Corps Reconsidering Flood Tunnels. Still Focused on Outdated Ideas

Over 1,200 People at Telephone Town Hall About Deepening, Widening Buffalo Bayou

Public Comment Deadline is Nov. 20

Nov. 16, 2020

The Corps of Engineers is “going back to look at tunnels” to move stormwater from west Houston that can no longer be handled by the federal flood control dams there, said Col. Timothy Vail, commander of the Galveston District, during a telephone town hall sponsored by 7th Congressional District Rep. Lizzie Fletcher.

The conference call Sunday evening drew over 1,200 people concerned about the Corps’ proposals for dealing with too much stormwater flowing too fast into the 70-year-old federal dams, Addicks and Barker, in western Harris County north and south of Interstate 10.

During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, stormwater runoff held back by the dams flooded properties built in and behind the reservoir pools. When stormwater threatened to spill around or over the top of the earthen dams, the Corps was forced to open the floodgates, flooding thousands of properties along Buffalo Bayou immediately downstream from the dams.

In an Interim Report on its $6 million Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Resiliency Study, the Corps proposed as one possible solution deepening Buffalo Bayou by almost 12 feet and widening it to some 230 feet for 22-24 miles from the dams to downtown Houston (actually to 1,500-feet below Montrose—about Stanford Street). This would be to accommodate a flow of 15,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).

In “areas of high erosion,” the Corps would use articulated concrete block to line the channel bottom and banks. However, articulated concrete block doesn’t work in Buffalo Bayou, where the primary type of bank collapse is vertical slumping. The weight of concrete block exacerbates slumping.

The Corps also suggested building a dam on Cypress Creek with a reservoir on 22,000 acres of the Katy Prairie to hold back floodwater overflowing the creek and draining south into Addicks Reservoir.

Buffalo Bayou looking upstream with Memorial Park on the right. Photo May 28, 2018, by SC


The Corps admits that deepening and widening the bayou would basically eliminate all aquatic life in the bayou, including the threatened Alligator Snapping Turtle. The report, released Oct. 2, does not explain how it would purchase the property to eliminate wide swaths of the largely privately-owned upper bank of the bayou, how it will handle the proliferation of concrete and steel erosion control structures, public and private landscaping, the natural sandstone in the channel bottom and banks, or what happens in downtown Houston when a flow of 15,000 cfs hits below the Sabine Bridge—or a storm surge coming the opposite way.

Currently at that level of flow, floodwater inundates the trails in Buffalo Bayou Park and begins creeping towards Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway. The upper channel in the park was about 120-150 feet wide, according to Google Earth, before the Harris County Flood Control District spent nearly $10 million in federal funds narrowing the channel and lining the banks with concrete riprap in the last year.

Extending the south bank into the channel in Buffalo Bayou Park downstream of the Waugh Bridge was part of $10 million bank repair project by the Harris County Flood Control District. Photo April 21, 2020, by SC

The dam and reservoir on Cypress Creek would inundate a large portion of the remaining Katy Prairie, much of it under conservation easement, and ruin the prairie’s natural ability to slow and absorb stormwater by killing off the vegetation. (pp. 175-176)

Better Options

Save Buffalo Bayou, with other environmental organizations, supports green, nature-based solutions at the regional, community and neighborhood levels.  We are opposed to deepening and widening Buffalo Bayou and a dam on Cypress Creek, which the Corps admits will likely only encourage more development and thus more stormwater runoff. (p. 175) (And once again place more people in harm’s way).

Deepening and widening streams increases flooding, among many other problems. Focusing on stopping and slowing stormwater, on managing flooding in place, is the modern, more effective, more practical approach. The Corps’ simultaneous Metropolitan Houston Regional Watershed Assessment was supposed to be looking at a more comprehensive approach to reducing flood risk, though the scope of the study seems to have changed since it was first funded. At a recent virtual meeting, Col. Vail said that regional assessment would be considered.

The Katy Prairie Conservancy, also opposed to deepening and widening the bayou and the reservoir on Cypress Creek, has proposed alternatives.

However, the Corps in its Interim Report said that nature-based alternatives had been “screened out.” (p. 6)

Read the rest of this post.

