They’ve Done It. For No Good Reason

Flood Control Destroys Forest on Buffalo Bayou


May 6, 2019

(Updated May 7, 2019, with clarification from Harris County Flood Control.)

They’ve done it. Last week the Harris County Flood Control District began knocking down towering sycamores and pines in one of the last remaining forested areas open to the public on Buffalo Bayou.

This tree-cutting is not new. The Flood Control District has been razing forest next to streams all over the county for decades, mainly to excavate floodwater detention basins. Slowing down, holding back rainwater runoff is a good idea. But trees do that. And more. Flood Control is damaging the environment, destroying the limited access we have to nature in the city, while doing little to reduce flooding. Possibly even making it worse.

Their private consultants don’t consider the benefits of trees when they spend millions of taxpayer dollars on flood studies and plans. And there are significant benefits, including flood protection.


Because Leaving Trees in Place is Not a “Project”

The problem is, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) points out (see pp. 7-9), leaving trees in place—nature-based flood risk reduction—is not considered a “project.” There is a political bias in favor of costly, large-scale structural approaches, despite the obvious advantages to small-scale, non-structural, green or natural approaches to flood management. (Although in this case, they seem to be doing the project because it’s “cheap and easy.”)

Trees cleared on the south bank of upper Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park. Trees were cleared on the north bank in the Nineties. Photo by SC May 5, 2019


“Protection of a natural channel and adjacent river corridor, floodplain or wetland often does not meet the conventional concept of a ‘project,’” notes FEMA.

The District needs “projects” in order to look like it’s doing something, especially after county voters approved $2.5 billion in bonds for flood reduction “projects.” And contractors don’t make money from not doing or not designing “projects.”

Other factors preventing more enlightened, more effective flood management include the lack of multidisciplinary expertise, leading to a dependency on old, traditional, and familiar engineering approaches, points out FEMA.

Like spending millions repairing the channelized banks of the bayou in Terry Hershey Park where the straightened stream is attempting to restore its natural meanders. Allowing the bayou to recover its bends, thus lengthening itself, would increase its capacity naturally and for free. (p. 11)


Because That’s What They Always Planned to Do

The trees recently downed by Flood Control were on the south bank of upper Buffalo Bayou in Terry Hershey Park, a semi-wild wooded area beloved by hikers and bikers. The 500-acre rolling linear park runs for some six miles on both sides of the bayou below Addicks and Barker dams in west Houston.

Read the rest of this post.

4 thoughts on “They’ve Done It. For No Good Reason”

  1. Tracy Stephens says:

    There are areas that need this wasted money far better than what there doing now just to say we’re doing something especially on the northeast and east side of town that’s been mostly neglected since Allison. There are also greatly needed projects to the southeast and south that HCFCD spent millions on studies and hasn’t done anything .

    Mr. Tracy M. Stephens

    1. You are so right, Mr. Stephens.

  2. Mary McNamara Tashjian says:

    Oh my, change and communications are so complex.

    Green infrastructure is being encouraged elsewhere. It must be so painful for all of you. Compromising is not always an option and then very expensive real estate makes for skewed solutions. In our area a farmer finally had to sell due to his poor decisions and now a new generation of forward thinking farmers are teaching.

    Audubon Houston seems a potential partner.

    Gorgeous photos!


    1. Thanks, Mary. It is discouraging but maybe this will bring some change.

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