Slow the Flow
What Houston and Other Cities Are Doing to Reduce Flooding
And Make Life Better
Feb. 11, 2021
Despite flooding issues that threaten lives as well as the future of the city, Houston has lagged behind other cities in the state and around the world in encouraging, implementing, or requiring basic steps that can reduce flooding. Harris County, along with six other Texas cities, scored higher than Houston on Environment Texas’ 2020 Scorecard.
But recently the Houston City Council passed a property tax incentive to large commercial developers who use green (nature-based) infrastructure to slow stormwater runoff from their new projects.
Developers are already required to prevent an increase in the amount of stormwater running off projects built on previously undeveloped land. Now Houston taxpayers will actually pay for the cost of doing that if developers use rooftop gardens (green roofs), vegetated swales, permeable paving, trees, etc., known as Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI). Also known as Low Impact Development (LID) or even Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS), though the latter also focuses on reusing stormwater.
Slowing stormwater runoff reduces flooding. And in addition to passing the property tax incentive to large commercial developers, the City of Houston recently increased its stormwater detention requirements for new single-family residential projects. This was forced in response to Harris County requirements. No tax incentive yet.
However, the City does reduce the city drainage fee based on the percentage of pervious surface on a lot. So planting a garden on your roof, for instance, changes the roof from an impervious surface into a pervious surface and reduces your drainage fee. (See below.)
Elsewhere, cities like Toronto and Utrecht require green roofs, which can reduce stormwater runoff by more than 50 percent. (Toronto provides financial assistance.) Simply disconnecting roof downspouts from the public stormwater drainage system can help prevent the system from being overwhelmed, a practice recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.
From California to Illinois to New England, cities are asking residents to disconnect downspouts and instead allow rainwater to flow and soak into a yard, among many other things. (Directing roof runoff onto a concrete driveway, seemingly common practice in Houston, is not helping, since it runs directly into the paved street and into the stormwater system anyway.)
We’ve been gathering information for a while with the intention of eventually posting about what Houston and other cities are doing about flooding. It’s complicated!
Flooding Begins on the Land
Stormwater is rain that falls and runs across the ground into our built (pipes) and natural (bayous and creeks) drainage system. The harder the surface, the faster the runoff, the higher the flooding in our streets and streams. Also, the more polluted the water. And the uglier and hotter the city.
In recent years, experts have shown that nature-based drainage and detention systems are cheaper to build and maintain as well as more effective in reducing flood risk than pipes and dams, for instance. (See also here.) There are also more benefits, because you end up with trees and native plants, bees, birds, and butterflies, stuff that actually increases the attractiveness and value of property (and our environment).
In addition, there is increasing awareness that it is more practical and effective to manage flooding in place, to stop raindrops where they fall. As a 2018 study of urban flooding reported, “[m]any cities and towns across the United States are giving considerable attention to plans that support the capture of rain in areas where it falls.” (p. 32)
The American Society of Landscape Architects recommends that every city have a green infrastructure plan, defining urban green infrastructure as “everything from parks to street trees and green roofs to bioswales — really anything that helps absorb, delay, and treat stormwater, mitigating flooding and pollution downstream.”
Nature and Nature-Based Infrastructure is Part of the Resiliency Plan
Also part of the Resilient Houston Plan is conserving land within the city limits as part of a goal of “increasing the area of the preserved or conserved land in the eight-county Gulf Houston region to 24% by 2040.” (p. 153)
Discouraging development in “sensitive upstream areas,” protecting and restoring prairies and wetlands are also goals of the plan. (p. 151) City boundaries do not extend into the “sensitive upstream areas” beyond the Addicks and Barker federal flood control reservoirs on Buffalo Bayou, for example, although those areas are part of the City’s Extra Territorial Jurisdiction. The Memorial Villages, which are in the Buffalo Bayou watershed, also are not part of the City. The plan is to work with “regional partners” on resiliency goals.
