Hot Summer on the Bayou

Raindrops Falling on Our Heads

June 24, 2024

It was a misty morning just after dawn. The summer solstice had occurred at 3:50 p.m. the day before. The drive along the Picnic Loop in Houston’s Memorial Park was so darkly lush and green it was almost unrecognizable. The sandy footpath through the bayou woods was mucky. The shadowy woods were wet, the trees and bushes dripping. A squirrel shook a branch overhead and showered us with sparkling raindrops. We laughed. We were headed to that spot on the high bank overlooking Buffalo Bayou to take our summer photo of the bend. (See the entire series throughout the seasons of the last ten years.)

Looking downstream from the same high bank on Buffalo Bayou in Houston’s Memorial Park. Photo June 21, 2024, by SC

The muddy river was flowing slightly above base flow at around 750 cubic feet per second. But stopping at one of our usual vantage points, we could hardly see the water through the thicket of greenery. Also, the photographer had slightly miscalculated the sunrise. Rather than arriving late as usual with the sun rising and shining high overhead, we were too early. The sun was lingering behind the trees.

Looking upstream from the high bank of Buffalo Bayou. Photo June 21, 2024, by SC

So we amused ourselves observing a blue damselfly, checking out the still green beautyberries, and listening to the songs of the cardinals, wrens, and cicadas overhead. We slid-stepped down the sandy bank to the nearby creek to watch the clear stream trickling slowly towards the bayou. A small ghostly-white sycamore had fallen. No sign of wild chives or violets on the banks. Likely it was too late in the season. But we did see an abundance of feathery foxtail, sedges, and dayflowers.

Eventually the sun began peeking through and over the tangled woods, lighting up the opposite bank of bayou.

We couldn’t help but think about how hot the previous summer had been, and how hot and humid this summer is already. Last year was the hottest year on record for Houston and the world. This year is likely to be even hotter.


First State Flood Plan Draft Released

Comments due by June 17

June 14, 2024

Hundreds of Texans have been volunteering their time and expertise in the last several years to analyze flooding in Texas and come up with solutions. They found that there’s a lot of flooding, that there’s a lot they don’t know, and that most of the people and buildings, including critical facilities like hospitals, will still be at risk even after implementing recommended flood projects. (p. 217)

Out of a total population of 30 million people in Texas, nearly 6 million live in flood hazard areas. Almost a third of those live in the Houston region. (pp. 99-100) These are some of the findings included in the draft of the state’s first flood plan recently issued by the Texas Water Development Board.

Notably, the planners could not determine the functionality of some 1.3 million existing flood infrastructure features, both natural and constructed, such as dams. (p. 26)

The draft plan is heavy on structural solutions such as channelizing streams and building stormwater detention ponds. Non-structural solutions include buying and preserving land for natural stormwater detention, removing people and buildings from a floodplain, conservation easements, and more.

The flood planning project was set up in 2019 by the state legislature, which divided the state into fifteen regions based on watersheds. The Houston metropolitan area is in Region 6, known as the San Jacinto Region. It extends from Galveston Bay to Huntsville in the north. Members include 15 voting members representing municipalities, the environment, water and electric utilities, industries, agriculture, and more; plus 11 non-voting members drawn from various public agencies such as Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Houston Galveston Area Council, and Port Houston.

The goals of the flood plan are to identify where flooding occurs, reduce that flooding and/or remove people and critical structures from those areas, educate people about flooding and give warnings when flooding is going to occur. The planning groups delivered their regional plans to the board in January 2023. The first state flood plan is to be delivered to the legislature by Sept. 1, 2024. The process will continue every five years.

Region 6 has the highest population living in flood hazard areas and by far the highest number of critical facilities (hospitals, emergency medical services, fire and police stations and schools) in flood hazard areas. (pp. 100-101) However, the most vulnerable communities are in the far west of the state and along the border.

The Region 6 projects ranked at the top by the state board include $20 million for further study  by the Harris County Flood Control District of the proposed stormwater tunnel along Buffalo Bayou and $500,000 to look at City of Houston properties that could be turned into stormwater detention basins. Oddly the draft plan recommends $30,000 for a Benefit/Cost Analysis for a detention basin on Clear Creek that is already underway. (p. 6) In fact, there will be a virtual public meeting about the Clear Creek detention basin on June 20 at 6:30 p.m.

Clear-cutting a pine forest for a Harris County Flood Control stormwater detention basin on Clear Creek in Friendswood. Photo March 19, 2024, by SC

The top recommended flood mitigation project, and the most costly, is the $24 billion Galveston Bay Surge Protection Plan, also known as the Coastal Texas Project. (p. 90)

Region 6 has only half a dozen projects considered nature-based or non-structural, most of them proposed by the Coastal Prairie Conservancy, formerly known as the Katy Prairie Conservancy. These include projects to restore coastal prairie (p. 90), preserve floodplain and restore habitat on Willow Creek (p. 106) and Mound Creek and restore agricultural and natural land along headwater streams flowing into Barker Reservoir. (p. 144) Harris County has asked for funding to help owners move out of flood prone areas (p. 128) and both Brazoria County and League City have submitted projects to buyout and remove property from floodplains, turning the land into recreation areas. (p. 131)

Recommended studies also include examining neighborhood flood risk on the San Jacinto River, Brays, White Oak, and Sims bayous; Spring, Cypress, and Clear creeks; and Addicks and Barker reservoirs.

Notably the City of San Antonio, which is not in Region 6, is doing a study of the benefits of nature-based flood management.

Because several planning groups “noted challenges” in incorporating nature-based components in their flood-risk reduction plans, the “TWDB is implementing a flood priority research project (expected to be completed April 2025) to consolidate guidance on the use of nature-based flood mitigation solutions into a single, statewide manual for Texas.” (p. 245)

Other difficulties the planning groups encountered were calculating benefit-cost and low-public participation.

The draft plan noted that Harris County has no floodplain regulation and the City of Houston has little or none. (pp. 142-143)

The Texas Water Development Board is seeking public feedback on the draft plan. The board is accepting comments until 5 p.m. on June 17. To comment on the draft flood plan, go here.