Killing the Alligator Snapping Turtles in Buffalo Bayou

(And Everything Else)

Appeal from the Turtle Survival Alliance

Nov. 12, 2020

Here’s a notice from the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) about the Corps of Engineers’ proposal to deepen and widen Buffalo Bayou for some 22-24 miles from the dams in west Houston to downtown:

“The Alligator Snapping Turtles of Houston, Texas, and their habitat, Buffalo Bayou, NEED YOUR HELP!

“A proposed project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) to reduce the impacts of flooding in the Greater Houston metropolitan area would not only significantly change the natural qualities of Buffalo Bayou, but also put its unique population of Alligator Snapping Turtles at risk of extirpation. This is particularly concerning to us at the Turtle Survival Alliance as the Alligator Snapping Turtle population inhabiting Buffalo Bayou is among the largest and most demographically robust populations in Texas, and of paramount conservation value to the species as a whole. We would know, it’s the focus of our long-term population study for this State Threatened species!”

The TSA, which has been studying the turtles in Buffalo Bayou since 2016, includes this quote from the Corps’ Interim Report on the project:

“It is fully anticipated that the existing population of Alligator Snapping Turtles would decline in the years during and following construction.”

The TSA believes that in a “best-case scenario” it would take approximately 100 years for the Alligator snappers to rebound from the Corps’ project.

Find out more from the TSA, which has written a formal letter to the Corps about the impact of the project. The nonprofit is also providing a document that can be downloaded and edited and sent to the Corps before the Nov. 20 deadline for public comments.


Eric Munscher of the Turtle Survival Alliance with Alligator Snapping Turtles on Buffalo Bayou.

Late Fall on that Bend in the Bayou

Jim Olive Returns

Nov. 12, 2020

We could say it was late fall by some calendar. If we actually had fall here in Houston, where the temperatures are still summerish, ten degrees above normal, and the leaves fall in the spring. Our devoted photographer, Jim Olive, has been exiled to the edge of the California desert where the temperatures until the end of October have been frequently over 100 degrees.

But recently he was able to return to take the Fall 2020 photograph of that Bend in the Bayou we’ve been documenting through the seasons for the last six years. Jim welcomed the relatively cool weather.

Just after sunrise we drove past the depressing monument that serves as the ugly new east entrance to Memorial Park on Memorial Drive. (And was not included in the 2015 Master Plan. p. 61) Apparently our beloved park is now a cemetery as well as a glorification of golf and wealthy developers, who now dominate management of the park.

Monument apparently announcing the death of Memorial Park at the east entrance to the park on Memorial Drive.

While the park at some 1400 acres is frequently touted as being almost twice the size of New York City’s Central Park, with the recent expansion of the golf course and related buildings and the felling of hundreds of trees, less than half of the land is actually the park that it was when it was gifted to the city nearly a century ago on the condition that it remain natural.

The private Memorial Park Conservancy is spending some $70 million in public and private funds cutting down massive, mature loblolly pines, among other great trees, to make way for their glamorous land bridges. Neighborhood residents report seeing fleeing wildlife hit by cars and desperately seeking shelter in backyards. However, the land bridge/tunnels are sure to attract magazine publicity and landscape architect awards, helping to promote the Uptown/Galleria district, which is now actually running development of the historic park.

The foot of a big loblolly pine on the bank of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park. Photo by SC Nov. 6, 2020

But for now the wild woods and trails on the south side near the bayou remain, despite efforts by the Conservancy to block public access. As the central entrance was closed for construction of the land bridges, we entered the park south of Memorial through the crowded, recently opened east gate on the Picnic Loop. We circled around the apparently no longer maintained picnic area with its moldy restrooms, boggy grass, and graceful clusters of oaks dripping with moss, wondering how many of these elegant trees will remain. According to the 2015 Master Plan, this area is to become a Pine-Hardwood Savannah. (p. 88)

We parked and made our way around the offensive fencing put up by the Conservancy to block hikers from using public trails through our public bayou woods that have been open for many decades. Trail users elsewhere in the park have expressed their displeasure with these arbitrary barricades.

Wooden railing and “No Entry” sign tossed into a ravine in Memorial Park. Photo SC Oct. 29, 2020

Stepping along the winding, narrow dirt path, we passed the 100-year-old cement remnants of sewer lines from Camp Logan, the World War II military training camp and hospital set up in the woods and prairie next to the bayou, part of which became Memorial Park. We’d once seen a huge rat snake coiled up in the pipes. And another time we encountered a beautiful coral snake slithering across the path here.

