Flooding on Buffalo Bayou

The View from Above with Photographer Jim Olive

April 19, 2016

Photographer Jim Olive took these shots from the air over Buffalo Bayou yesterday (Monday, April 18, 2016) following the extraordinary amount of rainfall that fell mainly on the far west side of town.

These photos show Buffalo Bayou as it flows past Memorial Park and the River Oaks Country Club as well as the confluence of White Oak Bayou and Buffalo Bayou downtown.

Buffalo Bayou flows from the Katy Prairie in west Houston through the center of the city through the Houston Ship Channel into Galveston Bay.

  • Looking east towards downtown with Memorial Park on the left, River Oaks Country Club golf course on the right. Photo April 18, 2016 by Jim Olive
  • Buffalo Bayou, April 18, 2016, with Memorial Park on the lower frame and River Oaks Country Club golf course above. Photo by Jim Olive
  • Looking north over Buffalo Bayou. River Oaks Country Club golf course on the south bank. Photo by Jim Olive
  • The confluence of White Oak and Buffalo bayous in downtown Houston on the afternoon of April 18, 2016. Photo by Jim Olive

 

 

 

 

Out on the Bayou with the Boy Scouts

Documenting Wildlife Tracks and Weird Nature Stuff

April 6, 2016

We went out with Paul Hung and his band of intrepid Boy Scouts last week to document wildlife tracks on the banks of Buffalo Bayou.

We saw a lot of interesting things, including footprints of mysterious creatures behaving in puzzling ways, some strange yellow liquid, and flying seat cushions nesting in the trees.

This was the second outing for Paul and his teen-aged colleagues from Boy Scout Troop 55, Sam Houston Area Council. For his Eagle Scout Service Project, Paul proposed documenting the wildlife on the bayou as it flows along the southern edge of Memorial Park. Save Buffalo Bayou is the beneficiary, and we hope to publish Paul’s results as a pamphlet.

Fortunately the flow was very low, less than 200 cubic feet per second, which is about base flow in the bayou when it hasn’t been raining. The Army Corps of Engineers assured us in advance that the reservoirs in the dams upstream were empty, and barring any unforeseen weather event, the water would be low enough for us to see plenty of activity on the mud and sand of the banks. Which we did.

Paul was well organized. He handed out clipboards, small rulers, and post-it notes, and instructed his fellow scouts to use these with the GPS app on their cell phones to take photos and number and record the size of tracks. The group was divided into pairs in canoes. A few adults went along too, including Richard Hung, father of Paul, and Troop 55 Assistant Scoutmaster Janice Van Dyke Walden.

 

From left to right: Janice Walden, Richard Hung, and Troop 55 Boy Scouts Paul Hung, Andrew Hung, Nicolas Dinius, Chance Coleman, Jackson Douglas, Kendall Barnes, and Joseph Hlavinka at the Woodway Boat Launch in Memorial Park. Photo by Jim Olive on April 2, 2016

From left to right: Janice Walden, Richard Hung, and Troop 55 Boy Scouts Paul Hung, Andrew Hung, Nicolas Dinius, Chance Coleman, Jackson Douglas, Kendall Barnes, and Joseph Hlavinka at the Woodway Boat Launch in Memorial Park. Photo by Jim Olive on April 2, 2016

Tracks Everywhere

There were tracks everywhere. Creatures crawling, slithering, hopping and tiptoeing across the sand, burrowing, strolling, turning about and flying away; digging holes, chasing each other, stepping and sliding in and out of the water.

Read the rest of this story.

How Old Is Buffalo Bayou? Where Does It Come From?

Geology Lessons on the Bayou

March 27, 2016

Want to learn about the geology and natural history of Buffalo Bayou?

Save Buffalo Bayou is partnering with professional geologist Tom Helm, who also happens to be an outstanding naturalist and river guide, to offer floating classes on the geology of our 18,000-year-old mother bayou.

