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Mitigation for Clearcutting: Two Ways It Could Work Cost Effectively

For decades, we have had wetland mitigation banks. If you want to fill in wetlands, you need to preserve wetlands somewhere else. But what about those vast swaths of ecologically less valuable forest that still play valuable roles in flood reduction? Developers routinely mow them down for new starter homes, apartment complexes, strip centers, RV parks and the like. Should there be mitigation for clearcutting, too?

Imagine how much more attractive, healthier, and flood-resilient communities could become if all developers:

  • Planted a young tree for every old tree they cut, or…
  • Donated trees to community groups, or…
  • Preserved floodplains on their perimeters with conservation easements, or…
  • Committed to replanting trees on their own developments as homes are built.

Here’s why that’s important and two ways it could work without turning into a huge cost burden for developers and without onerous regulation.

Role of Trees in Flood Reduction

Trees do more than increase the value of homes. They also play many roles in flood reduction. For instance, they:

  • Soak up rain and transpire it back into the atmosphere at a slow rate.
  • Slow runoff during storms, reducing the time of concentration and flood peaks.
  • Reduce the velocity of floodwaters.
  • Bind soil and reduce the rate of erosion.

That erosion eventually reaches streams and can reduce their conveyance. In extreme cases, eroded sediment can even block streams and back floodwaters up into homes.

How Clearcutting Can Increase Flood Risk

Clearcutting on the other had accelerates runoff. As runoff gets to streams faster, it carries more exposed sediment. That sediment can reduce the conveyance of streams, partially block them, back floodwater up, and necessitate dredging programs which can take years and cost tens of millions of dollars.

Clearcutting makes more money for developers. But it also can also foist cleanup, repair, and mitigation costs off on neighbors and the public sector as we saw with Woodridge Village.

Notice the stark contrast in each photo below between the mature canopy of trees surrounding each newly clearcut development.

One of the primary draws of SE Texas is the gorgeous, lush forests. Yet high-density development is gradually destroying the very thing that attracts people. So should there be some sort of mitigation for clearcutting?

A Modest Proposal

Most companies make charitable donations of some sort. If you’re a developer, why not make them in a way that builds goodwill with neighbors, supports community values, makes everyone safer, and creates a tax deduction?

Contrast the systemic, mechanized deforestation above with the underfunded efforts of volunteer and charitable groups trying to plant trees and preserve forests. Perhaps the first group could help the second…and help themselves at the same time.

The lumber revenue from one mature loblolly pine could plant ten more.

And the tax breaks from a conservation easement can easily turn difficult-to-develop floodplain land into revenue-producing land.

Let’s look at examples of each.

Trees for Kingwood

Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s most recent newsletter contained a short article about a new group called “Trees For Kingwood.”

Martin says, “Over the last 5 decades, Kingwood has lost more than ten thousand trees due to disease, storms, and drought.”

And I would point out that that doesn’t even include new developments that practice clearcutting.

Mayor Pro Tem Martin (front row, center) joined leaders of seven Kingwood Community Associations that contributed funds to support the first planting event of Trees for Kingwood. “This is a good thing for the neighborhood and wonderful for the community,” said Martin.

Trees for Kingwood needs both volunteers and financial support to achieve its mission. 

  • Volunteers to help plant and care for new trees.
  • Financial support to purchase trees.

Charitable contributions can be made to the KSA Parks Foundation for the Trees for Kingwood effort. For more information please visit  treesforkingwood.org or email treesforkingwood@gmail.com.

Bayou Land Conservancy

Another worthy group is the Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC). Since 1996, BLC has preserved land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife. BLC’s focus area includes the Lake Houston Watershed, which is 4,000 square miles. The group has preserved 14,000 acres and has identified another 100,000 worthy of protection. The tax benefits of a conservation easement can help developers profit from flood-prone land that would be difficult and expensive to safely develop.

To put 14,000 acres in perspective, that’s the size of Kingwood.

