State of the Bayou
Downed Trees. New Channel. New Riprap. Washed Out Sidewalks, Beavers, and Turtles
But Some Banks Naturally Rebuilding
Does It Make Sense to Repair?
Sept. 1, 2016
Updated Sept. 11, 2016
You could not step twice into the same river. Heraclitus
We finally had a chance recently to float down beautiful Buffalo Bayou to see how things have changed. Our trip took us past Memorial Park in the middle of Houston. We also biked along the bayou through Terry Hershey Park far upstream in west Houston below the dams to see what was happening there.
The good news is that some of the high banks that had slumped in Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary during the Memorial Day 2015 flooding are naturally rebuilding.
The bad news is that the River Oaks Country Club has added more riprap to the south bank, hard armoring the bank with ugly, damaging concrete rubble, including where it should not be.
Nature’s Miraculous Way of Restoring. For Free.
Houston has had multiple record-breaking rains and flooding since the spring of 2015. When Buffalo Bayou overflows its high banks, as it did in the Memorial Day flood of 2015, the banks in places sometimes slump or slide away. This happens when the overflowing water seeps through the ground and saturates layers of sandy clay that liquefy, sometimes causing the bank to give way. Buffalo Bayou is 18,000 years old, and this has been happening for a very long time.
This natural tendency to slump is one reason why we think attempting to engineer these banks as proposed by the $6 million Memorial Park Demonstration Project won’t work. It’s also the reason why we think building and repeatedly repairing sidewalks at the bayou’s edge is wasteful and foolish.
Boxes for Bags on the Bayou
Boy Scout Eagle Project Provides Reusable Garbage Bags
Aug. 29, 2016
Houston Boy Scout Saswat Pati, a member of Sam Houston Area Council Troop 55, has built and installed wooden boxes to distribute reusable mesh bags for collecting trash on Buffalo Bayou and Spring Creek.
The project is part of a statewide project started by the Nueces River Authority called Up2U. Pati, a sophomore at St. John’s School in Houston, planned and executed the garbage bag project on Buffalo Bayou as part of his service requirement for obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout.
The wooden boxes have now been installed at four locations, including two on the 26-mile long Buffalo Bayou Paddling Trail established by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which is the official beneficiary of the service project. The two Buffalo Bayou locations are Briar Bend and Woodway.
Officials with Harris County Precinct 3 refused to allow Pati to install boxes at the four Paddling Trail boat launches in Terry Hershey Park. In fact, county maps of Terry Hershey Park do not show any boat launches in the park.
Terry Hershey Park, named for conservationist and bayou preservationist Terry Hershey, is in Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack’s Precinct 3.
However, in cooperation with the excellent Bayou Land Conservancy, Commissioner Jack Cagle did allow Pati’s garbage bag boxes to be installed at two locations on Spring Creek in Precinct 4. Those two locations are Pundt Park and the Jesse H. Jones Park and Nature Center. Precinct 4 also includes Buffalo Bayou as it flows past Memorial Park.
“With these Up2U bags, people will be able to clean up the river while they paddle,” Pati wrote in a letter to Save Buffalo Bayou, which contributed to the project. “Users will make their own impact on the river. By doing this, I hope to increase the awareness of the condition of Houston’s bayous and to equip all people to fix it.”
A Siege of Herons and a Skewer of Egrets
Highrise Homes for Young Families, Easy Access to Fish
May 22, 2016
The normally silent, spreading crowns of the live oaks along North and South Boulevards in Houston have been turned into noisy rookeries these past few weeks as yellow-crowned night herons and great egrets moved in to build nests and start families. The same densely-populated housing developments have no doubt been built all over the city in shady trees with relatively close access to nearby bayous and creeks for food. In this case, the parents appear to be bringing home fish and other edibles from Brays Bayou.
The noisy bird activity (squawks and kraks and lots of fluttering) has also drawn out bird watchers and photographers, including Allison Zapata, who’s been posting her photos on her website and on Twitter. She took the following photo of a juvenile yellow-crowned night heron and sent it to us.
Houston is on the Central Flyway for migrating birds. Yellow-crowned night herons and great egrets reside in the Houston area year-round. But Allison, who’s been watching these birds, said they were are on their way to somewhere and would be back again in the fall.
Crazy Widespread Disappearance of Wetlands around Houston
Wetlands in Buffalo Bayou Threatened Too
Aug. 3, 2015
The Army Corps of Engineers is not keeping track of whether developers are replacing tens of thousands of acres of wetlands lost to development in the Houston region as required by law.
Wetlands, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, “are part of the foundation of our nation’s water resources and are vital to the health of waterways and communities that are downstream. Wetlands feed downstream waters, trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution, and provide fish and wildlife habitat.”