Paddle with Tom on a two-hour canoe trip down Buffalo Bayou and see some of our Pleistocene natural history right here in the middle of Houston. Learn all about the formation of the bluffs and sandstone rocks during the last ice age. See examples of depositional environments and fluvial processes. Find out why the banks are sandy and how sand moves downstream, why the river looks the way it does, and much more.

Geologist Tom Helm explaining 500,000-year-old sandstone on Buffalo Bayou.

Geologist Tom Helm explaining 500,000-year-old sandstone on Buffalo Bayou. Photo taken March 18, 2016

Where, When, Cost

The classes start at the Woodway boat launch in Memorial Park and float past the park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, through the historic natural area targeted for destruction by the Harris County Flood Control District. Multiple stops will be made along the way to examine features of interest.

The schedule depends on class size. One to four persons can be scheduled any day of the week, usually with no more than 48 hours’ notice. Groups larger than four persons (up to 30 persons maximum) are accepted only on weekends. These larger weekend groups need to schedule at least one month in advance.

Cost is $50 per person, which includes canoe and equipment, and light refreshments at the end. Discounts are available for academic faculty and students.

Note that the classes will be not take place if the flow of Buffalo Bayou is greater than 300 cubic feet per second (as measured by the Piney Point USGS gauge). At water levels above this, the sandstones are mostly obscured. If a trip is cancelled due to high water, students have the option of rescheduling or receiving a full refund.

For more information, contact Tom Helm.

Some Things We Learned Already: Why Mud Stinks

We floated with Tom recently for a preview of the geology class. Among the things we learned is why some of the mud stinks. The mud and the sand are filled with layers of organic matter, leaves mostly, and as the organic matter decomposes, it smells like … decomposing stuff. But it also builds soil for future vegetation. This process produces the mysterious oily sheen that you see floating on top of the mud sometimes.

We also learned to tell mud from sand from silt. (Hint: it’s a matter of the size of the grains.) Tom showed us how geologists rub the mud between their thumb and fingers to feel the size of the grains.

We studied the patterns in the sand, watched the grains of sand moving in the water, and learned about eddies and sediment deposition and transport. We saw a lot of animal tracks.

We learned to put the constantly changing bayou in the context of its natural process.

In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.
Rachel Carson

Reminder: The Threat is Still Alive

Operation Save Buffalo Bayou II

March 14, 2016

Okay, so we harshed the mood a little with our small, silent reminders that regatta contestants were paddling through a historic natural area still threatened with destruction.

“Thanks for polluting my day,” yelled one paddler in the crowd of hundreds of Buffalo Bayou boaters playing loud music and stopping to pee in the woods. We were watching from the sandy bank of the lovely middle meander, forested with young willows and box elder that would all be cut down, the meander filled, graded, and planted with grass.

The event was the 44th Annual Buffalo Bayou Regatta on Saturday, March 12. And once again we hung our beautiful Save Buffalo Bayou banner (Night Heron by Houston artist Frank X. Tolbert 2) from the railroad bridge and set out small white signs alerting participants to the fact that the wild stretch they were passing through would all be bulldozed under a plan proposed by the Harris County Flood Control District and the Bayou Preservation Association (BPA).

Save Buffalo Bayou banner hanging from the railroad trestle crossing Buffalo Bayou from Memorial Park. Photo March 12, 2016, by Richard Hyde.

Save Buffalo Bayou banner hanging from the railroad trestle crossing Buffalo Bayou from Memorial Park. Photo March 12, 2016, by Richard Hyde.

The project, known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, demonstrates exactly the wrong thing to do. (See Buffalo Bayou Park and Fonteno Park.) It would raze most of the trees and vegetation along more than 1.25 miles of the 18,000-year-old bayou as it passes by Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary. These trees and vegetation and even the sand are part of the riparian zone, essentially wetlands, that hold the banks together, cleanse and filter the water, slow and absorb storm runoff, provide wildlife habitat, among many other important ecological functions. The $6 million “natural channel design” project, financed with $4 million in county and city taxpayer funds, would dredge and reroute the bayou and plug tributaries, obliterate ancient cliffs, destroy 250,000-year-old sandstone formations, and fill in our lovely meander (a natural detention area). Killing the bayou’s ecosystem in the name of “restoration.” And landscape design.

