Flood Control Scrapes, Bulldozes Healthy Banks of Buffalo Bayou

Heart-Breaking Violation of County, City Mandates. Appropriate Use of Federal Funds?

Sept. 30, 2020

We were hoping they wouldn’t do it. That Harris County Flood Control would see it wasn’t necessary. The bayou banks were healthy and stable, lush and green.

But the private consulting engineers had planned it. So Flood Control did it: scraped away the young trees and deep-rooted native plants holding the bank together, bulldozed what nature had successfully engineered, built, and planted in Buffalo Bayou Park.

They left bare dirt, disturbed, compacted, dead. Violated every established principle of good management of a riverbank, as noted by one of the federal agencies funding the project. (p. 14)

And the bare dirt washed away in the rains that followed.

Without the anchor of the surrounding network of deep-rooted plants, the remaining lone trees on the banks likely will soon fall, as happened as a result of Flood Control’s previous work.

The south bank of Buffalo Bayou in Buffalo Bayou Park just downstream from the Dunlavy after razing and grading by Harris County Flood Control. Photo taken looking upstream from the Jackson Hill Bridge on Sept. 17, 2020, before Tropical Storm Beta.

They did it with public funds, spending over $2,000 per linear foot, claiming the purpose was to “contain erosion and bank failures caused by Hurricane Harvey.”

These particular banks weren’t failing. We know because we climbed out of our canoes and up that gently sloping bank through the tall goldenrod and horseweed below the Dunlavy a couple of times in recent months. Flood Control’s federal grant was supposed to be used to “reshape and protect eroded streambanks.” But none of these areas was eroded. The bank shape was fine. Maybe steeper after bulldozing, with less of a beach, but pretty much the same. Though bare and unprotected.

The same location on Sept. 9, 2020. Note the north bank in the distance which had just recently been bulldozed.

Designed to Fail? Do It Anyway

Not even the private contractors paid to scrape it all away thought it was a good idea. In response to the observation that the denuded bank would fail as a result, one worker commented, “That’s what we told them.” He added, “But that’s the way Flood Control wanted it.” We responded that Flood Control had just destroyed a healthy bayou bank. The guys nodded.

Read the rest of this post.

The same bank on Sept. 29, 2020, after Storm Beta. Water was still high from releases from the federal dams far upstream.

6 thoughts on “Flood Control Scrapes, Bulldozes Healthy Banks of Buffalo Bayou”

  1. Judi Becker says:

    Unbelievable! I’ve emailed our Mayor and my City Councilman! What an abuse of Mother Nature and funding. I’m so tired of this. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Judi!

      Write to your county commissioner also. The county commissioners are the bosses of Flood Control.

  2. Pauline R. Singleton says:

    Disgusting. However, it is totally what I would expect from Harris County Flood Control.

  3. Shelly says:

    Silly Slickers don’t understand Mother Nature.

  4. James Stevens says:

    The only way to save the wild Bayou is underground conduits to the bay, from various locations, so the runoff from the unmanaged development can bypass the existing channel and not flood any homes.
    Amazing that ya’ll don’t get this simple fact.
    The existing Ice Age carved channel cannot handle the runoff rate of our paved over city without flooding and bank erosion.

    1. It’s difficult to know how to reply to your comment in a short format, James Stevens. There is so much misunderstanding there.

      First of all the “wild” bayou is better method of flood risk reduction than a stripped or straightened or concreted bayou, which only creates more flooding. Modern flood management focuses on slowing the flow, on stopping stormwater runoff before it floods our streams by slowing it down, spreading it out, and soaking it in. That means slowing the runoff rate you refer to — increasing the lag time — which is the time is takes for rain to hit the ground and enter the stream, lowering the peak flow. This is the most cost effective, practical approach to flood management used around the world.

      The idea that we can build underground conduits to the bay so that runoff from development in west Houston can bypass the bayou is a foolish fantasy. Not based in reality. Virtually all of the flooding in and along Buffalo Bayou below Beltway 8 happens when Addicks and Barker dam floodgates are closed. So you can build a giant multi-billion dollar concrete tunnel from western Harris County to the bay but Buffalo Bayou will still flood unless we do something about how fast stormwater runs off the land and into the stream.

      If I remember correctly, you live upstream where Buffalo Bayou was narrowed and straightened by the Corps of Engineers decades ago. That actually reduced the capacity and increased flooding in your neighborhood. Furthermore, your house was built on or near a remnant channel of the bayou. Rivers have a memory, for enduring underlying geologic reasons. The flow will continue to seek out its natural channel.

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