Bottom Line

By supporting such groups, developers can help restore and protect the forests that attract people to this region. They can also help mitigate their development practices and reduce costs by harnessing the power of volunteers.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/3/22

1922 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Bayou Land Conservancy Raises Concerns About SJRA Sand Trap Proposal

The Bayou Land Conservancy has added its voice to those raising concerns about the SJRA’s sand trap proposal for the San Jacinto River watershed. The pilot project began out of a desire to reduce sediment buildup in the mouth bar of the West Fork. But it has morphed into something very different – a trench through a sand bar more than 12 miles upstream.

In March 2022, the SJRA published its long-awaited proposal on sediment removal and sand trap development along with a brief summary. It now seeks public comment through April 29, 2022.

Location of recommended sediment trap outside Hallett mine
Sand bar on West Fork San Jacinto that would be used for pilot project outside Hallett mine. Note that the height of the freshly deposited sand is engulfing several medium sized trees. This location is downstream from several other large mines. Picture taken shortly after Harvey.

BLC’s General Concerns with Study

I posted my concerns on 3/27/22. Yesterday, the Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC) sent me a copy of its letter. It reflected some of the same concerns I had.

  • The study did not address what should be the main goal of sediment removal: excessive deposition in the area of the mouth bar downstream of US 59.
  • Managing mouth bar sediment deposition, and related flooding, should be kept at the forefront as this project moves forward.
  • Sand mining in the floodplain of the San Jacinto West Fork between 1995 and 2017 virtually quadrupled. More than 30% of the river’s flood plain is now being mined. That’s a huge problem that requires other types of solutions to reduce sedimentation from mines, such as improved Best Management Practices.

The group also suggested a need for greater oversight of sand mining by state regulators. It feels an inconsistency exists between in-stream mining via sand traps and the TCEQ’s newly adopted BMPs for sand mining.

BLC’s Specific Concerns re: Recommendation

BLC then went on to discuss the specific recommendation – rock-lined trenches through sand bars outside of sand mines. They listed three concerns:

  1. River migration and erosion: Changes in river course, including erosion and deposition of sediment, are naturally occurring processes. Installation of hardscape or mechanical features within the flowing part of the river will have an impact on this natural process and could lead to increased erosion in the area surrounding the facility, increased sediment transport downstream, and destabilization of the stream to the detriment of the surrounding and downstream communities.”
  2. Water quality: 85% of the drinking water needs of the Houston metropolitan region are met by Lake Houston, at the receiving end of the San Jacinto River. Instead of occasional turbidity increase during dredging of the mouth bar, sand trapping could create a long-term elevation in turbidity leading to increased water treatment costs for the entire region, transferring the cost to the public from private interests. Additionally, the riverbed contains chemical components that may need to be addressed in water treatment at additional public expense.”
  3. Accountability: the governing legislation created by HB1824 does not address the question of accountability should the private interest in the sediment trap fail to protect the public’s interest or go out of business without remediating the in-stream mining facility.”

More Study Recommended Before Implementation

BLC also recommended that two of the study’s recommendations deserve to be prioritized and expanded to provide as much accurate data as possible before sand-traps get further consideration:

  1. “Evaluate total annual sediment load transported to Lake Houston, including the area downstream of proposed sediment traps, and compare to anticipated trapped sediment loads.”
  2. “Perform further geomorphic assessment to address potential downstream instabilities due to removing sediment and to determine appropriate sediment removal volumes.”

BLC went on to encourage SJRA to extensively study the holistic sediment story of the upper San Jacinto River watershed. Previous studies point to Spring and Cypress Creeks as major contributors of sediment. BLC wants the sediment loads in those creeks studied as well as the areas downstream of the proposed sand traps.

The group continued, “A science-based, peer-reviewed, methodology of assessing the sediment budget of the watershed is imperative before assuming that removing sediment from any single location on the river will have a positive impact on mouth bar deposition. … Without a basis for understanding the sediment budget for the West Fork, it’s impossible to evaluate (or approve) this project.”

Rivers in Texas Are Public Property

BLC also pointed out that even though HB1824 exempted SJRA and Harris County Flood Control District from any requirement to obtain a permit, pay a fee, or purchase the material taken, in Texas the contents of a river belong to the citizens of the state. “Therefore we all have an interest in the results of this in-stream mining proposal,” said the group’s letter.

