Revising the Plan for Protecting Galveston Bay

Public Workshop Wednesday, March 1, 2017

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Feb. 20, 2017

The Galveston Bay Estuary Program was established in 1989 to implement a comprehensive conservation plan for Galveston Bay. Established by the federal government and administered by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the program’s goal is to “preserve Galveston Bay for generations to come.” It is one of two estuary programs in Texas and one of 28 programs nationwide protecting estuaries “of national significance.”

An estuary is “a partially enclosed, coastal water body where freshwater from rivers and streams mixes with salt water from the ocean. Estuaries, and their surrounding lands, are places of transition from land to sea. … Estuarine environments are among the most productive on earth.”

As the Environmental Protection Agency points out, “what happens on the land affects the quality of the water and health of the organisms that live in an estuary. … For example, if a river or stream … passes urbanized and suburbanized areas, it gathers substances such as:

  • fertilizers or pet waste that wash off lawns;
  • untreated sewage from failing septic tanks;
  • wastewater discharges from industrial facilities;
  • sediment from construction sites; and
  • runoff from impervious surfaces like parking lots.”

Houston Ship Channel, Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Jim Olive

Buffalo Bayou is the main river flowing through the center of Houston and emptying into Galveston Bay. Numerous other creeks and tributaries, including Brays, White Oak, and Sims bayous, flow into Buffalo Bayou, which becomes the Houston Ship Channel.

Updating the Galveston Bay Protection Plan

The 22-year-old Galveston Bay management plan is being revised. The Houston Sierra Club is urging the general public to attend a Wednesday afternoon workshop in La Marque to “provide input on how we can have a cleaner and more ecologically intact Galveston Bay.”

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Terry Hershey, 1923-2017

A Force of Nature: The Force Continues

Jan. 20, 2017

Without Terry Hershey, there likely would be no Buffalo Bayou to save today.

One of Houston’s most influential conservationists, in the mid-1960s Terry Hershey rallied garden club members and Junior Leaguers, business and political leaders, including Save Buffalo Bayou founding president Frank C. Smith Jr., George Mitchell, George H.W. Bush, and others. Together they stopped the Harris County Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers from stripping and straightening Buffalo Bayou and covering it in concrete all the way from Addicks and Barker dams through Memorial Park to the Shepherd Bridge.

Our beautiful 18,000-year-old Mother Bayou would have been a dead, shadeless river like Brays and White Oak. A brutal concrete ditch.

Hershey died Thursday, Jan. 19, her birthday, at her home near the bayou.

“Terry was just an enthusiastic, charismatic person who persuaded all of us we needed to save the world,” said Frank Smith recently.

But Buffalo Bayou is never safe from the bulldozers, as we found out when the flood control district once again began making plans around 2010 to strip, dredge, and reroute one of the last natural stretches of the bayou as it passes by Memorial Park. Even now our political leaders are calling for bulldozing, widening and deepening our bayous and waterways in a misguided response to flooding.

We must always remain vigilant, warned Hershey more than thirty years ago.

Watch this documentary film of Hershey and others talking about Buffalo Bayou. Called Last Stand of the Buffalo, it was made in 1984 by KUHT.

In honor of Terry Hershey, listen to the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra playing Brad Sayles’ Buffalo Bayou Suite.

And here is an interview with Terry Hershey conducted by environmentalist Ann Hamilton in 2008. From the Houston Public Library’s Oral History Project.

Avon Smith Duson, Terry Hershey, and Frank Smith, August 2016.

Avon Smith Duson, Terry Hershey, and Save Buffalo Bayou Board President Frank Smith, August 2016.

 

 

Frank Smith, Conservationist

A Lifetime of Achievement and Service, Flying, Sailing, Driving with the Top Down

October 16, 2016

The year was 1933. Frank Smith was twelve years old and he had just climbed to the 14,255-foot summit of Long’s Peak while at Camp Audubon in Colorado.

It’s an achievement that still makes him proud. But more importantly, being in the snow-capped Colorado mountains changed the perspective of a young boy born and raised in a flat, humid city, albeit in one of the leafiest, most privileged neighborhoods in Houston.