The huge log that once lay across the path has now completely disintegrated. And a rotting loblolly snag once inscribed with the name “Jesus” inside a heart has been cut down.

Despite the elaborate fencing and many signs warning this was not a trail, the soft footpath was clearly well used and even maintained. Mushrooms were growing. Animals burrowing.

Bottle garden next to the trail through the bayou woods. Photo SC Oct. 29, 2020

We reached our customary spot on the high bank. Part of the bank had collapsed, the face slumping down, the roots of plants sticking out. Some people think this is damage and we have to do something to fix it. Other people think this is a natural process, that the bayou can fix itself.

But hardening banks with concrete, for instance, can cause bank erosion elsewhere. It’s a good idea to observe Best Management Practices on riverbanks.

The bayou is naturally widening here, adjusting to increased flows. The river is much more visible and closer to the trail. Based on Google Earth, a rough estimate is that the top of the channel in April 2014 was around 109 feet from upper bank to upper bank. In Dec. 2019 from bank to bank the distance was approximately 150 feet.

The Corps of Engineers wants to widen the channel even further–to 230 feet, and dig the sandstone bottom nearly 12 feet deeper. Be sure to send in your comments about that before Nov. 20. We’ll have more insight for you soon.

Here is Jim’s beautiful fall photo of the bend and another photo looking upstream where the River Oaks Country Club has bulldozed the historic bank and trees and installed concrete and sheet pile, no doubt contributing to increased erosion of the banks in the park across the way.

Looking downstream on Buffalo Bayou from a high bank in Memorial Park with the River Oaks Country Club golf course opposite. Photo by Jim Olive, Nov. 6, 2020

Looking upstream from the same high bank showing roots holding slumped bank and natural sandstone in the stream. Photo by Jim Olive, Nov. 6, 2020

Send your thoughts, comments and concerns about Memorial Park and the Master Plan to

And be sure to check out the entire series of Jim’s amazing photographs of our living bayou, A Bend in the River.


Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries: Virtual Town Hall with Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Corps of Engineers Will Present Their Plan for Deepening, Widening Bayou from Dams to Downtown

Nov. 10, 2020

Congressmember Lizzie Fletcher will host a telephone town hall with the public and representatives of the Galveston District of the Corps of Engineers on Sunday, Nov. 15, starting at 7 p.m.

The Corps will explain their tentative proposal to deepen and widen some 22 miles of Buffalo Bayou from the dams in west Houston to downtown. The idea is to combine the deepening and widening with a dam and reservoir on Cypress Creek in order to deal with increasing stormwater flowing into and potentially overwhelming the 70-year-old earthen dams, Addicks and Barker in west Houston.

The Galveston District recently extended until Nov. 20 the deadline to comment on their lengthy and complicated solutions, which also include possibly buying out properties behind and below the normally-empty reservoirs.

Fletcher represents the 7th Congressional District, which includes Barker Dam and Reservoir and much of Buffalo Bayou and its surrounding neighborhoods through Houston to Shepherd Drive. Congress will ultimately make the final decision whether to approve and fund the Corps’ plans.

Here is how to sign up for the town hall.

Here is a link to the Corps of Engineers’ Interim Report on their Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Resiliency Study. Here is how to comment on the Corps’ tentative proposals contained in that interim report.

The Corps plans to have a final draft report and environmental impact statement by the late spring of next year. The public will also have an opportunity to comment then.

Local Green Film Festival Features Save Buffalo Bayou and Christmas Bay

Wild About Houston Film Festival, Nov. 18, 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Nov. 10, 2020

Two new videos feature the stunning photography of Jim Olive and two of the environmental causes he champions: Christmas Bay on the upper Texas coast and Houston’s Buffalo Bayou.

The two short films are part of the Wild About Houston film festival sponsored by the Citizens Environmental Coalition (CEC). The festival features short films about the natural environment, issues and activism in the Houston area.

Christmas Bay, Texas coast, photo by Jim Olive, as shown in Coastal Essence.

Olive’s inspiring film about Christmas Bay, Coastal Essence, is the opening film in the second night of the online festival, Nov. 18, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., which also features his film about Save Buffalo Bayou.

The first night of the film festival was Oct. 21. Here’s a link to watch those films.

Olive, a world-renowned photographer, is the founder and executive director of the Christmas Bay Foundation, a nonprofit established to protect and promote the Christmas Bay Estuarine System and its tributaries west of Galveston Bay. Located at the edge of the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, it is the most pristine bay system of the upper Texas coast and a vital part of the ecology of the Galveston Bay system.

