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IronTiger

Bayous seem wasted somehow

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So in that trip to Houston I took a few months ago, I got a chance to cross the Braes Bayou, seeing that it was essentially a wide drainage ditch with bike lanes along the side. Knowing that at one time the bayous were *not* encased in concrete (White Oak Bayou was quite different in the 1940s), I was wondering if it would be feasible to restore a bayou in Houston to a semi-natural state, and use it specifically for relaxing tubing runs.

 

Another thing that seems a wasted opportunity is how downtown is so close to Buffalo Bayou, yet there's nothing taking advantage of it. Maybe a full "riverwalk" would be aping San Antonio, but there's parking lots and jails instead of restaurants and shops that directly come up to it.

 

Not a lot of cities have waterways that run through the city like Houston does, and it should be taken advantage of, not treated as a tolerable nuisance.

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it would appear you have never been here during a flood.  we are not san antonio.  the referenced bayou is actually used for drainage.

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As August948 pointed out, This has been a major topic of conversation the last couple of years. You should read through the Buffalo Bayou master plan that the Buffalo Bayou partnership has created and is implementing piece by piece. Additionally, the city is focusing on increasing the hike and bike trails along all of the bayous.

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Another thing that seems a wasted opportunity is how downtown is so close to Buffalo Bayou, yet there's nothing taking advantage of it.

 

Yup...nothing going on around Buffalo Bayou.  Waste of space...nothing to do.

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In fairness to Iron Tiger, his first comment was about Brays Bayou and whether or not we'll ever see these concrete lined channels restored to a more natural state. 

 

It's possible, but putting back all the natural meanders would mean buying up a lot of expensive real estate and moving lots of roads and infrastructure.

 

Harris County Flood Control District has devoted itself over the last decade or two to being a more environmentally responsible agency.  I think you'll continue to see "improvements" like more landscaping/trees within the bayous, but it'll be a long time before White Oak or Brays are returned to a natural channel section.

 

On the other hand, we're blessed with "virgin" natural stretches of Spring Creek, Cypress Creek, Armand Bayou and many others that we need to work hard to keep natural. 

 

In addition, HCFCD is partnering with other groups (COH, Memorial Park) to do some stream restoration to combat erosion on Buffalo Bayou using "natural" armoring techniques like root balls and using natural vegetation instead of concrete, rip-rap or steel sheet piles.  If you've ever been down the bayou, you see lots of attempts to stop erosion by homeowners, and most have failed.  It'll be interesting to see how this pilot project works, and if it does, you'll see it spread up and down the bayou I'm sure.

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When/what is the picture of the moon on Heritage Plaza from?

 

Umm...google images.  I copied and pasted all those off of a quick google search.  I should add, "All credit to the original photographers, and I'm not using this for personal gain," and any other legal disclaimers that I should have posted.  :)

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In fairness to Iron Tiger, his first comment was about Brays Bayou and whether or not we'll ever see these concrete lined channels restored to a more natural state. 

 

It's possible, but putting back all the natural meanders would mean buying up a lot of expensive real estate and moving lots of roads and infrastructure.

 

Yes, and that was the purpose of Prop B. I'm told land buys are pending but the exact locations are secret to prevent land speculators from driving up the price.

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I read it more that in general "Bayous seem wasted somehow", as if in general bayous in Houston are unusable for recreation, with statements like "Knowing that at one time the bayous were *not* encased in concrete [...] I was wondering if it would be feasible to restore a bayou in Houston to a semi-natural state, and use it specifically for relaxing tubing runs" making it sound like all the bayous are in that condition and we have to wait for someone to restore one before there are tubing opportunities to be had. Yes, there are some whose primary purpose is to serve as a drainage, and because of prior decisions that weren't in the best interests of ecology, aesthetics, or even what we now know is good flood control method, were turned into concrete drainage conduits. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't still plenty of bayous that are in a semi-natural condition and be used as recreation, so we don't have to wait to restore bayous like Brays before we can get out there and use our bayous. I know many of my fellow paddlers who use area creeks and bayous for paddling trips - Timmy Chan named a few: Spring Creek, Cypress Creek, Armand Bayou, Buffalo Bayou, and even White Oak is not concrete throughout its whole course and there are people who enjoy it. Just because some of our bayous aren't the most conducive to recreation doesn't mean our entire bayou scene is "wasted".