The initiative to create a tax rebate for green stormwater infrastructure received widespread support. But during review of the legislation over the past year or so, there were also comments, including from a prominent engineering firm, asking why taxpayers should pay for something that essentially costs developers less to install and maintain than conventional grey stormwater infrastructure, works better, and improves the value of their property.
The tax credit is available only to new structures in greenfields (undeveloped land) or redevelopment in brownfields (land polluted by toxic waste) in a tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ). The structure must be larger than a building with four residential units, valued at $3 million or more, with at least $200,000 invested in the green stormwater infrastructure.
The credit lasts for ten years and may not exceed the total cost of the green infrastructure. (For details see Ch. 44 here.)
What Some Other Cities and States Are Doing: A Short, Incomplete List
So basically green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) is anything with soil and greenery or a container, or maybe just gravel, even permeable pavement, and, of course, trees, that can divert, absorb, disperse, hold, slow down, and filter rain runoff. “Daylighting” streams (streams, creeks, etc. that have been buried in concrete pipes) would also be considered green, as are open ditches. We have many creeks and ravines that have been filled in (and built on, flooding as a result). Houston was never so completely flat as advertised.
The City of Houston does provide some small financial incentives to the little people for green infrastructure. As noted above, the City’s Drainage Fee is based on the amount of impervious surface on your land. That means rooftops, driveways, patios, etc. So reducing the amount of impervious surface on your property reduces your drainage fee.
Here is what some other cities and states are doing or suggesting to make themselves more like “sponge cities”:
We Can Do This At Home!
Some resources for understanding and using green infrastructure to help Houston reduce flooding:
City of Houston Infrastructure Design Manual, Stormwater Design, Ch. 9, 2020
Environmental Protection Agency video: Reduce Runoff: Slow It Down, Spread It Out, Soak It In
The Top 14 Super Trees for Houston from the Port Houston and Houston Wilderness Tree Planting Program
Some Items of Interest
That We’ve Been Posting on Facebook
Jan. 27, 2021
We’ve been working somewhat behind the scenes, researching flooding and drainage issues and Zooming to meetings. But we’ve been posting items of interest on our Facebook page. We should be posting them here too. So here ya go.
Tree Equity. Trees cool us with their shade, cleanse the air, deflect and absorb rainfall, provide habitat for birds and other creatures, and generally hold the world together. But not everybody has trees.
Housing policies of the past, like redlining, have made trees abundant in wealthy neighborhoods, but scarce for socioeconomically disadvantaged communities of color. That’s why we need Tree Equity.
A plan to plant 4.6 million trees across Houston by 2030 has taken root
The Houston Chronicle
Houston Wilderness, the City of Houston, Harris County, the Texas Department of Transportation and major landscape architects formed a strategy group in November to reach the 4.6 million native trees goal. They are now compiling the first-ever regional, large-scale tree planting manual to help anyone who wants to pitch in, from private developers to individuals
And here is more information about the tree-planting program from Houston Wilderness, including the list of trees studied and their ecosystem benefits, and the list of fourteen super-trees targeted for planting.
Join the Citizens Environmental Coalition (CEC) for a virtual Houston screening of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival on Tour.
A selection of films from the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, North America’s largest environmental film festival, will bring two hours of beautiful, educational, and inspiring films to the comfort and safety of your own home. Preview the lineup on cechouston.org.
Proceeds from the event will be used to support CEC programs.
The CEC has lined up unique experiences and a piece of art for this year’s silent auction which is OPEN FOR BIDS using this Google Form.
Maybe time to rethink those azaleas and camelias?
Yale Environment 360
The impact of introduced plants on native biodiversity has emerged as a hot-button issue in ecology. But recent research provides new evidence that the displacement of native plant communities is a key cause of a collapse in insect populations and is affecting birds as well.
For these reasons, [Doug] Tallamy has proposed a domestic version of Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth Project. If American homeowners converted half of their lawn to productive native plant communities, he says, they would create a “Homegrown National Park” larger than the Everglades, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Teton, Canyonlands, Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Badlands, Olympic, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Denali, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks combined.
Be like a butterfly. Sting like a bee.
