Detention We Hardly Knew You!

An Essay on Nature, Raindrops, and Stormwater


By Brandt Mannchen of the Houston Sierra Club

April 16, 2019

Now, particularly in these days after Hurricane Harvey, we hear the word “detention,” almost like a chant or mantra.  Flood control experts, agencies, public officials, developers, and many citizens talk about “detention” like it is the solution to our flood problems.  They usually only envision two types of “detention.”  These two types of “detention” are digging deep holes in the ground (called basins, reservoirs, or ponds) and digging deeper and wider channels to create “in-line detention.”


The reason for our failure to use natural “detention” effectively is our lack of respect for Nature and our place in it.  This reflects our failure to work with and not against Nature.  John Muir revealed our connection to Nature when he said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Aldo Leopold, the great “land ethic” thinker suggested that “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering” and that “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, the stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise”.  These concerns about our lack of vision and our head-long pursuit of development caused John Muir to rage, “Not blind opposition to progress, but opposition to blind progress.”

These quotes reveal that if we are going to survive and coexist with Nature in the Houston Area, we must stop our war against Nature.  Leopold saw this battle as deeply rooted in our existing Society, “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us.  When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

It is my belief that unless we acknowledge our pointless, harmful, and self-defeating struggle against Nature and change how we approach flood control and development we are doomed to fail.  I don’t want to leave our children with this negative legacy.  I now understand what Leopold meant when he said, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.”  No mas!

Read the entire essay on the Houston Sierra Club website.

2 thoughts on “Detention We Hardly Knew You!”

  1. Tara K Sigler says:

    I just have a question regarding the erosion of land into Buffalo Bayou. Around Jane’s Bute park and the area across the bayou, it looks to be eroding at an alarming rate. The sidewalk has collapsed and pieces of concrete have no ground underneath. Putting concrete on the bank looks awful and is not natural for the animals that live there. What can be done to fix it? I’d be happy to help before more concrete is dumped on the banks.

    1. Thanks for your comment and concern, Tara.

      We agree that putting concrete on the bank is destructive and destabilizes the bank and the natural beneficial process of the bayou. Do note that we are opposed to any artificial manipulation of the bank of the bayou. The best thing would be to remove the concrete and allow the bayou to restore itself. See our post about how urban streams can restore themselves.

      In fact, the bayou is eroding underneath concrete sidewalks all along the bank downstream of the Shepherd Bridge. The Buffalo Bayou Partnership is responsible for that. But we hope they have learned their lesson and future projects downstream and east of downtown will be more sensitive and responsive to what you can and cannot do on the river.

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