So Many Illegal Dams on Buffalo Bayou

How Big Pipes Block the Flow in Our Streams During Storms

Jan. 17, 2022

In a city full of engineers, surely they would get the engineering right.

But somehow the banks of our bayous and streams are punctured with stormwater drainage pipes that block the flow during storms. Pointing directly across the stream, they shoot a powerful force of rainwater runoff against high flow in the channel. This acts like a dam, stopping our streams from draining, causing water to back up as much as a quarter mile, according to witnesses. It also creates damaging turbulence and erosion and increases flooding.

It’s not like we don’t have a problem with flooding. Authorities are proposing multi-billion-dollar fixes to move more stormwater faster through the pipes and streams that collect rainwater from our roofs and streets and parking lots and send it out to Galveston Bay. These are big fixes like dredging, deepening, and widening 22 miles of Buffalo Bayou from the federal dams in west Houston to downtown. (p. 111) Or building a massive flood tunnel from the dams to the bay. (p. 106) (See also here and here.)

Seems like they might fix the problem drainage pipes first.

Violating City, County, and Federal Regulations

Drainage pipe extending beyond south bank in Buffalo Bayou Park and pointing directly at the opposite bank in violation of regulations. Photo taken Oct. 7, 2020, after major bank repairs by Harris County Flood Control District.

In fact, stormwater pipes (or outfalls) that point directly across the stream are a violation of City of Houston, Harris County Flood Control District, and even Corps of Engineers regulations.

Anything greater than a 60-degree angle to the bank is a violation of those regulations. (See Houston Public Works, Infrastructure Design Manual 2021, pp. 181, 183 and HCFCD Policy, Criteria, Procedure Manual, p. 230.) Actually, the federal requirements are even stricter. The Corps of Engineers requires the Harris County Flood Control District (and thus the City of Houston) to adhere to outfall angles no greater than 45 degrees to the bank. (Regional General Permit SWG-2009-00123, p. 3) The City of Austin, among other places, also requires an angle of 45 degrees or less. (See G.)

These regulations are at least twenty years old, if not older, according to representatives of Houston Public Works.

So how did we get all those stormwater outfalls blocking the flow in the bayous?

An Old Story

We’ve been pointing out this problem for some time. There’s the massive stormwater outfall in Memorial Park’s Old Archery Range, site of the public boat launch west of Loop 610.  It was built in 2012-2013, designed by the engineering firm AECOM to point directly at the opposite bank, despite the outfall angle regulations.

The large stormwater outfall on Jan. 16, 2015, shortly after it was completed on the bank of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park’s Old Archery Range south of Woodway. Stormwater shoots directly across the stream, blocking the flow, collecting sediment, and causing erosion. Photo by Bill Heins

Read the rest of this post.

Yes, We Have Alligators!

Right Here in the Bayou City!

Watch This Short Video of the Alligator

Jan. 9, 2022

So you’re walking or skating or biking along Buffalo Bayou in the park near downtown Houston, enjoying the balmy day, watching the people. You look down at the water and what’s that?! An alligator!

An alligator swimming right in front of everyone. In fact, this one is well known. Even has a nickname: Nacho, apparently named by canoe racing friends of SBB board member and river guide, Tom Helm.

Yes, we have alligators in Buffalo Bayou. They were here before we were. Some people might think that our alligators escaped from aquariums or something. Some people even think that Buffalo Bayou is an artificial ditch.

Nope. Buffalo Bayou is a river thousands of years old. Alligators are even older.

Alligators Been Here for Millions of Years

Alligators are a keystone species, meaning they create habitat and help sustain an ecosystem upon which other creatures depend. They’ve been around for millions of years. Amazingly, the bayou is crowded with very large, prehistoric creatures, though their habitat is increasingly diminished as Harris County Flood Control and property owners bulldoze and harden the banks with concrete and steel. (See also a proposal to engineer the natural banks in Memorial Park here.)

Besides alligators, there are massive alligator snapping turtles, alligator gar, and even beavers (long ago beavers were big as bears). (See also here.)

This relatively young, five-foot alligator was maybe looking for some turtles to eat, maybe even an alligator gar. Maybe just enjoying the sun.

A friend took this short video of the ‘gator swimming near Taft Street.

See for yourself.

Young alligator swimming in Buffalo Bayou near Taft Street west of downtown Houston. Image from video shot December 2021 by J. Oti.