Native Plant Society of Texas
It’s time! The 2020-2021 Bring Back the Monarchs to Texas garden grant season is now in full swing! Find the 2021 application, rules, and other information here.
Applications are due February 15th, 2021. Time flies, so don’t wait too long to start thinking about your application.
Texas Invasives is a collaborative effort among various state and federal agencies and other groups to help manage and prevent the spread of nonnative, invasive species in the state.
An “invasive species” is defined as a species that is non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. (Executive Order 13112).
An invasive species grows/reproduces and spreads rapidly, establishes over large areas, and persists. Species that become invasive succeed due to favorable environmental conditions and lack of natural predators, competitors and diseases that normally regulate their populations.
This includes a wide variety of plants, insects and animals from exotic places. As invasive species spread and take over ecosystems, they decrease biodiversity by threatening the survival of native plants and animals. In fact, invasive species are a significant threat to almost half of the native U.S. species currently listed as federally endangered.
For more info about the Texas Invasives Citizen Science Program, visit Texas Invasives.
Another related article:
National Academy of Sciences
Many numerically abundant insects provide ecosystem services upon which humans depend: the pollination of fruits, vegetables, and nuts; the biological control of weeds, agricultural pests, disease vectors, and other organisms that compete with humans or threaten their quality of life; and the macrodecomposition of leaves and wood and removal of dung and carrion, which contribute to nutrient cycling, soil formation, and water purification. Clearly, severe insect declines can potentially have global ecological and economic consequences.
[SBB is working on a follow-up about this tax abatement program, including a review of what other cities are doing to slow the flow and reduce flooding.]
The Houston Chronicle
The city last month launched a new property tax abatement program for developers who incorporate green stormwater infrastructure, a type of design aimed at minimizing the downstream impacts of development, into their projects. It also boosted incentives for LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects, an abatement program that has never been utilized, despite being on the city’s books for 10 years.
The stormwater strategies can take different forms, from natural landscapes and gardens with plants and other vegetation that seek to collect or slow runoff, to “green roofs” that apply similar concepts on top of buildings, to permeable pavement that allows water to seep into the ground.
Developers already must meet minimum detention requirements for how much water their projects can detain. Green storm-water infrastructure would not necessarily increase that capacity, but it could retain the water for longer than more traditional projects.
Commercial developers could save as much as 10 percent against their property tax increases when they incorporate green stormwater infrastructure into their developments. The program is open to $3 million projects that include at least an $100,000 investment in the eco-friendly strategy. The maximum abatement is the total cost of the green stormwater infrastructure, effectively reimbursing developers for including it.
Read the rest of this report in the Houston Chronicle.
And speaking of slowing the flow. Here’s how they do it in England:
Slow The Flow is a registered charity working to advance the education of the public in Natural Flood Management, Sustainable Drainage Systems and other renewable methods of managing the environment.
This includes the exploration of alternative practices which safeguard the natural environment and its resources in a manner which best fits the specifics of a local geography.
If you want to know more, visit www.slowtheflow.net
Upcoming Virtual Meetings of Interest
Virtual Meeting February 2, 2021, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
The Buffalo Bayou Partnership wants to hear from you! The development organization recently released its master plan for Buffalo Bayou East, which includes an expansion of Tony Marron Park.The plan was developed after a series of conversations with members of the Greater East End and Fifth Ward communities.
Live or work in Greater East End or Fifth Ward? The Partnership is asking you to please join on Zoom, Tuesday, February 2 from 6-8 pm to learn about the plans and progress on Buffalo Bayou East destinations,specifically the enhancements to Tony Marron Park.
There will be an opportunity for feedback and questions following the presentation. Spanish translation will be offered at the meeting.
Sunday, February 14, 2 -4:30 pm, virtual
Join Lara Cottingham, Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of Houston, to learn about the Houston Climate Action Plan (CAP) and how houses of worship and their members can get involved. Lara will cover the goals of the CAP and strategies and actions to be employed in reaching the goals. The CAP is designed to address climate change, but there are many co-benefits which Lara will also highlight. She will also discuss how faith communities can partner with the City of Houston to achieve the goals, helping to lead Houston to a more sustainable future.