And no, contrary to rumors, the project, although holding its breath, is not dead. The Army Corps of Engineers is still deciding whether to issue a permit for the project, which is otherwise a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

The Bayou Preservation Association first formulated the plan for the project in private meetings in 2010 and  former BPA president Kevin Shanley, then a principal with the landscape architecture firm SWA Group, was the primary promoter. SWA Group is the design firm that is also responsible for the landscape design of Buffalo Bayou Park downstream east of Shepherd.

So this is why we had signs up warning of landscapers lurking. In Buffalo Bayou Park downstream, we set out a few signs pointing out that landscaping has washed away (several times actually) and that removal of vegetation has caused erosion problems, and that repairs were $$$$ (paid with City funds). Yes, we were bad! Those signs did not last long, however.

Educational signs posted on expensive repairs to eroding banks that previously had been "stabilized" by the Harris County Flood Control District in Buffalo Bayou Park. Photo March 12, 2016, by AC Conrad.

Educational signs posted on expensive repairs to eroding banks that previously had been “stabilized” by the Harris County Flood Control District in Buffalo Bayou Park. Photo March 12, 2016, by AC Conrad.

Upstream around Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary our signs pointed out where beavers live, where banks were being naturally rebuilt by the bayou, and the Pleistocene bluffs that would be graded into a slope. Interestingly, the bayou, during and after the Memorial Day flood in 2015, has already graded the lower banks of those steep bluffs into a slope.

The River Oaks Country Club is theoretically a one-third partner in the demonstration project and owns the entire south half of the project reach. But in the meantime the club in two places has armored its banks with ugly concrete riprap, one of the most environmentally destructive methods of erosion control (pdf), and also, we allege, in this case illegal, as we contend that much of the riprap was placed in public waters, also a violation of the Clean Water Act.

The club, unfortunately, is having erosion problems on its high banks in those places because it cut down a lot of trees and extended the mowed and watered grass of its golf course up to the edge of the banks.

We put out signs pointing out that riprap damages the ecosystem and is part of the problem, not the solution.

But we’re glad people had fun, enjoyed the bayou, and picked up some of trash.

Maybe they’ll think about the future of the bayou.

And special thanks to river guide Tom Helm and to Richard Hyde for extra long duty putting out and picking up our banner and picking up our signs.

Support Your Forest on Buffalo Bayou

Annual District G Meeting with City Officials Thursday, March 3

March 2, 2016

Citizens concerned about our forests on Buffalo Bayou will want to attend the annual District G Capital Improvement Plan meeting tomorrow evening, March 3, 2016. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Stratford High School Auditorium, 14555 Fern Drive, and features the district’s new city council member, Greg Travis, who was elected to City Council District G last November.

Capital Improvement Plan meetings “afford citizens an opportunity to learn, voice their concerns and address their respective City Council Members and City of Houston officials regarding project planning and delivery,” according to a statement on Travis’ website.

District G extends along Buffalo Bayou from Shepherd Drive to Barker Reservoir in far west Houston.

Members of Save Our Forest, which was successful last year in persuading the City of Houston to drop its plan to raze forest in Terry Hershey Park for a stormwater detention basin, are urging citizens to “show your support for the forest to our new City of Houston administration.”

“We now have a new city council representative, a new mayor and a new [Public Works and Engineering] director since we began our campaign to Save Our Forest,” wrote community activist George Crosby in an email. “It is important that they know how much you care about Buffalo Bayou.

The banks of Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park in West Houston. Straightened and channelized by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1940s to speed storm waters, the bayou has since restored itself but remains threatened by public projects to slow storm waters.

The banks of Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park in West Houston. Straightened and channelized by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1940s to speed storm waters, the bayou has since restored itself but remains threatened by public projects to build detention basins.

