Skip to Navigation Skip to Main Content

Bayou plan relies on natural materials

Profile image for Houston Chronicle Editorial
Houston Chronicle Editorial

Paddle a canoe down Buffalo Bayou in Houston, and you'll encounter turtles sunning on logs and egrets hunting for minnows, but also sycamore and oak trees dipping low from banks covered in bags of concrete, heaps of rubble and bioengineered vegetation.

The ragtag armor lining the crumbling banks is testimony to man's ineffective attempts to control the wanderings of this centuries-old pathway for floodwaters to Galveston Bay. With urbanization, more water -- moving faster than ever before -- flows from upstream, causing more erosion.

Not only is controlling the flow of water difficult, but Buffalo Bayou is also a moving target. The snaking channel has moved more than 350 feet since 1995, destroying forest and riverbank during that time.

The Memorial Park Demonstration Project -- permitted by the Army Corps of Engineers in April to mitigate damage along a 1.1 mile stretch of bayou -- will showcase a method that doesn't pave, dam or concrete up the bayou.

Instead, the plan relies on natural materials -- stacked tree trunks -- to encourage the waterway to keep its curvaceous shape.

The Houston Chronicle supports this effort and believes it should proceed as soon as possible. This does not rely on the highly disruptive methodology of the past. Decades ago the district developed a plan to channel and pave this same stretch of bayou that meanders by or through Memorial Park, the Hogg Bird Sanctuary and River Oaks Country Club.

Local activist Terry Hershey -- who helped avert that environmental tragedy -- went on to found the Bayou Preservation Association. Today, BPA is one of the key supporters of the district's plan to use natural channel design to help alleviate the bayou's distress.

Unfortunately, no intervention happens without some sort of disruption, and opponents contend the plan will destroy one of the last stretches of riparian forest.

It is true that trees will be lost in the process. But we believe nature will adapt, and we agree with experts who say that Buffalo Bayou will be healed in a decade or so.

This section of Buffalo Bayou meanders at times and rages at times in the middle of the fourth-largest city in the United States. The park has changed many times during the last 200 years, and this fortification is important for its future.

The excessive erosion of late is not a natural, but a man-made phenomenon. The release of waters from Addicks and Barker reservoirs along with other factors causes this portion of the bayou to snake around "like a high-pressure water hose left untended on the ground," according to BPA.

Land alongside Memorial Park, the city's crown jewel of green space, can't be left to erode at a clip. The goal of improving nature's long-term health justifies a short-term, environmentally judicious disruption.