Sponsored by The Houston Seminar, Thursday, Feb. 4, 5-6:30 pm
Please join Eric Berger of Space City Weather and environmental attorney Jim Blackburn for “Galveston Bay and the Storm Surge of Our Nightmares,” a conversation about hurricane storm surges, coastal defense barriers, and the mid-bay gate proposal, known as the Galveston Bay Park Plan.
Thursday, February 4, from 5-6:30 pm via Zoom. Cost is $25.
There are two more events in this series titled “Water, Water Everywhere: Strategies and Success Stories.” Local experts will discuss flood control projects on Feb 11 and low-impact development on Feb. 18.
Sort of related:
From the Biomimicry Institute
This “biomimetic revolution” is now considered to be a major guideline towards more sustainable built environments, meaning that buildings are focused on learning from nature rather than only extracting elements from it.
Zooming on Buffalo Bayou and Addicks Dam
Public Online Meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 19, to Discuss Issues and Alternatives to the Corps of Engineers’ Answers to Dam and Flood Problems
Jan. 17, 2021
Neighborhood activists in the Addicks watershed in west Houston and beyond have organized an informal online meeting Tuesday, Jan. 19, to discuss alternatives to the Corps of Engineers’ much derided proposals to deal with flooding in and around the overburdened Addicks and Barker flood control dams on upper Buffalo Bayou.
Specifically the Zoom meeting was set up to answer Save Buffalo Bayou’s questions about alleged “bottlenecks” or “flow restrictions” in meandering Buffalo Bayou below Beltway 8 in west Houston. SBB has asked for a definition and the locations of these “bottlenecks.”
The Addicks Watershed Flood Mitigation Network, a coalition of property owners and neighborhood associations around Addicks Reservoir, generally opposes deepening and widening Buffalo Bayou. Nevertheless organizers have tentatively included “de-bottlenecking” as one of their remedies for speeding up drainage from the dams.
Save Buffalo Bayou is in favor of slowing drainage into the dams (and into the bayou below the dams). We are also in favor of restoring meanders on the straightened and narrowed stretch of the bayou upstream of Beltway 8. Unfortunately in the last few years, the county has spent millions of dollars reinforcing the channelized section there with riprap and scraping out the forest to build shallow overflow basins.
The Addicks network has graciously made the Tuesday Zoom meeting open to the public. It starts at 2 p.m. Anyone interested in these issues or with expertise to add is welcome to join.
Here is how to join the meeting along with an explanation of the meeting objectives. These objectives also include a discussion of a recent presentation of Houston Stronger’s Buffalo Bayou Community Plan.
Here is a description of the issues from the Addicks Flood Mitigation Network.
As Save Buffalo Bayou has pointed out, the issue of bayou meanders being “kinks” or “bottlenecks” was studied by Harris County Flood Control in 2019. Proposals to build artificial meander “bypasses” or even raise bridges were found to have little benefit. However, SBB also has pointed out the numerous stormwater outfalls, installed in violation of federal and county regulations, that block the flow during high water.
The issue of “de-bottlenecking” has been brought up by the Addicks group as part of their many thoughtful alternatives to the Corps of Engineers’ roundly rejected proposal to deepen and widen Buffalo Bayou and build a dam and reservoir on Cypress Creek and the Katy Prairie.
Led by One Creek West, the network is attempting to build a consensus to present to the Corps and congressional representatives. Most if not all of these property owners were flooded in 2017 by the unprecedented level of the flood pool as Harvey stormwater flowing rapidly into the reservoir through tributary streams backed up behind closed Addicks Dam. (Property owners in the flood pool behind Barker Dam also flooded but this group is addressing only Addicks Dam.)
In the very early morning of Aug. 28, 2017, the Corps, fearing that the stormwaters would overtop Addicks Dam, opened the floodgates. This flooded a great many properties along the straightened and narrowed section of Buffalo Bayou above and around Beltway 8. This stretch runs for six miles or so from the two federal flood control dams in far west Houston to just below Beltway 8.
