Outrageous Plan to Deepen, Widen, Kill Buffalo Bayou

Virtual Public Meeting Tuesday, Oct. 13. Comment Period Now

Oct. 13, 2020

The US Army Corps of Engineers has come up with an outrageous plan to strip, deepen and widen Buffalo Bayou and line it in places with concrete block for 22-24 miles all the way from Highway 6 in far west Houston to 1,500-feet downstream of Montrose in Buffalo Bayou Park downtown.

Is this the 1930’s? The 1960’s? The plan is so backwards and outdated it’s difficult to believe they are serious.

The Corps even admits the project could kill all aquatic life in the bayou. (p. 178-180) And that there are no positive net benefits. (pp. 19 and 149) The cost is estimated to be from $1 billion to $4 billion, not including future continuing maintenance.

Modern flood risk management focuses on stopping stormwaters before they flood streams. On managing flooding in place, stopping raindrops where they fall, on slowing down, spreading out, and soaking in rainfall. And getting out of the way. Sponge cities. Green infrastructure. Wetlands, greenspace, trees. Both the City of Houston and Harris County have emphasized this, as have cities around the state and around the world.

Creating capacity to convey more and faster rainwater runoff encourages the production of more and faster runoff. As the excellent Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium reported in 2018, “conveyance projects can make flooding worse.” (p. 17)

Note that Harris County Flood Control just spent nearly $10 million reconfiguring the banks in Buffalo Bayou Park downtown. (See here and here.)  In 2017 the agency also spent millions “repairing” the north bank in Terry Hershey Park between Beltway 8 and Highway 6, and in 2019 spent millions more clearing trees and scraping shallow detention basins out of the park’s south bank.

Also note the Corps’ report complains that in places the bayou is naturally deepening and widening itself (p. 67-68) and this problem will have to be fixed. But at the same time the bayou needs to be deeper and wider so we are going to do that with bulldozers and billions of dollars.

Attend a Virtual Public Meeting, Send Comments

The Corps is holding virtual public meetings on the report, known as the Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Resiliency Study Interim Feasibility Report. The first virtual meeting is today, Tuesday, Oct. 13, from 6 to 8 p.m., followed by meetings on Oct. 15, 22, and 26. Here is how to join the meetings.

The public comment period opened Oct. 2 when the Corps’ Galveston District released the 210-page report. Public comment ends on Nov. 2. Here is how to send your comments to the Corps.

Graphic of the plan to deepen and widen Buffalo Bayou from the interim report, p. 112.

Purpose and Alternatives

The purpose of the study is to figure out what to do about too much stormwater flowing too fast into Addicks and Barker reservoirs, the flood control dams in far west Houston that drain into Buffalo Bayou. (Note that the Harris County Flood Control District has been busy speeding up the flow of stormwater through tributary streams into Addicks and Barker reservoirs.)

Read the rest of this post.

8 thoughts on “Outrageous Plan to Deepen, Widen, Kill Buffalo Bayou”

  1. Joni Landon says:

    It wasn’t bad enough that you [Corps of Engineers] flooded many homes around the area of the dam, or those that flooded downstream in River Oaks area, but now you want to make it a permanent problem by destroying the natural flow of the Bayou with Rip Rap and cement? You all need to take some classes in water flow, plant restriction, and the clay soil consistency and low drop of the lane from Houston to the Bay. Then take time to visit the areas that were flooded and talk to the people who endured waking at 2 or 3 AM to find 3 – 5 feet of water in their homes. Sorry, but I cannot believe you can propose anything that will work.

    1. Thank for your comment, Joni. And we were wondering also about the depth they plan for Buffalo Bayou and whether it would be the same from the dams to the bay. That’s not the way rivers work.

  2. Kay Haslam says:

    The Houston Ship Channel is the largest Petroleum Chemical complex in the nation. The Houston Port is ranked 2nd in the U.S. in total tonnage. Houston sends to the federal government more than it receives, and we citizens of Houston deserve a better plan than this cheap, shoddy scheme to dump all the storm water run off on the downstream residents in order to continue developing the Katy Prairie upstream. Remember that Colonel Pannell permitted the upstream development, so the Corps invited the problem. USACE will transform Buffalo Bayou into a raging Mississippi River intersecting the fifth largest city in the nation. USACE will have to build levees on either side of the river as in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. USACE will spend millions maintaining the levees. USACE will wreck the bridge supports with high velocity releases of 15,000 cf/s. The bridges will have to be rebuilt, fewer bridges and higher bridges with wider spans. USACE will divide Houston into two cities: North Houston and South Houston. Halt this study. The study is corrupted because USACE refused to put gauges in the tributaries. USACE permitted the Memorial City developers to dump all their storm water run off into Tributary W-153, further corrupting the study. Produce a plan that will increase the capacity of the dams and utilize diversionary channels and detention basins.

    1. Excellent comment, Kay Haslam. Thank you.

  3. David Walters says:

    As a lifelong Houstonian, this is a terrible idea. Wiping out valuable green space will not curb flooding and will destroy property values that even Harvey didn’t damage. Please leave what little few space we have in the neighborhood.

    1. Thank you, David Walters.

  4. Nicholas says:

    Has there been any update to this plan after everyone wrote into the the army corps of engineers to reconsider?

    1. The Corps of Engineers is currently preparing its official draft report for this highly unpopular plan. Corps officials expect to have that finalized along with a draft environmental impact statement by the spring or early summer. The public will have another opportunity to comment on these documents.

      The Interim Report released in October was an unusual step, not legally required. It seems the Corps was seeking public feedback and expert help in coming up with a solution to this complicated problem that the public will support. Pubic support is necessary because Congress must approve and fund any plan. And the plan must have a local sponsor, meaning the Corps also needs the support of the Harris County Flood Control District.

      Here are links to some of the discussion about the plan and alternative proposals.

      Houston Stronger, a coalition of primarily business groups, has come up with an alternative called the Buffalo Bayou Community Plan.

      In the meantime neighborhood groups up and downstream are working on trying to come up with a consensus alternative. We’ll have a report on that soon.

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