Olive has been avidly documenting Buffalo Bayou since before the nonprofit, Save Buffalo Bayou, was established in 2014. The environmental advocacy organization was founded initially to prevent the razing and bulldozing of a stretch of the bayou flowing past Memorial Park, one of the last forested, publicly-accessible sections in the city. It now works to promote understanding of the benefits of naturally-functioning streams and modern, nature-based flood management.

Paddling at dawn on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Jim Olive

Olive has generously continued his support of Save Buffalo Bayou, capturing the wildlife and changing seasons on the bayou throughout the years. Preserving the natural functions and riparian areas of Buffalo Bayou is just one of many environmental causes Olive has promoted through his photography.

Jim Olive, photographing Buffalo Bayou. Photo by SC

Olive dedicated his film about Save Buffalo Bayou to the organization’s founding board president, Frank C. Smith Jr.

Wild About Houston Green Films

The popular film festival, entirely virtual this year, features short environmental films from the Greater Houston Area that “tell the story of local environmental issues, their champions and how you can make a difference.”

The audience will vote to determine which films will be shown along with others from around the world at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival on Tour, hosted by the CEC in January 2021.

A donation of any size to the CEC purchases a link to the virtual, live program and live chat session the evening of November 18, as well as the privilege of voting for films.

The CEC is also providing a free link to watch the film program at any time, on demand, but this does not include a vote for films.


Deadline Extended to Comment on Proposal to Deepen, Widen Buffalo Bayou

New Deadline Nov. 20. How to Comment.

Nov. 2, 2020

[Update: The Corps sent out an email notice at 5:15 p.m.]

[Incorrect and duplicate links about dredging updated. Sorry about that.]

The Corps of Engineers hadn’t exactly announced an extension of the deadline to comment on their controversial report proposing to strip, dredge, deepen, and widen Buffalo Bayou from the dams to downtown, among other ideas. But they did tell the Chronicle, which on Saturday, Oct. 31, included the information in an op-ed by members of Houston Stronger criticizing the report. Unfortunately, the Chronicle mixed up the date, describing Friday, Nov. 20, as a Tuesday, leading to further confusion.

But now, midday Monday, Nov. 2, with the official deadline looming this evening and after some prompting, the Galveston District of the Corps has changed the date on their webpage for the interim study. They also posted about it on Facebook.

So officially the new deadline for commenting on the Corps’ Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Interim Report is end of the day Nov. 20.

Note, however, that Col. Timothy Vail, Galveston District Commander of the Corps, stated in a virtual public meeting Oct. 26 that there would be “no cutoff,” and that the public should “keep those comments coming.”

Tentatively Selected Plans

The next stage in the process is for the Corps to complete a “draft feasibility report” and environmental impact statement and propose a “tentatively selected plan,” according to a graphic supplied by the Corps during public meetings.  The Corps expects to have this done and ready for further public comment by late next spring, according to statements made at their virtual public meeting. Ultimately it would be up to Congress to approve and fund the final recommended plans.

Short red line is the very approximate channel width of Buffalo Bayou just upstream from the Gessner Bridge: about 110-112 feet across the top of the bank. Longer red line is the proposed widening to 230 feet.

The interim report suggests deepening Buffalo Bayou by about 11 feet and widening the top of the channel to some 230 feet for some 22-24 miles from the federal dams to downtown Houston. For a very rough comparison, according to Google Earth, the top of the bayou channel from upper bank to bank at Gessner is about 110-112 feet across. Downstream in Memorial Park the top of the channel is about 220-230 feet. Far upstream just below the dams in Terry Hershey Park just below Wilcrest the top width is about 75 feet.

The Corps also proposes lining the bayou channel bottom and banks with articulated concrete block in areas of “high erosion.” However, articulated concrete block in Buffalo Bayou only worsens bank collapse.

In addition the Corps also proposes a dam on Cypress Creek and a 22,000-acre reservoir on the Katy Prairie. During heavy rains, Cypress Creek naturally overflows south across the prairie into Addicks Reservoir.

The Corps owns and operates the flood-control dams, Barker and Addicks, and during and after Harvey stormwater flow into the normally empty reservoir parks was so high and so fast the Corps was forced to open the floodgates, inundating properties on the straightened stretch of the bayou below the dams for some six miles to just below Beltway 8.