Under the federal Clean Water Act, the Corps of Engineers is charged with protecting our wetlands.
A study by the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), reported by the Houston Chronicle Friday, July 31, 2015, found that “more than 38,000 acres of wetlands vanished in greater Houston over the past two decades despite a federal policy that ‘no net loss’ can be caused by encroaching development.”
Immutable Plan. Invisible Rocks.
“Revised” plan to destroy Buffalo Bayou not really “revised” at all.
Project manager says no significant changes to much criticized original plan.
No sandstone in project area, says flood control, contradicting itself.
June 3, 2015
Despite the hundreds of comments criticizing the purpose, methods, impact, cost, benefit, and harm of Harris County Flood Control District’s proposed “erosion control” project on Buffalo Bayou in and around Memorial Park, the district has made no significant changes to the plans recently re-submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Jason Krahn, project manager for the controversial Memorial Park Demonstration Project, told Dianna Wray of the Houston Press that the district was “simply following the guidelines” and that there were “no significant changes” to the original project plan.
Indeed, many of the “revised” plan sheets posted by the Army Corps of Engineers on its website appear to have been simply relabeled with new dates, though there are some with new details.
The public has until June 5 to send comments to the Corps about the district’s “revised” permit application and the district’s responses to previous comments. There is no limit on the number of comments one can make. So if you’ve already made a comment, make another!
The TIRZ, Parks, and the Texas Constitution
Feb. 27, 2015
Here’s the report from the Feb. 25, 2015, Uptown TIRZ 16 board meeting about when the once-a-boat launch on Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park at Woodway might be reopened.
Please note that Texas constitution guarantees the right of the people to access navigable waterways through public land.
The fenced-off Parks and Wildlife Paddling Trail takeout, referred to by the TIRZ as the “Woodway outfall,” is in need of a guardrail above a steep drop-off, parking reserved for the handicapped, and a gate that allows the park area to be closed at night, according to Sarah Newbery, the TIRZ 16 project director for Memorial Park.
The bayou access point on public land west of Loop 610 has been surrounded by a locked, curtained fence and closed to the public without explanation for almost a year since construction and landscaping were completed on the $1.36 million “erosion control” and drainage improvement project. The larger park area, known as the Old Archery Range, has been closed without explanation for nearly a decade.
The Houston Parks and Recreation Department is reviewing plans for the guardrail, parking, and permanent access gate for the former boat launch, Newbery told the board members meeting on the seventeenth floor of 1980 Post Oak in the Galleria. The TIRZ expects to send the plans out to bids in April and to finish construction by August, Newbery reported.
There will be a sign on the site by next week explaining all this to the public, said Newbery.
But why should the public not have access to the bayou through the park now, since there appears to be no legal or even safety reason why this part of the park should not be open in the meantime? The parks department could erect a temporary guardrail above any drop-off it deems dangerous, as it has done in Buffalo Bayou Park. There’s already a gate and a parking lot.
Update On the Not-A-Boat Launch In Memorial Park at Woodway
Feb. 9, 2015
Rumors have been flying across the concrete prairie and through the riparian woods of Buffalo Bayou that what was once a popular boat launch in Memorial Park at Woodway will be opened again to the public maybe by March or April.
And while we have determined that there is not actually a definite plan yet for opening the once-a-boat-launch, we can confirm that there may be some plans eventually to possibly appropriate some money to build handrails for safety and handicapped access, a proper parking lot, and some other stuff that city officials claim are required to make the longtime, popular no-longer-a boat-launch safe again for the public.
The Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) 16, which in 2013 expanded to include Memorial Park, will consider funding the improvements “required to open the area as a public access point to the bayou,” Sarah Newbery, Memorial Park project director for the TIRZ 16, said in an email. This budget decision will happen at the next board of directors meeting on February 25, 2015, at 3:30 p.m. in Suite 1700, 1980 Post Oak Boulevard, said Newbery.
Why an unelected semi-private entity controls our public park, we don’t know. But the Uptown TIRZ meeting notices and agenda are posted 72 hours prior to the meeting at the Houston City Hall Public Bulletin Board, at the rear entrance of the City Hall Annex, 900 Bagby. So go downtown and park and find the bulletin board and look on it to see what’s on the agenda. There does not seem to be an online notice.
We can tell you that the Uptown TIRZ 16 2015-2019 Capital Improvement Plan includes nothing for the Woodway “drainage/erosion control” project, not even for maintenance, which is a constant problem, since the badly designed (AECOM) outfall collects mud. However, the TIRZ 16 2015 CIP budget includes $9.5 million for “Memorial Park/Buffalo Bayou.”