Detention Alternatives Without Destroying Forests

“Last year there were two major rainfall events which caused structural flooding in Houston.  Regional detention alternatives that can reduce local flooding without having to destroy the forested areas of Buffalo Bayou are not happening. Cooperation between the City, County and Federal governments is required for a successful regional detention initiative.

“A cooperative inter-governmental effort begins with the City of Houston understanding our support for this approach.  Please help us give emphasis to Save Our Forest,“ wrote Crosby.

The public forests of Buffalo Bayou are still threatened by a Harris County Flood Control District plan to build some 24 detention basins on both banks of Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park.

The flood control district is also waiting for a federal permit to raze the forest along more than 1.25 miles of one of the last natural stretches of the bayou as it flows past Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary.

It makes no scientific sense to destroy forests to create detention basins. Forests provide valuable natural detention by slowing, absorbing, and deflecting rainwater, in addition to many other valuable ecological services, including cleansing and filtering the water and protecting against erosion.

In October of 2015, the Obama administration issued an executive order directing all federal agencies to incorporate the value of ecosystem services in their decision-making.

In addition, the Harris County Flood Control District is obligated by state law to conserve forests. (PDF. See page 6.)

 

 

 

Update on the Beaver

We Tried to Find Out

Feb. 13, 2016

Many people were concerned about the mysterious death of the beaver on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou opposite the Arboretum.

The beaver’s corpse was discovered Saturday, Jan. 30, by a group of Boy Scouts documenting wildlife on the bayou as it passes by Memorial Park, an area threatened by a project proposed by the Harris County Flood Control District and promoted by the Bayou Preservation Association. The project, known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, would destroy much of the wildlife habitat along some 1.25 miles of the bayou as it passes by the park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary. The Army Corps of Engineers is currently considering whether to issue a permit for this project, which would otherwise be prohibited under the federal Clean Water Act.

Yes, there are beavers on Buffalo Bayou, and yes, animals do die. We mourn the loss of any creature. But the circumstances of the death of this beaver, which looked otherwise young and healthy, was puzzling, and there was good reason to try to identify the cause. So several days later, we tried.

An anonymous friend generously offered to pay for a necropsy of the beaver. We contacted a veterinarian who was ready to perform it.  Where to store the body? Someone volunteered her freezer. Another member of our team went out of his way to climb down the banks and locate the beaver’s corpse using GPS coordinates. By chance a veterinarian happened to be in the vicinity, as the area was near an animal clinic on West Loop 610.

Alas, the corpse was too far gone for a necropsy.

One of our naturalist experts said that while beavers do have accidents (chopping down a tree that falls on top of them, for instance) he agreed that the strange place and position of the beaver was suspicious. He suggested that though there were no obvious signs of trauma when discovered,  the beaver might have been shot and tossed. A small caliber bullet hole might not be noticed, he pointed out.

Thus ends the tale of the beaver body on Buffalo Bayou.

Beaver discovered dead by Boy Scouts and guides on Buffalo Bayou, Jan. 30, 2016

Beaver discovered dead by Boy Scouts and guides on Buffalo Bayou, Jan. 30, 2016

 

Sad News

A Beaver Has Died

Boy Scouts Documenting Wildlife on Buffalo Bayou Make Unexpected Find

February 2, 2016

 

A beaver dead of unknown causes on the sandy bank of Buffalo Bayou just east of Loop 610. Photo taken Jan. 30, 2016

A beaver dead of unknown causes on the sandy bank of Buffalo Bayou just east of Loop 610. Tool in front of nose for scale is four inches long. Photo taken  Jan. 30, 2016

A group of Boy Scouts researching wildlife on Buffalo Bayou came across a sad scene on a sandy bank opposite the Arboretum last Saturday, Jan. 30.