The proposed boundaries of a dam and reservoir on Cypress Creek in northwest Harris County. Image from the Galveston District, Corps of Engineers

A Better Solution

The problem is too much rain running off the impervious ground, through pipes, streams and creeks, and flowing too fast into reservoirs that are too small behind sinking, cracking earthen dams.

So why does Harris County Flood Control continue to spend public funds on projects to speed up the flow of stormwater into Addicks and Barker reservoirs? And why does the Corps propose doing the same by widening and deepening Cane Island Branch, a tributary of Buffalo Bayou upstream of Barker Reservoir? (p. 127)

Conveying stormwater to Galveston Bay as fast as possible is a “national value,” said Col. Vail at a recent virtual meeting, contradicting all current science about the futility of trying to do that.

(See also here and here and p. 50)

Vail didn’t explain (and neither does the interim report) what happens when that massive surge of fast-moving polluted stormwater racing out of Buffalo Bayou during major storms meets a potential tidal surge from the bay. Or what the impact on the bay would be from all that toxic freshwater (much of which would otherwise sink into, sit on, or drain slowly from the ground if it weren’t covered with impervious surface, like roads, buildings, parking lots, etc.).

Buffalo Bayou is tidal through downtown past the Shepherd Bridge. (p. 65) (See also this report on tides during Harvey.)

Oddly, the Corps refers to Buffalo Bayou as “naturalized,” as if it weren’t natural once. (p. 197)

We think the focus should be on managing flooding in place, on slowing, stopping, spreading out and soaking in rainwater before it floods our streams. Nature-based, green. Trees, prairies, wetlands, wooded parks, meandering natural streams; rain gardens, swales, vegetated ditches, porous surfaces, green roofs, etc. See our page of Books and Articles about Buffalo Bayou, Rivers, Flooding, and Nature for more information. See also the City of Houston’s Resilient Houston report and Harris County’s Harris Thrives resolution.

And maybe, if the issue is so pressing and vital, there ought to be a moratorium on new development out there until we figure it out. (p. 92)

Related posts:

Managing Flood Risks: What to Do? Interviews with Bob Freitag, lead author of Floodplain Management: A New Approach for a New Era and Susan Chadwick, President and Executive Director of Save Buffalo Bayou. Oct. 26, 2020

Pushback Against Deeply Flawed Plans for Buffalo Bayou, Katy Prairie, Oct. 22, 2020

Outrageous Plan to Deepen, Widen, Kill Buffalo Bayou, Oct. 13, 2020

Comments to the Corps from the Katy Prairie Conservancy on the Interim Report, Nov. 2, 2020

Katy Prairie Conservancy’s alternatives to the Corps’ Interim Report   


Costly, Collapsing Gray? Or Practical, Natural, Low-Budget Green?

Developing and Funding Local Strategies Against Flooding

Regional Flood Planning Group Has First Public Meeting Oct. 28, 9 a.m. to 12

[Updated with better links.]

Oct. 27, 2020

Newly created regional flood planning groups are an opportunity to prioritize green and nature-based flood mitigation strategies—capturing rainwater where it falls and reducing runoff—that will be adopted and funded by the State of Texas.

The recently appointed members of the flood planning groups representing the fifteen major Texas rivers and coastal basins are now beginning to have their first public meetings. Representing agricultural, environmental, industrial, commercial, public utility and other interests, they are tasked with coming up with recommendations to the Texas Water Development Board by January 2023.

San Jacinto Region 6

Most of the Houston region, including Harris, Montgomery, and Galveston counties as well as parts of Fort Bend, Waller, Grimes, San Jacinto, and Liberty counties are in San Jacinto Region 6. The San Jacinto region includes Buffalo Bayou and its tributaries, Cypress, Spring, and Clear creeks, and many other bayous and streams, including, of course, the San Jacinto River.

Here is a map of the flood planning regions.

The 12 voting members of San Jacinto Region 6 will have their first meeting Wednesday, Oct. 28, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Here is the agenda and how to attend that virtual public meeting and/or send in public comments.

If that link doesn’t work, try going to the Texas Water Development Board website and click on the links for the Public Notice and Meeting Materials for Region 6.

