Revising the Plan for Protecting Galveston Bay
Public Workshop Wednesday, March 1, 2017
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Feb. 20, 2017
The Galveston Bay Estuary Program was established in 1989 to implement a comprehensive conservation plan for Galveston Bay. Established by the federal government and administered by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the program’s goal is to “preserve Galveston Bay for generations to come.” It is one of two estuary programs in Texas and one of 28 programs nationwide protecting estuaries “of national significance.”
An estuary is “a partially enclosed, coastal water body where freshwater from rivers and streams mixes with salt water from the ocean. Estuaries, and their surrounding lands, are places of transition from land to sea. … Estuarine environments are among the most productive on earth.”
As the Environmental Protection Agency points out, “what happens on the land affects the quality of the water and health of the organisms that live in an estuary. … For example, if a river or stream … passes urbanized and suburbanized areas, it gathers substances such as:
- fertilizers or pet waste that wash off lawns;
- untreated sewage from failing septic tanks;
- wastewater discharges from industrial facilities;
- sediment from construction sites; and
- runoff from impervious surfaces like parking lots.”
Buffalo Bayou is the main river flowing through the center of Houston and emptying into Galveston Bay. Numerous other creeks and tributaries, including Brays, White Oak, and Sims bayous, flow into Buffalo Bayou, which becomes the Houston Ship Channel.
Updating the Galveston Bay Protection Plan
The 22-year-old Galveston Bay management plan is being revised. The Houston Sierra Club is urging the general public to attend a Wednesday afternoon workshop in La Marque to “provide input on how we can have a cleaner and more ecologically intact Galveston Bay.”
Money Down the Drain
Widening and Deepening Our Waterways Is Not the Answer to Flooding
Chadwick: Practices to reduce flooding risk are out of line with our region’s needs
“We just can’t keep developing the way we’ve been developing”
By Susan Chadwick, Houston Chronicle Outlook, Jan. 23, 2017
Houstonians last week once again found themselves facing flooded homes and cars, closed schools, roads and transport. No doubt they were asking, “Why does this keep happening?”
Maybe it’s because our political leaders are prioritizing the wrong solutions and are treating the symptoms instead of the problem. Widening and deepening bayous, a top priority for city and county officials, is an ineffective, environmentally damaging and unnecessarily costly approach to reducing flooding.
Yet widening and deepening bayous is the stated policy and practice of the Harris County Flood Control District and a recommendation of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s 2016 Transition Report on ReBuild Houston, a report largely written by engineers. The practice also is embraced by conventional wisdom. Widening bayou channels was one of a number of responses to the region’s flooding problems listed in a recent Chronicle article, “How to Fix the Houston Floods,” by Dylan Baddour (HoustonChronicle.com, Dec. 31), as well as in a commentary by former mayoral candidate Bill King (“Homeowners puzzled by increase in floods” Page A13, Jan. 13).
Here’s why widening and deepening our bayous and streams is the wrong approach:
Terry Hershey, 1923-2017
A Force of Nature: The Force Continues
Jan. 20, 2017
Without Terry Hershey, there likely would be no Buffalo Bayou to save today.
One of Houston’s most influential conservationists, in the mid-1960s Terry Hershey rallied garden club members and Junior Leaguers, business and political leaders, including Save Buffalo Bayou founding president Frank C. Smith Jr., George Mitchell, George H.W. Bush, and others. Together they stopped the Harris County Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers from stripping and straightening Buffalo Bayou and covering it in concrete all the way from Addicks and Barker dams through Memorial Park to the Shepherd Bridge.
Our beautiful 18,000-year-old Mother Bayou would have been a dead, shadeless river like Brays and White Oak. A brutal concrete ditch.
Hershey died Thursday, Jan. 19, her birthday, at her home near the bayou.
“Terry was just an enthusiastic, charismatic person who persuaded all of us we needed to save the world,” said Frank Smith recently.