Paul Hung is a fifteen-year-old Boy Scout from Bellaire who is working with Save Buffalo Bayou on a project to inventory the wildlife on the 18,000-year-old bayou as it flows past the Arboretum, Memorial Park, and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary. The project is Paul’s Eagle Scout Service project, and he had organized a group of six Boy Scouts with Troop 55, Sam Houston Area Council, to float down the bayou looking for and photographing wildlife tracks on the sandy banks. Paul had carefully organized his float trip, checking first to see that the water level was low enough to see the banks, and accompanied by several adults, the group put in at the recently re-opened boat launch in Memorial Park at Woodway west of Loop 610, a wooded area known as the Old Archery Range.

Boy scouts and guides putting in at the Memorial Park Woodway boat launch Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016

Boy scouts and guides putting in at the Memorial Park Woodway boat launch Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016

The group floated round a bend and another, passing under the West Loop 610 bridge, working in pairs in canoes to identify and photograph tracks and record their locations. But on a sandy south bank below a high-rise parking lot, the group encountered something surprising: the corpse of what appeared to be an otherwise healthy beaver.

According to witnesses, the deceased beaver showed no signs of trauma and there were no tracks surrounding the beaver’s final resting place in the sand, which was near an area of willows known for beaver activity.

Deceased beaver on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Paul Hung, Jan. 30, 2016

Deceased beaver on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Paul Hung, Jan. 30, 2016

Otherwise, he and his fellow scouts had a “great trip,” reports Paul. They saw an “amazing” amount of wildlife.

“I was surprised by how many animal tracks we found on the Bayou,” he writes in an email.  “My partner and I alone found over 30 tracks. We saw Great Blue Heron, Coyote, Turtle, Raccoon, Beaver, and Great White Egret evidence.

“This gives us a better appreciation of the Bayou, because it is right in the middle of Houston. This is the first of many expeditions on the Bayou. It will take 6 to 8 months to complete [the wildlife inventory], and I hope this will be helpful for Bayou education.”

Save Buffalo Bayou and Paul plan to publish the results of his Eagle Scout Service project as a pamphlet in order to educate the public about the abundance of wildlife living on Buffalo Bayou.

 

 

 

 

A Bend in the River

Photographs of Buffalo Bayou through the Seasons

Dec. 23, 2015

These lovely photographs document the changes in the seasons on Buffalo Bayou, and in the dynamic river itself. Taken (with one exception) by Houston photographer Jim Olive, they were shot from the same high bank in Memorial Park looking downstream with the River Oaks Country Club on the right. This bend in the bayou is in the stretch proposed for destruction and “restoration” by the Harris County Flood Control District and the Bayou Preservation Association, with the support of the Memorial Park Conservancy and the City of Houston.