Edited by Reefmonkey

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Yes, and that was the purpose of Prop B. I'm told land buys are pending but the exact locations are secret to prevent land speculators from driving up the price.

 

My understanding of Prop B was mainly to construct new trails along our bayous and their tributaries.  Most of our bayous tend to run west-east, and many of the main channels tend to already have significant trail systems.  It's the tributaries that need better trail systems to provide that north-south connectivity to make the trails more accessible.

 

As far as actually restoring concrete-lined channel back to a more natural state, I found this on the bayougreenways.org website:

 

Will Bayou Greenways remove concrete from inside the bayou channels?

Not at this time. The Bayou Greenways does not include the expense to remove concrete from the bayous. The significant function provided by the bayous for flood control will remain under the control of the Harris County Flood Control District and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Bayou Greenways will remain focused on ensuring that Houstonians are allowed to benefit from the recreation, health, transportation, and wildlife viewing benefits provided by the bayous and may one day work to bring the bayous back to their natural state by removing the concrete.

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it would appear you have never been here during a flood.  we are not san antonio.  the referenced bayou is actually used for drainage.

 

There is definitely some truth to that, musicman. The Riverwalk is only about 4 miles from the headwaters of the San Antonio River, while by the time Buffalo Bayou hits downtown, it has run for 50 miles, and has about a 100 square mile watershed, so it can pick up a lot of flood water in a short time, as anyone who has lived here a while has seen. Building right along the banks as we see at the Riverwalk is completely out of the question. However, I've seen in European cities that have rivers with variable levels running through them, embankments are built and there can still be quite a lot of cafes, etc, at the tops of these embankments, and even more temporary establishments at the foot of these embankments. If Houston developed something like this, encouraged redevelopment of businesses that are where the tops of the embankments would be to be restaurants, bars, etc, we could have a nice little cafe culture here in H-town. Furthermore, if ramps were built, food trucks could drive down there and be the "temporary establishments" like the little cafes along the Rhone in Lyon. Let them set up some outdoor seating, etc. This might be a nice compromise over city ordinances about food trucks having propane in downtown, etc. Not saying that this is definitely what we should do with the downtown bayou, but throwing it out there as one idea that might work.

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I think a history of the Harris county flood control district needs to be written, but I have not researched this topic to see if this has already been done. It would be interesting to make an animated map of the changes from prairie to urban. Once the watershed was drained and developed, the channelization has to be maintained to prevent even worse flooding, but the new mitigation wetlands that are being created are a step in the right direction for storing water.  I am finding that the Bayou mitigation efforts appear to be good examples of environmental mitigation and restoration given the state of the situation at the time they were created. A lot of planning and community effort seems to be going into these projects. 

 

Most cities do have waterways running through them, and these were important reasons why they were located there in the first place. That also means that most cities were developed in wetlands that had to be drained at some point. The earliest stream reclamation project that I know of is the Muddy River in Boston, that was turned from a dump and stagnant water area into a parkway by Fredrick Law Olmsted. In general, before 1980 nationwide, streams were treated as a waste disposal system and wetlands were treated as something that needed to be improved through drainage. Sometime around 1980 it was recognized that wetlands served as a sponge to absorb vast quantities of water that would have no where else to go. By this time, Brays, Buffalo and White Oak had been largely channelized and the adjacent wet prairies developed. 

 

The unconsolidated soils, the large drainage area that consisted primarily of wet prairies and wetlands meant that the bayous needed to be channelized wide and deep to drain flood events. Without large preserved wetlands, there was no other option. Even that was ultimately not enough as we have seen. No place floods like Houston, I tell Floridians about driving with your car bobbing in the waves, keeping your accelerator pressed down so that water does not enter the tail pipe and flood the engine and they look at me like I am from mars...yet we have the worst flooding and sea level rise issues of any part of the US. 

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