But Buffalo Bayou is never safe from the bulldozers, as we found out when the flood control district once again began making plans around 2010 to strip, dredge, and reroute one of the last natural stretches of the bayou as it passes by Memorial Park. Even now our political leaders are calling for bulldozing, widening and deepening our bayous and waterways in a misguided response to flooding.
We must always remain vigilant, warned Hershey more than thirty years ago.
Watch this documentary film of Hershey and others talking about Buffalo Bayou. Called Last Stand of the Buffalo, it was made in 1984 by KUHT.
In honor of Terry Hershey, listen to the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra playing Brad Sayles’ Buffalo Bayou Suite.
And here is an interview with Terry Hershey conducted by environmentalist Ann Hamilton in 2008. From the Houston Public Library’s Oral History Project.
Petition to End Avoidable Flooding
Citizens Call for Regional Oversight Based on Science, Transparency, and Enforcement
Jan. 17, 2017
A Houston group called Citizens Solutions to Flooding is circulating a petition calling for the creation of a long-overdue Houston-Galveston regional body to ensure that new construction and development does not increase flooding.
The petition focuses on the inadequacy and lack of enforcement of current regulations regarding stormwater drainage and detention. It calls for transparency in the permitting process and financial incentives for property owners to retrofit properties to conform to more effective standards for controlling stormwater running off impervious surface.
Houston’s natural tendency to flood has been greatly worsened by uncontrolled development and the proliferation of hard surface like parking lots, building rooftops, and roadways that rapidly collect and concentrate rainwater rather than slowing, absorbing, and dispersing it.
In calling for regional oversight, the petition notes that “watersheds know no county boundaries.” And development in one watershed can worsen flooding in another watershed.
Notably, the petition does not call for widening and deepening our bayous and streams, an outmoded, costly, ineffective, and environmentally damaging solution preferred by city and county engineers. More green space, not less, is the consensus of leading experts, including Phil Bedient, director of the SSPEED storm center at Rice University.
Urban Riparian Symposium
The Challenges of Healthy Urban Streams
Jan. 14, 2017
There is still time to register for a February symposium in Houston on urban riparian areas — those special zones of trees and plants along stream banks so important for clean water, flood and erosion control, and wildlife.
The Texas Riparian Association has organized a three-day conference Feb. 15-17 largely directed at natural resource professionals but useful to anyone interested in the health of our urban bayous and creeks flowing into Galveston Bay.
Save Buffalo Bayou is a co-sponsor of the event, titled “Balancing the Challenges of Healthy Urban Streams,” to be held at Rice University’s BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC), 6500 Main Street. The registration deadline is Feb. 8. To register or find out more info, click here.
Save Buffalo Bayou’s Tom Helm, geologist, naturalist, and river guide, will be presenting Friday morning, Feb. 17, on the topic “Searching for the Original Meanders of Buffalo Bayou.”
Helm and Save Buffalo Bayou will also be offering float trips on Buffalo Bayou past Memorial Park and into Buffalo Bayou Park in the middle of Houston to symposium participants. The three-hour trips take place Friday afternoon from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday morning starting at 10 a.m. Cost is $50 per person. For more info or to reserve a place, contact Tom Helm.
Among other topics to be addressed: daylighting buried urban streams, the capacity of Houston’s urban forest to cleanse polluted stormwater, the economics of using natural drainage systems in development, how Austin protects riparian areas, incorporating the value of ecosystem services into regional policy decisions, managing large woody debris in urban streams, and more.
Buffalo Bayou Beavers at Work in Downtown Houston
Jan. 6, 2017
Reader Thomas Jackson sent in this photo of the handiwork, or we should say, toothwork, of beavers, or a beaver, on a tree on Buffalo Bayou downtown. Jackson took the photo on the bank across from the University of Houston Downtown. He was surprised to find beavers at work downtown.
Our experts confirm this appears to be the work of beavers. Though there was some discussion that it could be an invasive nutria, and some puzzlement about why so many morsels had been left on the plate, naturalist and environmental lawyer Bruce Bodson explains that “one thing that they will often do is cut trees so that they fall into the water and then go nibble limbs from the relative safety of the water. Also, the tastiest stuff tends to be on top.”