  • That Bend in the River on April 15, 2018. Springtime all over the place. Photo by SC
  • 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
  • Summer sunrise on Buffalo Bayou. That bend in the bayou on July 1, 2018, with flow at about 280 cubic feet per second. Photo by Jim Olive, of course.
  • Fall 2018 on that Bend in the River. Water was high and the morning was cloudy just after sunrise. Photo by Jim Olive on Nov. 6, 2018.
  • We were late with our winter shot, and this February morning was gloomy, the trees and banks bare. Flow was very low, about 150 cfs. The bend appeared to have been widened by the damaging dredging done by maintenance contractors working to remove woody debris, some of which should have been left on the banks for stability and sediment control. Photo Feb. 14, 2019, by Jim Olive
  • Spring again! That bend in the bayou, early in the morning of April 26, 2019. Jim Olive was back in town to continue our series documenting this same spot through time. Photo by Jim.
  • Summertime 2019 on that bend in the river with some of the destruction of the south bank visible in the distance. Pile of dirt is part of the River Oaks Country Club's costly and excessively damaging bank project. Photo by Jim on July 8, 2019, from that same high bank in Memorial Park.
  • That Bend in the River on a cool fall day--at last! Tractor is sitting on a pile of dirt dug out of the bank by the River Oaks Country Club for its very discouraging and deeply destructive "bank repair" project upstream and downstream. Photo by Jim on Oct. 12, 2019
  • Jim Olive's Winter 2019-20 photo of that bend in the bayou with continuing destruction activity on the bank opposite. Photo Dec. 19, 2019
  • Since Jim Olive was on a general coronavirus lockdown in California, Susan took this Spring 2020 photo around 3 p.m. on March 23. Flow was high, about 900 cubic feet per second. We're hoping JO will be back soon to take a better one.
  • Jim O. was still locked down in California, where temperatures were shooting past 120, so Susan took this summer photo just after sunrise on July 12, 2020. After nearly two weeks of high flow from the release of stormwaters from the federal dams, flow had dropped to base flow at about 150 cfs as the flood-control reservoirs, Addicks and Barker, were finally emptied.
  • Fall on that bend in the bayou, looking through the yaupon downstream on Nov. 6, 2020. Photo by Jim Olive
  • That bend in winter several days after a historic freeze and snowstorm. Photo Feb. 20, 2021, by SC because highways were closed and JO couldn't make it through ice storm.
  • Jim Olive's late winter photo of that bend in the bayou. Taken on a drizzling, foggy morning just after sunrise on March 2, 2021.
  • A temporary shot for spring until Jim Olive gets back to town. Taken by SC around 6 p.m. on April 21, 2021.
  • That bend in the bayou in summer during high flow, over 2,000 cubic feet per second, as the Corps of Engineers continued to release stormwater impounded behind the federal flood control dams. Photo June 18, 2021, by Jim Olive.
  • Looking lush and green on that bend in the bayou right before the autumnal equinox. Tropical Storm Nicholas had just passed through. Fall photo Sept. 17, 2021, by Jim.
  • Early morning mist rising on the bend. Photo by Jim Olive on Nov. 12, 2021, showing a bit of fall color.

Why Mowing Grass on Streambanks Is Bad

Grass Cut Short Can’t Grow Long Roots, and Long Roots Protect Against Erosion

Dec. 20, 2015

Short roots can’t hold the soil in place, let alone do their job of feeding soil microorganisms, creating a sponge to hold water, and pulling carbon from the air deep, deep into the soil where it can be sequestered.

This article from On Pasture magazine explains it all, with great photos of amazing grass roots. Though it’s written about grazing, the facts are true for mowing grass along our bayous and streams. Yes, even in parks.

Great “Grass Farmers” Grow Roots

By   /  November 9, 2015  /  5 Comments

– See more at: http://onpasture.com/2015/11/09/great-grass-farmers-grow-roots/#!prettyPhoto

Great “Grass Farmers” Grow Roots

Graphic from On Pasture magazine.

Graphic from On Pasture magazine.

By Kathy Voth. On Pasture, Nov. 9, 2015

If you go to enough workshops about grazing, you’re bound to see an illustration that shows how biting off the tops of plants impacts their roots, and how if you graze short enough the plants won’t have enough roots to rebound and produce more leafy material.

Read the rest of this article in On Pasture.

If you go to enough workshops about grazing, you’re bound to see an illustration that shows how biting off the tops of plants impacts their roots, and how if you graze short enough, the plant won’t have enough roots to rebound and produce more leafy material. In fact, if you’ve been with us at On Pasture for any length of time, you’ll have seen a version of that illustration. It looks like this: – See more at: http://onpasture.com/2015/11/09/great-grass-farmers-grow-roots/#!prettyPhoto
short roots can’t hold the soil in place, let alone do their job of feeding soil microorganisms, creating a sponge to hold water, and pulling carbon from the air deep, deep into the soil where it can be sequestered. – See more at: http://onpasture.com/2015/11/09/great-grass-farmers-grow-roots/#sthash.jQYZ3qFB.dpuf
short roots can’t hold the soil in place, let alone do their job of feeding soil microorganisms, creating a sponge to hold water, and pulling carbon from the air deep, deep into the soil where it can be sequestered. – See more at: http://onpasture.com/2015/11/09/great-grass-farmers-grow-roots/#sthash.jQYZ3qFB.dpuf
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