At last spring had sprung. The trees were bursting with joyous green, celebrating by tossing enormous amounts of pollen into the air. Time for our seasonal photograph of that Bend in the River. Our dedicated photographer Jim Olive was preoccupied with saguaro cacti in California, so it was up to a couple of lesser talents to document Spring 2018 on Buffalo Bayou.
We set off from the small parking lot on the South Picnic Loop in Memorial Park and headed down the path into the woods. The sunlight sparkled through the trees, though some of our old friends had fallen, lying now against the slumped bank. The bayou, now visible through those that remained, was closer. Flow was about 650 cubic feet per second after a brief thunderstorm the day before. The dirt path was soft. We were delighted to see that the high bank in the park that had been damaged and defaced by the unauthorized installation of a rogue mountain bike jump has healed. The wooden jump that had been pounded into the very edge of the bank has been removed, and only a few holes remained.
The last time we had walked in these woods the rolling landscape, carved by ravines, was brown, muddy, monotone, and empty. The trees were skeletal. Winter can be frightening that way, especially in a city so badly hurt by an unprecedented flood. Would life return?
But now the banks that had slumped during the high waters from Harvey appeared to be healing. There was still little ground cover on the slopes of the small tributary that drains the center of the park, and the winding path of the tributary was much changed. One could now see from the shallow creek over the diminished bank of the bayou towards the distant golf course on the south bank far downstream, stripped of trees and vegetation years ago and now covered in plastic sheeting by the River Oaks Country Club.
Elsewhere the bayou was renewing itself, adjusting to our changing climate. Here is the Bend in the River that we have been documenting through the seasons for the last four years. You can see the entire series here.
And here is a photo looking upstream from the same high bank in Memorial Park.