Further downstream, the disastrous flood peak from Harvey, resulting from stormwater draining too quickly from the paved and built city, had already passed on Aug. 27, flooding many properties. This happened with the dam floodgates closed.
Stop Stormwater Before It Floods. Take Responsibility!
Save Buffalo Bayou believes the focus should be on stopping and slowing stormwater runoff before it enters the reservoirs—and before it floods our bayou, our natural and built drainage system downstream. Stopping, slowing, spreading out and soaking in runoff happens with pervious surface (gravel and dirt), disconnecting downspouts, trees, native gardens, swales, green roofs, prairies, wetlands, greenspace and parks, and more. This also cleanses the water and generally makes for a healthier, cooler, and more attractive community.
Neighborhood associations and individuals need to take responsibility for slowing the flow. Every action counts. The longer it takes for rain to hit the ground and enter the stream, the lower the peak flow in the stream. It’s called lag time.
So think of joining the Zoom meeting, which may or may not include representatives of Houston Stronger and others.
Wild and Scenic Film Festival On Tour
Jan. 17, 2021
The online program features short films about environmental and inspirational topics, including three films from local artists.
The three local films, popular winners of last fall’s Wild About Houston Film Festival 2020, are “Trip Around the Sun” by SETSVN, a documentary film featuring local Houston farmers and growers talking about sustainability; “Adventures with Edu-Katie” from the Delores Fenwick Nature Center in the City of Pearland, and “A Closer Look at Insects” from the Native Prairies Association of Texas, starring katydids, grasshoppers, and walking sticks from the Lawther-Deer Park Prairie in Harris County.
Other featured films of particular local interest are “The Last Call for the Bayou,” about the migratory bird flyway, and “There’s Something in the Water.” about invasive species in Caddo Lake.
Tickets start at $15. Step right here to get your tickets now!
Last Chance to Watch Wild Texas Film Tour, including Lovely Short Film Bayou City
Dec. 31, 2020
So 2020 is going out with a boom, possibly some tornadoes, and a lot of rain, which brings up flooding. And watching movies.
We’ve been sort of urgently silent. We’ve been busy listening and working with others, questioning and answering questions, attending virtual meetings, researching the issues to help come up with the best, most effective, most environmentally sound alternative to the Corps of Engineers outrageously backwards plan to widen and deepen 22 miles of Buffalo Bayou and destroy tens of thousands of acres of the Katy Prairie.
In the meantime, today is the last day to watch the FREE lovely films in the Wild Texas Film Tour. These 26 short films include the informative and inspiring “Bayou City,” featuring Armand Bayou Nature Center, Save Buffalo Bayou, Bayou Land Conservancy, and the excellent riparian and urban wildlife programs in our city and state parks departments.
Bayou City was produced by Olivia Haun, the 2018 Wild Texas Film Tour Grant Recipient and Outreach Specialist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Diversity Program. Over the past two years, Olivia has been traveling to Houston, home to 22 bayou systems, totaling over 2,500 miles of waterways throughout Harris County. Her beautiful short film captures stories from some of Houston’s most passionate and dedicated bayou conservationists and sheds light on the issues the bayou ecosystem has faced over the past century.
And yes, please. Don’t forget your last minute tax-deductible donation to Save Buffalo Bayou. We need everyone’s help to stay afloat.
It’s Giving Tuesday: So Give It Up for Buffalo Bayou!
They Want to Kill It. We Have to Defend It.
Plus: New Film About Houston’s Bayous Premieres Today!
Dec. 1, 2020
Giving Tuesday is a worldwide day of giving. Today is Giving Tuesday. You probably know this because you’ve already received way too many requests for donations to worthy causes.
Save Buffalo Bayou rarely makes public requests for donations. We are a small organization with a small budget and a big punch. We are fortunate to be able to spend our time doing what we were founded to do: research and write and tell people about Buffalo Bayou and our many streams and creeks, educate the public and our public officials about how forested, meandering streams work for our benefit, why nature is the best engineer. We have nearly 8,000 Facebook followers, plus thousands on our email list, including politicians, agency officials, journalists, tree huggers, and other local residents.