Voting Members of Region 6

The twelve voting members of the San Jacinto group include:

Elisa Macia Donovan, a board member of the Katy Prairie Conservancy, representing agricultural interests

Sarah Bernhardt, President and CEO of the Bayou Preservation Association, representing environmental interests

Paul E. Lock, manager of local government relations for Centerpoint Energy, representing electric generating utilities

Timothy Buscha, President of IDS Engineering, representing industries

Stephen Costello, Chief Recovery Officer for the City of Houston, former city council member, engineer and former president and current board member of Costello Inc., representing municipalities

Jenna Armstrong, President of the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce, representing small business

Gene Fisseler, owner of GP Fisseler Strategies and former director of public affairs for Apache Louisiana Minerals, representing the public

Alia Vinson, attorney, partner with Allen Boone Humphries Robinson, representing water authorities

Todd Burrer, vice president of Inframark and a board member of the West Houston Association, representing water utilities

As well as Russ Poppe, Executive Director of the Harris County Flood Control District, Alisa Max, Chief Operations Officer for the Harris County Engineering Department, and Matthew Barrett, division engineer with the San Jacinto River Authority.

Slow the flow!


A graph showing how slowing the flow of stormwater runoff reduces the peak water level of a stream. Courtesy of Slow the Flow.

Managing Flood Risk. What to Do?

Backwards Plans for Buffalo Bayou, Cypress Creek and Katy Prairie Prompt Discussion About Flooding and Smart Solutions

Virtual Public Meeting Happening Now!

Here’s How to Participate in the final Virtual Public Meeting Monday, Oct. 26, 1 to 3 p.m.

Here’s the Corps’ Draft Report

Here’s How to Send Comments to the Corps. Deadline Nov. 2!

Oct. 26, 2020

Earlier this month the Galveston District of the US Army Corps of Engineers took the unusual step of releasing an interim draft report detailing their ideas for dealing with the problem of too much stormwater flowing too fast into the cracking, sinking dams the Corps built on Buffalo Bayou and some of its tributaries.

The dams, Addicks and Barker, were built more than seventy years ago way out west of Houston, back when the Katy Prairie was mostly prairie and cow patties.

Since then development moved in and around the normally dry federal reservoirs, even into Barker reservoir. Rainstorms have become heavier and more frequent. Interstate Highway 10, passing between Addicks on the north and Barker on the south was built in the late 1960s. With the active support of the West Houston Association, the highway became the world’s widest freeway as it passes from Houston through Katy.

But building a bigger freeway only created more traffic and more congestion. (And more stormwater runoff.) And the same dynamic applies to the Corps’ proposal to widen and deepen Buffalo Bayou for some 22 miles from the dams to downtown: a bigger bayou will only attract more runoff and create more flooding. Deepening and widening the bayou is also supported by the West Houston Association.

In addition to buying out property above and below the dams, the Corps is proposing building a dam and 22,000-acre reservoir on Cypress Creek and the Katy Prairie. During storms, Cypress Creek overflows south across the prairie into Addicks reservoir, creating more pressure on the dam.

Discussing the Proposals and Alternatives

Independent journalist Sam Oser and Michael Gold of the Cypress Creek Ecological Restoration Project separately conducted interviews exploring the Corps’ proposals prompted by the disaster of Hurricane Harvey, the ideas behind them, and alternative approaches.

Michael Gold talks with Bob Freitag and Susan Chadwick, President and Executive Director of Save Buffalo Bayou on Oct. 22, 2020. Freitag is the lead author of Floodplain Management: A New Approach for a New Era and Director of the Institute for Hazards Mitigation Planning and Research at the University of Washington. Here’s the link to the podcast.

Michael Gold talks with Mary Anne Piacentini of the Katy Prairie Conservancy on Oct. 23, 2020, about the conservancy’s concerns and alternatives to the Corps’ proposals. Piacentini is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the conservancy. Here’s the link to that podcast.

Sam Oser talks with Susan Chadwick of Save Buffalo Bayou on Oct. 24, 2020.


Pushback Against Deeply Flawed Plans for Buffalo Bayou, Katy Prairie

Corps Seeking Comments, Alternatives

Here’s the Corps’ Draft Report

Here’s How to Participate in the Virtual Public Meetings Thursday, Oct. 22, 6 to 8 p.m. and Monday, Oct. 26, 1 to 3 p.m.

Here’s How to Send Comments to the Corps. Deadline Nov. 2!