“They made us pay attention to the flowers and the trees, and study and identify the mammals,” he recalls of his summers at Camp Audubon. “It was the first time my attention was directed toward natural things.” He had learned “a lot of other things,” he says. “But I had never been taught anything about the natural world.”

Those fortunate summers in the Rocky Mountain high forest wilderness during the Great Depression set Smith on a remarkable path of conservation and environmentalism. He read the books of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club in 1892, including The Mountains of California. That path would lead Smith to found and lead numerous organizations, most recently Save Buffalo Bayou, that have helped protect and preserve bayous and streams, including Buffalo and Armand bayous, Galveston Bay and its estuaries, and create public park lands around the state of Texas. He would work with virtually all of the region’s prominent conservationists, all of them becoming close personal friends. Some of them had been friends since childhood.

But first he would have to grow up, join the Navy, establish several engineering businesses, invent some things, and meet Terry Hershey.

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Frank C. Smith Jr., founding president of the board, Save Buffalo Bayou, in Memorial Park on a high bank above Buffalo Bayou. Photo taken May 5, 2016, by Jim Olive.

Frank C. Smith Jr., founding president of the board, Save Buffalo Bayou, in Memorial Park on a high bank above Buffalo Bayou. Photo taken May 5, 2016, by Jim Olive.

Boxes for Bags on the Bayou

Boy Scout Eagle Project Provides Reusable Garbage Bags

Aug. 29, 2016

Updated

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.”

Installing a handbuilt wooden box for reusable mesh bags to collect trash on Buffalo Bayou. At the Woodway boat launch in Memorial Park, part of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Buffalo Bayou Paddling Trail.  From  to right: Boy Scouts Jonah Pesikoff and Saswat Pati, Assistant Scoutmaster Janice Walden, and Boy Scout Dad Debananda Pati.

Installing a handbuilt wooden box for reusable mesh bags to collect trash on Buffalo Bayou. At the Woodway boat launch in Memorial Park, part of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Buffalo Bayou Paddling Trail. From left to right: Boy Scouts Jonah Pesikoff and Saswat Pati, Assistant Scoutmaster Janice Walden, and Boy Scout Dad Debananda Pati.

 

 

 

Environmental Photography That Works

Coastal Essence in Fotofest 2016

March 29, 2016

How do environmental and conservation organizations get their message across?

By showing the public photographs of what they are trying to protect.

That’s what Houston-based, internationally-known photographer Jim Olive has been doing for Save Buffalo Bayou and many other conservation organizations. Without Jim’s stunning photos of the historic natural stretch of the bayou flowing past Memorial Park, far fewer people would have any idea of the rare and valuable treasure we have running right through the middle of Houston.

A Fotofest 2016 exhibition titled Coastal Essence features Jim Olive’s photographs that have been used by local environmental organizations to illustrate their cause in print and social media. The exhibition, which includes a photograph of Buffalo Bayou at dawn used by Save Buffalo Bayou on its Facebook page, is on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Sugar Land, Texas. The show runs through May 8 at the museum at 13016 University Blvd.

Fotofest is one of the world’s leading photography festivals, and this year the theme is Changing Circumstances: Looking at the Future of the Planet. The festival, which continues through April 24, takes place every two years in galleries and exhibition spaces across the Houston metropolitan area, and draws photographers, curators, collectors, and other photography experts from all over the world.

Jim Olive, a native Houstonian, has been a professional photographer for fifty years and has traveled around the world on assignments. A longtime conservationist, he is the founder and executive director of the Christmas Bay Foundation.

Buffalo Bayou at dawn in the area targeted for destruction and "restoration" by the Harris County Flood Control District. Photo taken by Jim Olive on Dec. 9, 2014, from the bluffs of Memorial Park looking downstream towards the bank of the River Oaks Country Club.

This photo of Buffalo Bayou at dawn in the area targeted for destruction and “restoration” by the Harris County Flood Control District is on display in the Coastal Essence Fotofest exhibit through May 8 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Sugar Land, Texas. Photo taken by Jim Olive on Dec. 9, 2014, from the bluffs of Memorial Park looking downstream towards the bank of the River Oaks Country Club.

 

 

 

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.)