Yes, we are critical and controversial. Who else is going to tell the Harris County Flood Control District (and its bosses) that its policies and practices are counterproductive, contradictory, wasteful, damaging, and outdated? Stripping vegetation and bulldozing the banks of our bayou and tributary streams, for instance? Spending millions to “improve conveyance” of streams flowing into our federal dams that already have too much water flowing into them? (See here and here.) Scientists all over the world, as well as Houston, have known for years that “improving conveyance” to reduce flooding doesn’t work. (See p. 17 and here.)
Now Buffalo Bayou faces its greatest threat in fifty years. The Galveston District of the Corps of Engineers has traveled back in time and come up with the idea of “improving conveyance” in Buffalo Bayou by stripping, deepening and widening this irreplaceable public resource for some 22-24 miles from the dams in west Houston all the way to downtown. In places they would use concrete block to line the bottom and banks.
This would kill the river, destroy its natural functions, as well as all life in it. It would be a costly, never-ending maintenance nightmare.
So the battle continues. Please donate to help us continue the fight. All donations are tax-deductible. Save Buffalo Bayou is a 501c3 nonprofit association.
You can also send checks to Save Buffalo Bayou, 3614 Montrose #706, Houston 77006.
Here is Save Buffalo Bayou’s comment to the Corps of Engineers about their plan.
Bonus: New Film Premieres Online Today!
Maybe you had a chance to watch photographer and conservationist Jim Olive’s beautiful short film Buffalo Bayou: A Right to Life. Take the time to watch Olive’s film, Coastal Essence, about Christmas Bay on the Texas coast and the Christmas Bay Foundation that he started. Coastal Essence was the opening film at the second night of the Wild About Houston film festival Nov. 18, which also featured his Buffalo Bayou film.
Now Texas Parks and Wildlife has produced a new film, Bayou City, premiering online today, Dec. 1, as part of the Wild Texas Film Tour. Produced by Olivia Haun, outreach specialist for the TPWD Wildlife Diversity Program, Bayou City was made to “shed light on the issues the bayou ecosystem have faced over the past century, and to share the successes that provide an alternative vision and relationship between Houston and its bayous.”
Bayou City is one of four short films in the Wild Texas Film Tour. Hosted by filmmaker and conservationist Ben Masters, the films showcase “wildlife, adventure, and conservation stories from across the state.”
The films are available online for free from Dec. 1 through 31, 2020.
Links to Discussions: Corps’ Plans for Buffalo Bayou, Katy Prairie, and Coastal Barrier
Harris County Looking for Nominees to the Community Flood Resilience Task Force. Deadline Dec. 11.
FEMA Updates Flood Policy to Support Nature-Based Solutions Rejected by Corps Plan
Nov. 25, 2020
So much happening!
Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Interim Report
We had an excellent discussion recently about the US Army Corps of Engineers’ controversial ideas for reducing flood risk in the Buffalo Bayou watershed. Mary Anne Piacentini of the Katy Prairie Conservancy and Susan Chadwick of Save Buffalo Bayou talked about the impact of the Corps’ plans and alternatives.
Engineers Be Engineers
The Galveston District of the Corps of Engineers has $6 million to come up with plans to deal with the problem of increasing storms and increasing development causing too much stormwater flowing too quickly into the federal dams, Addicks and Barker, on upper Buffalo Bayou in far west Houston. The Corps released an Interim Report in early October that focused on deepening and widening Buffalo Bayou for some 22 miles from the dams to downtown Houston. This would be in conjunction with a new dam on Cypress Creek and a 22,000-acre reservoir on the Katy Prairie.
Despite strong support for nature-based alternatives expressed at public meetings sponsored by the Corps in 2019 (p. 199), the Corps outright rejected nature-based alternatives, such as prairies, wetlands, green spaces, restored streams, etc. (p. 6)
However, environmental organizations, including Save Buffalo Bayou, have urged the Corps to reject deepening and widening Buffalo Bayou and building a reservoir on the Katy Prairie. Nature-based approaches are less costly, more practical and effective, quicker, more flexible, and produce a wider range of benefits for the community, including cleaner water and air, cooling, as well as social, mental, and health benefits.