Bodson should know. He’s also the new executive director of Galveston Baykeeper, a nonprofit organization working to ensure that every waterway is swimmable, fishable, and drinkable.
We also think the top part of the tree is the tastiest.
Thanks for the photo, Thomas Jackson.
A Gift to Nature: Photos of Buffalo Bayou
Prices Slashed for the Holidays!
Dec. 16, 2016
Here’s a wonderful gift idea. Limited time half-price offer!
Buy a photo of beautiful, wild Buffalo Bayou and help us protect it. And also help us promote sensible, cost-efficient flood management policies on all our urban streams. Working with nature, rather than against it, is cheaper, more effective, and more beneficial for us and our environment.
Photographer Jim Olive is offering a deep discount on high-quality prints of a selection of his stunning photos of our Mother Bayou. That’s because Jim is donating $50 to Save Buffalo Bayou for each print that he sells.
Jim is an internationally known photographer who has worked all over the world. He is a devoted conservationist who believes in the mission of Save Buffalo Bayou. He also is a founder of the Christmas Bay Foundation.
Lo and Behold Buffalo Bayou
Watch this slide show of photographs offered for sale by Jim.
And here is the low low low price list. Sale lasts only through Jan. 1, 2017. So act now! Make yourself and/or someone else happy and help Buffalo Bayou and our city too.
Three sizes are offered, and they are top-of-the-line prints using archival inks and paper, just as Jim prints them for his top collectors. Also offered are prints on Dibond aluminum. Larger sizes can be special ordered.
Sizes and prices are:
Archival Lustre Paper
12” x 18” $150
16” x 24” $200
20” x 30” $250
12” x 18” $200
16” x 24” $300
20” x 30” $400
Here’s how to contact Jim Olive. Take advantage of this generous offer and acquire a beautiful photographic print of Buffalo Bayou while helping to protect this amazing urban river and its tributaries. Support intelligent, cost-effective public policies that work with nature, not against it.
Time Flows on Buffalo Bayou
A Hot Foggy Winter’s Day
Dec. 13, 2016
For the last two years Jim Olive has been documenting the changes in the seasons on Buffalo Bayou from the same vantage point. Setting up his tripod on a high bank in Memorial Park, Jim has photographed the same bend in the bayou during low and high water, and in every season. Documenting the same spot helps show how the river adjusts and adapts over time to different conditions.
Actually Jim has had to move his tripod slightly upriver. Following the record rains and high flows in the spring of 2015 and this year, parts of the bank sloughed away, and Jim had to move his camera somewhat upstream. The photograph below was taken closer to the original viewpoint on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, around 7:30 a.m. Note how the slumped left bank is slowly rebuilding itself. It was unseasonably warm, about 75 degrees, with even a warm breeze seemingly wafting up from the water below. The flow was moderate, around 800 cubic feet per second as measured by the gauge at Piney Point, high enough for a couple of air boats, likely belonging to the Harris County Flood Control District, to come roaring up the river just as we left. We couldn’t see them; but we heard them as we were walking through the woods.
Jim had already been out to the park several times to try to catch just the right foggy conditions on the bayou, only to have the fog lift. This shot was taken looking downstream from the same high bank just upriver from a large tributary draining through the center of the boggy park. River Oaks Country Club property is on the right.
Science vs Engineers
Flood Control District and Scientific Experts In Opposite Corners
“You need to find some better experts.” — Former Harris County Flood Control District Director Mike Talbott to reporters for the Texas Tribune
Dec. 9, 2016
Excellent reporting from the Texas Tribune and PropPublica on the battle over what causes flooding in the Houston area and what to do about it. The Houston Press has also published an informative follow-up interview with the current director of the Flood Control District, Russ Poppe, after the recent retirement of Talbott.
