Res­i­dents worry flood con­trol will kill trees

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Mi­hir Zaveri

A Har­ris County study to re­duce flood­ing along Buf­falo Bayou be­tween Texas 6 and Belt­way 8 is draw­ing fire from lo­cal groups who say flood con­trol im­prove­ments could de­stroy forests there.

Com­mis­sion­ers Court on Tues­day voted unan­i­mously to let the Har­ris County Flood Con­trol District sketch out what ex­actly a study of that seg­ment of the bayou would ex­am­ine.

The Court would have to vote again to green light the ac­tual study, which could rec­om­mend flood re­duc­tion mea­sures, such as clear­ing trees and in­stalling de­ten­tion ponds.

Su­san Chad­wick, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the non­profit Save Buf­falo Bayou, op­posed the flood con­trol district’s study, stat­ing that res­i­dents in the area had been fight­ing for years to keep the forests’ nat­u­ral aes­thetic.

“It’s not worth the loss of pub­lic trea­sure,” Chad­wick told com­mis­sion­ers Tues­day. “Trees do not cause flood­ing of homes.”

Chad­wick is among a num­ber of res­i­dents in the area who say that the trees help im­prove wa­ter qual­ity, slow rain­wa­ter runoff and main­tain a more ap­peal­ing nat­u­ral aes­thetic. Pro­po­nents note that for flood-weary res­i­dents along Buf­falo Bayou, many who just took on sev­eral feet of wa­ter dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, hold­ing back flood­wa­ters while also stream­lin­ing por­tions of the

chan­nel is paramount.

The back-and-forth is the lat­est in a long-stand­ing ten­sion over the look and feel of Hous­ton’s bayous. Terry Her­shey and other Hous­ton con­ser­va­tion­ists led a fa­mous and suc­cess­ful push in the 1960s to pre­vent the straight­en­ing of Buf­falo Bayou, a move that the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers has said con­strained the abil­ity of the bayou to han­dle flood­wa­ters re­leased from the Ad­dicks and Barker dams.

Ear­lier this year, the flood con­trol district was granted a per­mit from the Army Corps to redesign a por­tion of Buf­falo Bayou near Me­mo­rial Park to show that sta­bi­liza­tion of banks, ero­sion re­pair, im­proved wa­ter qual­ity, sed­i­ment re­duc­tion and preser­va­tion of the bayou’s flood ca­pac­ity is pos­si­ble through “nat­u­ral chan­nel de­sign,” a term that de­scribes en­gi­neer­ing to a stream that mim­ics nat­u­ral changes.

That project also was op­posed by con­ser­va­tion­ists who crit­i­cized that al­ter­ation of the nat­u­ral land­scape.

“You see this fre­quently, fig­ur­ing out if you leave a sys­tem nat­u­ral, or do you make them pipes,” said Larry Lar­son, se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst with the as­so­ci­a­tion of state flood plain man­agers.

Lar­son said sim­i­lar con­ver­sa­tions are hap­pen­ing around the coun­try as ci­ties look to re­v­erse a mid-20th cen­tury push to line wa­ter­ways with con­crete.

Re­gard­ing the flood con­trol district’s cur­rent look at Buf­falo Bayou be­tween Texas 6 and Belt­way 8, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Russ Poppe said the district owns right of way av­er­ag­ing about 500 to 600 feet out­side the bayou’s banks in that stretch, open­ing up the pos­si­bil­ity to add stormwa­ter de­ten­tion there. The land was pur­chased from the Army Corps in the 1960s.

“Those im­prove­ments do make a ben­e­fit,” Poppe said.

The flood con­trol district does not own the right of way down­stream of Belt­way 8. Ad­dicks and Barker dams are up­stream of Texas 6.

The flood con­trol district also is con­duct­ing an­other study of veg­e­ta­tion along that stretch of the bayou to clas­sify the plants and trees. Re­mov­ing in­va­sive species could have en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits, Poppe said.

The tim­ing of po­ten­tial projects on Buf­falo Bayou is un­clear. Rec­om­men­da­tions could come be­fore Com­mis­sion­ers Court in a few months. Poppe said Tues­day’s vote al­lows the flood con­trol district to ne­go­ti­ate with con­sul­tant R.G. Miller En­gi­neers over the scope of the Buf­falo Bayou study, and once that is com­plete, be­gan an­a­lyz­ing in­for­ma­tion from the veg­e­ta­tion study to rec­om­mend any changes.

Poppe said “ab­so­lutely there would be op­por­tu­nity for pub­lic in­volve­ment,” cit­ing fu­ture votes on po­ten­tial projects.

He said the city also is con­sid­er­ing drainage im­prove­ments along Buf­falo Bayou, which could im­pact how much wa­ter that drains out of neigh­bor­hoods and into the wa­ter­way. That could ne­ces­si­tate more de­ten­tion or other im­prove­ments.

Steve Costello, the city’s chief re­silience of­fi­cer, who fre­quently is re­ferred to as Hous­ton’s “flood czar,” could not be reached for com­ment Tues­day.

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