Here is Save Buffalo Bayou’s comment to the Corps.
Here is the Katy Prairie Conservancy’s alternative plan.
Here is environmental attorney Jim Blackburn’s discussion of the plan with the Houston Chronicle’s Lisa Gray.
While the formal public comment period ended Nov. 20, the Corps says it will continue to consider public input and alternatives. The federal agency, founded during the Revolutionary War, expects to have a final draft report and environmental impact statement by late spring or early summer of 2021. There will be another public comment period then.
Here is how to send comments to the Corps about the study.
Here is how to contact federal representatives about the proposals and alternatives.
Note that the Federal Emergency Management Agency just recently updated its flood policy to support nature-based solutions in flood-risk mitigation projects. The Corps itself is under a mandate to incorporate Environmental Operating Principles in its projects and to “engineer with nature.”
Public Meetings, Public Comment: Corps’ Proposed Coastal Barrier
In the meantime the Galveston District, together with the Texas General Land office, is also working on a plan to protect the upper Texas coast and the Houston Ship Channel from a storm surge. (Buffalo Bayou becomes the ship channel four miles east of downtown.)
Recently the Corps released the Draft Feasibility Report and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Study, also known as the Coastal Texas Study.
The deadline for public comment is Dec. 14.
For a highly informed explanation and discussion about the problems and impacts of the Corps’ proposed coastal barrier, watch this Nov. 19 presentation sponsored by Bayou City Waterkeeper, the Galveston Bay Foundation, Healthy Gulf, and the Turtle Island Restoration Network.
Harris County’s Community Flood Resilience Task Force Seeking Nominations. Deadline Dec. 11
Harris County Commissioners Court has approved the first five members of the new Community Flood Resilience Task Force. The new task force takes the place of the long outdated Harris County Flood Control Task Force, established nearly fifty years ago and long dominated by engineers and developers, many of whom did business with the Flood Control District.
The first five members of the task force will select the remaining twelve members of the task force. Their charge is to “ensure Harris County develops and implements equitable flood resilience planning and projects that take into account community needs and priorities.”
The initial task force members were approved by Commissioners Court on Sept. 29. They are:
- Iris Gonzalez, director of the Coalition for Environment, Equity and Resilience (CEER), appointed by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo
- Dr. Earthea Nance, a professional engineer, certified floodplain manager, and associate professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University, appointed by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis
- Lisa Gonzalez, president of the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), appointed by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia
- Bill Callegari, former state representative serving Katy and Cypress from 2001 to 2015, a professional engineer, and founder of W.C. Engineers, appointed by Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack
- Bob Rehak, retired communications professional, Kingwood resident, and publisher of ReduceFlooding.com, appointed by Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle
The new task force is looking for “multi-disciplinary members who are committed to serving the community and represent the geographic, gender, age, racial, and ethnic diversity of Harris County,” according to Judge Hidalgo’s office.
Anyone interested in serving on this task force should submit an application by December 11.
Facebook Live Discussion: The Future of Houston’s Katy Prairie and Buffalo Bayou
And Wild About Houston Film Festival
Nov. 17, 2020
Update Nov. 18: Here is a link to the recorded discussion.
Join us on Facebook live at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 18, to talk about the Corps of Engineers’ controversial plans for reducing flood risk in the Buffalo Bayou watershed from far west Houston to downtown.
Journalist Sam Oser moderates a discussion hosted by Residents Against Flooding about natural functions and nature-based engineering and why they work better than more costly, traditional, and outdated structural approaches to flood management—which can actually increase flooding and place more people in harm’s way.
Live panel includes Mary Anne Piacentini of the Katy Prairie Conservancy and Susan Chadwick of Save Buffalo Bayou. Learn about the value of prairies, wetlands, and forested, meandering streams in slowing and reducing flooding and cleansing our polluted urban waters.