Oct. 22, 2020

Seems that nobody likes the Corps of Engineers’ draft proposal for killing Buffalo Bayou. Not even the coalition of developers, car dealers, concrete makers, contractors, homebuilders, realtors and others that was pushing hard for it.

But then the vague draft report has many parts. It’s an initial stage in a $6 million attempt to figure out a solution to the disastrous flooding in and around Buffalo Bayou and its tributaries connected to the federal flood control dams during Harvey in 2017. The report looks at a future of increased heavy storms and increased development surrounding the sinking, cracking dams built by the Corps in the bayou’s upper watershed more than seventy years ago. (p. 13)

Besides deepening and widening Buffalo Bayou to an apparently uniform width of three-quarters of a football field, the proposals include building a dam on Cypress Creek and a 22,000-acre reservoir behind it. (p. 18) During heavy rains the creek overflows south across the prairie into one of the federal dams that, during Harvey, could not contain all the stormwater running into it.

The Corps of Engineers proposes lining the banks and channel of Buffalo Bayou with articulated concrete block in “areas of high erosion.” Here’s how well articulated concrete block works in Buffalo Bayou. Photo January 2018

Building the dam on Cypress Creek would probably encourage development on land that now floods, leading to more flood problems, the Corps admits. Another major drawback acknowledged by the Corps: the project would significantly degrade more than two-thirds of the remaining Katy Prairie, which serves to hold and slow stormwater. (p. 176)

Nevertheless, the Corps’ draft report is leaning towards building the dam and deepening and widening Buffalo Bayou, laying back the ancient high banks for some 22 miles from the dams to downtown. This would be done to accommodate a flow of some 15,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).

The idea also is to buyout property downstream on Buffalo Bayou that was inundated by the opening of the floodgates on the federal dams during Harvey in 2017, as well as possibly property upstream that flooded because they didn’t open the floodgates.

Flood stage in Buffalo Bayou differs upstream and downstream as the bayou channel naturally widens as it winds downstream. From the dams for some six miles downstream to West Beltway 8, the Corps in the 1950s straightened and narrowed the bayou, effectively reducing its capacity. According to the National Weather Service, flooding begins in this area when the US Geological Service gauge goes over 8,000 cfs. For the USGS gauge downstream at Piney Point, flooding begins around 7,500 cfs. At the Shepherd gauge closer to downtown Houston, flood stage is around 18,000 cfs.

However, the Corps, which needs to keep the reservoirs empty in order to be able to capture runoff from the next storm, operates the dams on the basis that property downstream will begin to flood when the Piney Point gauge goes over 4,000 cfs.

Total estimated cost for the dam and bayou “improvement” is upwards of $4 billion. (Correction Oct. 24: upwards of $7 billion. p. 144)

According to Brian Harper, chief of the Galveston District’s planning branch, the Corps in its cost benefit analysis did not put a financial value on the loss of environmental benefits and functions of the bayou or the prairie, which include cleansing polluted urban and agricultural runoff, not to mention the growing local (p. 105) and worldwide problem of biodiversity loss.

Misunderestimating Buffalo Bayou

The Corps would also line the bayou channel bottom and banks with articulated concrete block in areas of “high erosion,” whatever that means. Never mind that concrete block does not actually work in Buffalo Bayou. The Corps’ Project Delivery Team (PDT), most of whom are from Corps offices in other parts of the country, does not seem to be aware that bank instability in our bayou is mostly from slumping, sliding down vertically. This happens no matter the steepness of the slope. Adding the weight of concrete block, which is designed for erosion caused by horizontal flow, only increases the likelihood of collapse, according to our experts and common sense.

And would it be piling on too much to point out that the report is so sloppy that its cover photo of a flooded Buffalo Bayou in Buffalo Bayou Park between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive is misidentified as a flooded Interstate 10?

Read the rest of this post.

The Corps’s Interim Feasibility Report identifies this cover photo of a flooded Buffalo Bayou between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive as a “completely submerged Interstate 10 outside Houston, Texas, on August 26th, 2017.”

Bonus Bad News: Contractors with Flood Control Cut Large Tree Holding Bank Together in Buffalo Bayou Park

Oct. 13, 2020

A friend took these photos of contractors for Harris County Flood Control inexplicably cutting down part of a large holding the south bank together below the Rosemont Bridge in Buffalo Bayou Park yesterday, Oct. 12.

We await Flood Control’s explanation.

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