The letter concluded, “BLC recommends that extensive further study be undertaken to determine if in-stream mining, i.e. sand traps, will accomplish the stated goal of providing a long-term solution for managing the mouth bar deposition, without creating further instability to the river system and negative impacts to the surrounding and downstream communities.

Here is their full letter.

The Bayou Land Conservancy, one of the leading environmental groups in the Lake Houston watershed, preserves land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife.

How Taking Sediment Out of a River Can Increase Erosion

Non-technical people may have trouble understanding how taking sediment out of a river can increase erosion. Basically, if you take too much out (more than the natural baseline of dissolved sediment), it can create a “hungry water” effect. Many academics have documented the hungry water effect. It’s especially noticeable downstream of dams, which are notorious for trapping sediment. Rivers with excess sediment transport capacity tend to erode their banks and streamed to compensate.

To Register Your Opinion

To register your opinions, pro or con, with the SJRA, email  floodmanagementdivision@sjra.net no later than April 29, 2022.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/9/2022 based on a Bayou Land Conservancy letter to SJRA

1684 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Spring Creek Greenway Threatened by New Development

One of the most popular natural attractions in the north Houston area is the Spring Creek Greenway. But between mile marker 8 and 8.5, a large new development called Breckenridge East has cut across the trail, leaving a massive scar through the forest to accommodate its drainage.

Nature Interrupted

Since 1979, Harris County Precinct 4 commissioners have added to the beautiful trail system between I-69 and I-45. The Spring Creek Greenway currently connects and protects approximately 7,000 acres of forest in Harris County, preserving this ecological gem as a mecca for ecotourism, education, and outdoor recreation.

But yesterday, a reader and cyclist, Ken Matthews, alerted me to an issue.

Photo by Ken Matthews on 10/31/2021. Taken from Spring Creek Greenway looking toward new development.
NE portion of development from the air. Oval indicates where it cuts across greenway. Spring Creek cuts through top of frame from left to right.

Role of Forests in Flood Prevention

According to Harris County Precinct 4 and Harris County Flood Control District:

  • Forests buffer against flooding by absorbing rainfall in their canopies and in the soil.
  • Trees act as natural water filters and significantly slow the movement of storm water, which lowers runoff, soil erosion, and flooding.
  • From an economic viewpoint, communities that use this important function of trees and canopy cover may spend less money on other flood control methods.

Infiltration rates for forested areas are 10-15 times greater than for equivalent areas of turf and grass.

Harris County Flood Control District

Recipe for Runoff

In the shot above, you can see the beginning of what looks like a large detention pond. But as we saw with Woodridge Village flooding in 2019, putting in the detention ponds AFTER the land has been cleared can be a recipe for runaway runoff during big storms.

Lush forest replaced by vast expanse of sterile nothingness.
Entire development. A local resident told me that during Harvey, water came up to Cypresswood Drive in the lower left. That put this entire area underwater.
Breckenridge East is in far upper left. Another development a little more than a block away is also cutting into the forest. Cypresswood Drive in foreground.
Looking NW from second development across Planet Ford Stadium toward Breckenridge East, one can see a whole series of developments starting to encroach on the Spring Creek floodplain and greenway.

Support Bayou Land Conservancy

The Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC) plays a vital role in protecting and maintaining the Spring Creek Greenway, which is the longest, contiguous, urban forested corridor in the country.

When finished, the Greenway will ultimately:

  • Stretch over 40 miles,
  • Reach from Highway 249 in Tomball east to US 59 in Kingwood, and 
  • Cover more than 12,000 acres. 

Please support the Bayou Land Conservancy. They preserve land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife. Not to mention future generations.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/1/2021 with thanks to Harris County Precinct 4, Bayou Land Conservancy and Ken Matthews

1425 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Save the Date: National Public Lands Day Volunteer Event on September 25

Established in 1994 and held annually on the fourth Saturday in September, National Public Lands Day is traditionally the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort. It provides all lovers of the environment an opportunity to show appreciation for precious natural resources through volunteer opportunities. 