The live session will be recorded in case you can’t make it.
Wild About Houston Film Festival
And after that don’t forget to watch the online Wild About Houston Film Festival, at 7 p.m.
Sponsored by the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, the festival features inspiring films by Jim Olive about Save Buffalo Bayou, Buffalo Bayou: A Right to Life and the Christmas Bay Foundation, Coastal Essence.
Corps Reconsidering Flood Tunnels. Still Focused on Outdated Ideas
Over 1,200 People at Telephone Town Hall About Deepening, Widening Buffalo Bayou
Public Comment Deadline is Nov. 20
Nov. 16, 2020
The Corps of Engineers is “going back to look at tunnels” to move stormwater from west Houston that can no longer be handled by the federal flood control dams there, said Col. Timothy Vail, commander of the Galveston District, during a telephone town hall sponsored by 7th Congressional District Rep. Lizzie Fletcher.
The conference call Sunday evening drew over 1,200 people concerned about the Corps’ proposals for dealing with too much stormwater flowing too fast into the 70-year-old federal dams, Addicks and Barker, in western Harris County north and south of Interstate 10.
During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, stormwater runoff held back by the dams flooded properties built in and behind the reservoir pools. When stormwater threatened to spill around or over the top of the earthen dams, the Corps was forced to open the floodgates, flooding thousands of properties along Buffalo Bayou immediately downstream from the dams.
In an Interim Report on its $6 million Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Resiliency Study, the Corps proposed as one possible solution deepening Buffalo Bayou by almost 12 feet and widening it to some 230 feet for 22-24 miles from the dams to downtown Houston (actually to 1,500-feet below Montrose—about Stanford Street). This would be to accommodate a flow of 15,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).
In “areas of high erosion,” the Corps would use articulated concrete block to line the channel bottom and banks. However, articulated concrete block doesn’t work in Buffalo Bayou, where the primary type of bank collapse is vertical slumping. The weight of concrete block exacerbates slumping.
The Corps also suggested building a dam on Cypress Creek with a reservoir on 22,000 acres of the Katy Prairie to hold back floodwater overflowing the creek and draining south into Addicks Reservoir.
The Corps admits that deepening and widening the bayou would basically eliminate all aquatic life in the bayou, including the threatened Alligator Snapping Turtle. The report, released Oct. 2, does not explain how it would purchase the property to eliminate wide swaths of the largely privately-owned upper bank of the bayou, how it will handle the proliferation of concrete and steel erosion control structures, public and private landscaping, the natural sandstone in the channel bottom and banks, or what happens in downtown Houston when a flow of 15,000 cfs hits below the Sabine Bridge—or a storm surge coming the opposite way.
Currently at that level of flow, floodwater inundates the trails in Buffalo Bayou Park and begins creeping towards Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway. The upper channel in the park was about 120-150 feet wide, according to Google Earth, before the Harris County Flood Control District spent nearly $10 million in federal funds narrowing the channel and lining the banks with concrete riprap in the last year.
The dam and reservoir on Cypress Creek would inundate a large portion of the remaining Katy Prairie, much of it under conservation easement, and ruin the prairie’s natural ability to slow and absorb stormwater by killing off the vegetation. (pp. 175-176)
Save Buffalo Bayou, with other environmental organizations, supports green, nature-based solutions at the regional, community and neighborhood levels. We are opposed to deepening and widening Buffalo Bayou and a dam on Cypress Creek, which the Corps admits will likely only encourage more development and thus more stormwater runoff. (p. 175) (And once again place more people in harm’s way).
Deepening and widening streams increases flooding, among many other problems. Focusing on stopping and slowing stormwater, on managing flooding in place, is the modern, more effective, more practical approach. The Corps’ simultaneous Metropolitan Houston Regional Watershed Assessment was supposed to be looking at a more comprehensive approach to reducing flood risk, though the scope of the study seems to have changed since it was first funded. At a recent virtual meeting, Col. Vail said that regional assessment would be considered.
However, the Corps in its Interim Report said that nature-based alternatives had been “screened out.” (p. 6)