Update on the Plan to Bulldoze the Riparian Zone, Dredge, and Channelize Wild Buffalo Bayou
Feb. 8, 2015
The Army Corps of Engineers reports that it is continuing to supply the Harris County Flood Control District with their comments on the Flood Control District’s responses to the public comments on the district’s application for a federal permit.
Dwayne Johnson, regulatory project manager for the Galveston District office of the Corps, wrote in an email to Save Buffalo Bayou on Jan. 20, 2015, that the Corps expects to have a response and a possible new Public Notice about the permit application within thirty to sixty days. The new Public Notice would request new public comments only on the changes to the project plans made since the original Public Notice last April, said Johnson.
A federal Clean Water Act permit is required for the project because it will dredge and fill navigable waters of the United States. The Corps is responsible for that. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality must certify that the Corps’ permit meets Texas Surface Water Quality Standards. The Environmental Protection Agency also has the authority under the Clean Water Act to overrule a federal permit, although the EPA has rarely done that.
In addition, the Houston City Council, as the governing body for Memorial Park, must give public notice, hold a hearing, and vote on whether the project is a proper use or taking of public parkland under Ch. 26 of the state Parks and Wildlife Code.
Memorial Park has some protection from the deeds establishing the park. The Hogg Family, which sold the parkland to the city at cost in the early 1920s, set up the multiple deeds so that ownership of the park reverts to their heirs if the land is used for other than park purposes. These reversionary rights have been left to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.
Plus, the City of Houston Floodplain Management Office must issue a development permit for the project because it involves construction activity within a city floodplain.
Parks Department: Take Down That Fence
When is a Public Boat Launch Not a Public Boat Launch?
Nov. 6, 2014
A boat launch is no longer a boat launch after the City spends $1.3 million designing, building, and landscaping it and doesn’t include access for the people and their boats.
That’s the explanation from representatives of the parks department and the Uptown TIRZ 16 for why the once-popular official Parks and Wildlife boat launch at Woodway in our Memorial Park remains fenced-off and closed to the public more than six months after it was transformed into a massive drainage outfall.
Coincidentally, being able to put in at Woodway allows the public to float down Buffalo Bayou through the historic natural area that the City and County want to obliterate. That nearly 1.5-mile stretch of the river further downstream is one of the last remaining wild reaches of our 18,000-year-old mother bayou. So keeping the put-in closed makes it more difficult for people to see the majestic very old cliffs, lovely forested banks, and sandy beaches of this little known wilderness area that will be destroyed.
Officially it’s not a boat launch at all, which is why it is closed, although it might be a boat launch again sometime in the future, according to Rick Dewees, assistant parks department director in charge of Memorial Park, and Sarah Newbery, the Uptown TIRZ 16 project director for the Memorial Park Master Plan. The Uptown TIRZ 16 financed the project at Woodway with taxpayer funds.
But wait, what’s that gently sloping, winding paved ramp leading down to the water?
That’s not for people; that’s only for maintenance trucks, said Dewees. Newbery agreed.
Update on Our Campaign to Save the Last Natural Stretch of Buffalo Bayou in Houston
Oct. 5, 2014
Where are we now and what should you do?
The Harris County Flood Control District has applied for a permit to bulldoze most of the riparian forest and vegetation along both banks of more a mile of the last remaining stretch of natural Buffalo Bayou in the city. This is our bayou as it passes by Memorial Park. Also targeted are the tributary and high bluffs of the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, as well as other ancient cliffs and prehistoric sandstone used in the past as water crossings by buffalo and people. The project would excavate, fill, grade, and artificially rebuild the banks; dredge, deepen, and reroute the bayou channel, damming tributaries. Hundreds of trees will be cut down, many of them riparian species too small or too young to be counted by the district’s inappropriate tree survey. The shading tree canopy will be removed (project proponents claim there is no tree canopy!); the water temperature increased. The soil, packed with protective, binding roots small and large, will be dug up, tossed around, and compacted by heavy equipment. Wetlands and lovely sandy beaches will be obliterated along with the colonizing and stabilizing plants that have taken root there, a crucial stage of the natural process of building the riparian buffer so important to water quality, flood and erosion control.
All of this and more violates best management practices for riparian zones. It will destroy the bayou’s ecosystem. And this is a project developed and promoted by the Bayou Preservation Association, supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy.
Timelines Are Difficult to Predict — Updated Oct. 30, 2014
The Harris County Flood Control District has responded to the public comments sent to the Army Corps of Engineers during the public comment period, which ended June 30. The district has posted its responses on its website, and you can read them here. (Caution: big pdf.)