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.

These trees and bushes are growing in an apparently natural swale serving as detention on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park. Photo June 9, 2018

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.

Stumps of trees cut in Terry Hershey Park on the south bank Buffalo Bayou opposite Turkey Creek. Parked boat likely being used by maintenance workers for Harris County Flood Control. Photo June 9, 2018

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.

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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.

Tom Helm, geologist, naturalist, canoe guide, and member of Save Buffalo Bayou board of directors.

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).

For more information visit the flood control district’s webpage. Meetings are also listed on Save Buffalo Bayou’s Calendar of Events.

Emma Richardson Cherry, Buffalo Bayou Flood Control, 1937. Oil on canvas. Private collection. Used with permission.

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.

  • The south-facing high bluff in the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, looking upstream with the River Oaks Country Club on the left. Photo May 28, 2018
  • The south-facing high bluff of the Hogg Bird Sanctuary from Buffalo Bayou. Photo May 28, 2018
  • The mouth of the Hogg tributary that drains from underneath Memorial Drive has shifted back upstream closer to where it had been over half a century ago. Here the recent mouth below a high bluff has been blocked with sediment after Harvey.
  • Looking downstream on Buffalo Bayou with the city-owned Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the left and River Oaks Country Club property on the right. Photo May 28, 2018
  • The River Oaks Country Club is still having problems with its bank on the golf course where the trees were cut down and replaced with mowed grass.
  • Egret flying on a meander of Buffalo Bayou at the downstream edge of Memorial Park in Houston. May 28, 2018
  • Wildlife tracks including beaver on the right in the bank of the meander at the eastern edge of Memorial Park. Photo May 28, 2018
  • Looking upstream on Buffalo Bayou near the eastern edge of Memorial Park. Park on the right, River Oaks Country Club property on the left. May 28, 2018
  • Paddling upstream on Buffalo Bayou with Memorial Park on the right. Photo May 28, 2018
  • Standing on the shore below that high bank looking upstream at the bend in the bayou. Maintenance contractors for Flood Control had cleared most of the woody debris from the bank. Natural Buffalo Bayou sandstone, somewhat more broken, extending into the channel. Photo May 28, 2018
  • Checking out the tributary that drains Memorial Park into the bayou. Plastic draping River Oaks Country Club denuded bank in the distance. Photo from the shore below the high bank in that bend in the river looking downstream.
  • Upright tree on north bank of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park recently cut by maintenance contractor for Harris County Flood Control District.
  • A group of trees recently cut on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou across from Memorial Park. Pile of material dredged from the channel dumped in the foreground.
  • Regrowth above riprap installed by country club in 2015 at the upstream edge of the golf course.
  • Telephone poles leaning on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou upstream from the River Oaks Country Club.
  • An example of how woody debris next to the bank collects sediment and rebuilds the bank. Flood Control maintenance contractors had not yet cleared this area. Photo May 28, 2018

And this slideshow documents some of the trees cut by the maintenance contractors.

  • Stump of an upright pine tree cut by maintenance contractors on the upper bank of Buffalo Bayou in the city-owned Hogg Bird Sanctuary. All photos on May 28, 2018
  • Stump of an upright tree recently cut, apparently by maintenance contractors, on the north bank of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park.
  • Another apparently upright tree cut on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou.
  • A group of trees recently cut on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou across from Memorial Park. Pile of material dredged from the channel dumped in the foreground.
  • Another tree cut on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou owned by the River Oaks Country Club, which apparently dumped concrete debris onto the bank in an effort to protect against erosion. Trees and their roots, including fallen trees, protect banks against erosion.
  • Stump of a sycamore, barely visible on left, recently cut among a group of sycamores on the bayou bank in Memorial Park.
  • Close up of the sycamore cut down on the bank in Memorial Park.
  • More stumps of trees cut down on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou. These trees, surrounded by concrete debris apparently dumped on the bank for protection against erosion, would have helped protect against erosion.
  • Upright tree on north bank of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park recently cut by maintenance contractor for Harris County Flood Control District.
  • More upright trees chopped by maintenance contractors on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou.
  • Another tree cut on the bank of Buffalo Bayou.

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.

A trackhoe on a barge stuck in the sandy channel bottom of Buffalo Bayou at that bend below the high bank in Memorial Park. Maintenance contractor with Flood Control was removing fallen trees from the banks and channel. Photo by SC, May 19, 2018

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.

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Flooding in SE Texas: The Science Behind the Floods

Hear What Scientists Have to Say About Flooding in the Region

June 1, 2018


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.

Registration is required.

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.

Downtown Houston from the Shepherd Bridge over Buffalo Bayou on Aug. 28, 2017


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.

Map of proposed projects to be funded with bond proceeds. Image courtesy of HCFCD

Tell Flood Control: No! Stop Destroying Forest on Buffalo Bayou

Stop Stormwater BEFORE It Floods the Bayou

Take the Survey

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.

Trail through the forest of Terry Hershey Park on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou in west Houston.


Planned detention basins in Terry Hershey Park on south bank of Buffalo Bayou. Project begins with Cell One. This plan is to compensate for MORE stormwater that the City plans to drain into the bayou. Image courtesy HCFCD

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

The 150-acre site of the former Pine Crest golf course on Gessner and Clay roads in west Houston. Culvert in upper right drains into Brickhouse Gully, which has one of the fastest rising streamflows in Texas. Google Earth image Oct. 28, 2017


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).

Read the rest of this post.

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.

Unauthorized wooden jump for mountain bikes has been removed from the edge of the high bank of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park and little trace remains. Photo April 15, 2018


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.

This small creek, a tributary of Buffalo Bayou draining from the center of Memorial Park, was also much changed by floodwaters of Harvey. Photo April 15, 2018


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.

Springtime on that Bend in the River, a high bank on Buffalo Bayou. Looking downstream from Memorial Park, River Oaks Country Club property on the opposite (south) bank. Photo by SC on April 15, 2018


And here is a photo looking upstream from the same high bank in Memorial Park.

Looking upstream on that Bend in the River from a high bank in Memorial Park. River Oaks Country Club property on the opposite bank. Photo by SC on April 15, 2018

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