Scientists say the fundamental problem is that Houstonians have assumed they can simply engineer their way out of flooding.
They can’t. And widening and deepening our bayous and streams is the wrong answer. We need to understand and work with nature. It’s cheaper, more effective, and better for us. Storm water needs to be absorbed, slowed down, and spread out before it reaches our streams.
Houston-area officials could work to preserve green space; strengthen regulation on development; plan for a changing climate; and work harder to remove the 140,000 homes that remain in the 100-year floodplain. …
As wetlands have been lost, the amount of impervious surface in Harris County increased by 25 percent from 1996 to 2011, [Sam] Brody [of Texas A&M Galveston] said. And there’s no way that engineering projects or flood control regulations have made up for that change, he said.
Between 2001 and 2005, his research found, the loss of flood-absorbing land along the Gulf of Mexico increased property damage from floods by about $6 million — much of that outside floodplains.
“There’s no doubt that the development … that we’re putting in these flood-prone areas is exacerbating flooding over time,” Brody said. “There’s a huge body of research out there beyond Houston, across the world” supporting that argument.
Research by [then Director Mike] Talbott’s own Harris County Flood Control District points to the effectiveness of prairie grass to absorb floodwater. ‘The restoration of one acre of prairie,’ a 2015 report by the district wrote, would offset the extra volume of runoff created by two acres of single-family homes or one acre of commercial property. (The district says that data is preliminary.)
But Talbott and his successor, Russ Poppe, don’t buy the research.
And then read the follow-up interview with Poppe, the current director of Flood Control, in The Houston Press.
Commissioner Radack Responds
“Buffalo Bayou Not a Natural River”
Supporting Costly Engineering to Slow the Flooding River. Spending Money to Stop the River Slowing For Free.
Nov. 30, 2016
Updated April 23, 2017 — The Harris County Flood Control District reports that repair costs through March 2017 are $1.25 million. Terry Hershey Park remains closed until construction work is complete.
Harris County Precinct Three Commissioner Steve Radack called to comment on our article criticizing unnecessarily costly and destructive “repairs” to the north bank of Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park. The six-mile long park is in Precinct Three in far west Houston and Commissioner Radack is the boss there.
Radack’s main point, apparently in support of needlessly spending an excessive amount of money, was that Buffalo Bayou is not a natural river. Because the bayou is not natural, it “does not naturally meander.”
For background: the naturally meandering bayou in Terry Hershey Park was stripped and straightened in the 1940s and ‘50s. Last spring high waters from record rains and extended high flows from the federal dams immediately upstream ate away at the bank in places and damaged the asphalt hike-and-bike trail on the north side. We pointed out that this had occurred where the old meanders or bends were. The bayou, we said, was seeking out its historic meanders, adjusting to the flow.
Our point was that it would make more sense, in accordance with the most advanced river management practices across the country and around the world, to move the asphalt trail slightly away from the very edge of the water and allow the river room to move and restore itself. This would be far cheaper, prettier and more natural, and healthier for the bayou, the beneficial trees and plants and creatures that grow there, and for the water flowing through it to the bay. Doing that rather than hardening the bank in an artificial straight line is also less likely to cause flooding and erosion downstream and less likely to require expensive repairs all over again. It’s also federal policy.
But according to Radack, this doesn’t matter, because Buffalo Bayou is not natural. It’s not natural because the Corps of Engineers “controls the flow.” The bayou “only has water in it,” Radack explained patiently, if the Corps opens the floodgates. “The water comes from the reservoir system.”
Therefore, according to Radack, the bayou is “not natural.”
Is that all true? Beg pardon, but no.
But here’s a puzzle: Radack supports spending tens of millions in public funds to carve up the banks and engineer some two dozen in-channel detention basins on the bayou in Terry Hershey Park. (See below.) But he opposes allowing the bayou to carve out for free its own detention by widening and restoring its old bends. Instead he approves spending taxpayer funds to keep the bayou from doing that.
Does that make sense? Seems contradictory to us.