Talking About Local Geology and the Formation of Buffalo Bayou


Dec. 25, 2019

Geologist, river guide and Save Buffalo Bayou board member Tom Helm joins Michael Gold, founder of the Cypress Creek Ecological Restoration Project, to discuss the geologic history of Texas and our local Houston area.

They discuss Tom’s background, how he became interested in geology, the geologic formation of our state and local area, what you can see around Texas, when and how our bayous and creeks were formed, and what you can see in our bayous and creeks.

Image: Cypress Creek in northwest Harris County by Michael Gold




You Blockin’ My Bayou?

Outfalls, Right and Wrong


Dec. 16, 2019

When it rains, water falls from the sky and runs off our roofs, yards, patios, parking lots, sidewalks, roads, and driveways into storm drains, through pipes or ditches and into our bayous and creeks. The end pipe that drops that collected rainwater into our streams is called an outfall. The receiving stream, usually part of our natural drainage system, carries the rainwater away to the sea.

Buffalo Bayou, which begins far out on the Katy Prairie and runs all the way to the San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay, is our central drainage waterway flowing through the center of Houston, with many tributary creeks and streams and storm pipes emptying into it.

In many cities, to avoid overwhelming the drainage system with too much water all at once, causing flooding, residents are encouraged, even required, to disconnect their downspouts or drainpipes from the city stormwater or sewer system and let the rainwater spread out and flow slowly over yards and gravel, etc.  But that’s a different story.

The outfall that releases all this collected rain runoff into our bayous and creeks can be big or small, concrete or metal, round or square. But there are wrong ways and right ways to install them in the banks of our streams.

Installing them the wrong way—pointing across the stream, for example—can block the flow like a dam during storms, even causing the water to flow back upstream and out of the banks.


Big stormwater outfall on south bank west of S. Dairy Ashford Road in west Houston sends water directly across Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park, acting as a dam during storms. Photo October 2015.


Outfalls installed the wrong way can also cause erosion of the opposite bank, as well as around the pipe itself.

Taxpayers end up paying to repair the damage done by improperly installed outfalls. Property owners who flood or have their banks eroded away also pay.

In our stormy Bayou City where engineers have been dealing with drainage and flooding problems for a long time, one might think that we would always get it right. But somehow we are burdened with numerous outfalls, old and new, installed in ways that block the flow during big storms, and damage the banks.

Are these outfalls in violation of local flood control standards? Are they in violation of generally accepted best practice?

For Instance

Take for example the massive concrete outfall on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou in Buffalo Bayou Park just downstream from the Memorial Drive Bridge.  Long ago, before the Corps of Engineers stripped and channelized this section of the bayou in the 1950s, before the construction of Allen Parkway (Buffalo Drive) in 1925 connecting downtown and River Oaks, this was a small tributary stream flowing through a deep ravine into the bayou. The tributary, like many, was enclosed and buried decades ago, and the current concrete-walled outfall was installed during renovation of the park around 2014.

The outfall, located just upstream of a bend, faces towards the opposite bank. Since the outfall was constructed, the section of asphalt sidewalk on that opposite bank, installed around the same time, has washed away, along with much of the bank, erosion that began even before Harvey in August 2017.

Read the rest of this post.

Opossums Deserve Our Love

They’re Heroes of the Animal World

By Jackie Flynn Mogensen, Mother Jones, July 26, 2019

In the marsupial family, the opossum really got the short end of the stick: While their Australian cousins, including kangaroos, koalas, and wombats, are adored by the masses, opossums are outcasts. They’re the United States’ only native marsupial, but they’re virtually nobody’s favorite animal. They aren’t the star exhibit at any zoo. You almost certainly won’t see them on the cover of any wildlife magazine. No one has ever squealed, “Trash panda!,” after spotting one digging through a garbage bin, as so many people (somehow) lovingly do with raccoons.

Sure, they’re ugly. They’ve got beady eyes, a hairless tail, and dozens of pointed teeth. When Captain John Smith came to America in the 17th century, he wrote that opossums have a head “like a Swine,” a tail “like a Rat,” and are about the size of a cat, which I must admit, is pretty spot-on. But opossums do more for us than we recognize. “Just because they’re ugly doesn’t mean that they’re not important and worthy of protecting,” David Mizejewski, a naturalist at the National Wildlife Federation and author of the book Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife, tells Mother Jones. “If you just open your mind a little bit, you can see them as beautiful creatures.”

In fact, opossums protect humans by eating ticks, dead animals, and venomous snakes. As nature’s trash collectors, they play a vital role in the ecosystem, all while protecting humans from disease. A 2009 study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences found that opossums are exquisitely good at removing ticks, which can carry Lyme disease, from their bodies and gobble up an estimated 5,000 ticks per season that may otherwise latch onto humans.

Read the rest of this article in Mother Jones.

Opossum, hero of our natural world. Image Shutterstock, courtesy of Mother Jones.

Talking About Nature, Rivers, History, and Flooding

Dec. 15, 2019

A couple of days ago Michael Gold, founder of the Cypress Creek Ecological Restoration Project in Houston, called up to talk nature and philosophy, rivers, flooding, trees, and grass. We had an interesting conversation.

You can listen to it here.


Trash collected on Cypress Creek in northwest Harris County. Photo by Michael Gold