Join the Bayou Land Conservancy and REI in Conserving Public Land

This year, National Public Lands Day falls on Saturday September 25. The theme is “More Ways to Connect to Nature,” and there are many ways to connect in this area. I highly recommend joining the Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC) – a local, environmental non-profit – at the Lake Houston Wilderness Park. BLC specializes in preserving land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife.

The BLC and volunteers will partner with REI for the day to help spruce up the park and get a guided tour from park naturalists. Refreshments will be provided, but they recommend bringing your own water in a reusable container and a snack. If you’ve never been to Lake Houston Wilderness Park, it’s a big, tranquil place filled with wetlands and dense forests. In fact, it’s the largest urban nature park in America – almost 5,000 acres – and like stepping back in time.

To see some of this gorgeous park, and the difference it makes in the San Jacinto East Fork Watershed (compared to the West Fork), see this post I developed in 2018 about the importance of riparian vegetation in reducing erosion.

Riparian vegetation in Lake Houston Park helps prevent erosion, sustain wildlife, and reduce flooding.
Shoreline of Lake Houston Park. Fall colors light up the landscape as well as people’s faces.
Looking NW across the vastness of unspoiled Lake Houston Park. Photo taken Jan. 1, 2021

Directly Benefitting the Lake Houston Headwaters and Reducing Flooding

The focus of work at the Lake Houston Wilderness Park on the 25th will directly benefit the Gully Branch-Peach Creek watershed, right in Kingwood’s backyard plus, Porter’s, New Caney’s and Huffman’s!

With 2.5 months left in hurricane season, take time to help preserve nature and reduce flooding in a natural ,cost-free way. More conserved lands mean more safe places for water to go without endangering our communities.

How to Register, Learn More

Please join BLC in conserving land on National Public Lands Day on the 25th of September! With 5,000 acres, there’s plenty of room for social distancing in a healthy environment.

For more information on the day’s events and how to register, visit BLC’s website at Bayouland.org/national-public-lands-day.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/8/2021

1471 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Headwaters to Baywaters: A Story of Urban Resilience

Several area conservation groups are working with the Houston Area Research Center (HARC) to protect land along riparian corridors and educate people about the importance of that. A stunningly beautiful new website called Headwaters to Baywaters explains how protecting riparian habitat helps protect people from flooding, improve water quality, and produce other benefits far in excess of the dollars invested.

New Website Uses Novel Technique

The Headwaters to Baywaters website also uses a novel graphic technique to dramatize the connectedness of waterways and people. Scrolling down one long page takes you on a visually lush journey from Headwaters to Baywaters. It starts far upstream where trickles of water coalesce into small streams and then moves all the way down to Galveston Bay with intermediate stops along the way.

As you scroll, little dialog boxes pop up that present you with tidbits of information that pertain to things you are seeing at that stage in your journey.

It’s informative and impactful. Make sure to share it with everyone in your family. It dramatizes the importance of prevention over correction. Preserving land along rivers and streams is far less costly and time-consuming than trying to correct the problems later if we lose them.

About the Headwaters to Baywaters Initiative

The Headwaters to Baywaters Initiative works to connect regional bayous and Galveston Bay through planning to identify:

  • High quality, riparian habitats with the potential to contribute to water quality improvements
  • Restoration and enhancement of riparian lands adjacent to targeted priority areas
  • Acquisition of land and designation of conservation easements on priority areas for riparian corridor protection.

It is part of the 8-County Gulf-Houston Regional Conservation Plan (RCP), facilitated by Houston Wilderness. 

Headwaters to Baywaters Partners

The Headwaters to Baywaters Initiative includes the following partners:

Bayou Land Conservancy has been at the forefront of land preservation in the Houston region for 25 years, with the mission of preserving land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife. For further information visit www.bayoulandconservancy.org and learn about its strategic conservation plan.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership is the non-profit organization revitalizing and transforming Buffalo Bayou, Houston’s most significant natural resource. For further information visit www.buffalobayou.org

The Galveston Bay Foundation’s mission is to preserve, protect and enhance the natural resources of the Galveston Bay estuarine system and its tributaries for present users and for posterity. For further information visit www.galvbay.org.

Houston Audubon Society’s mission is to advance the conservation of birds and positively impact their supporting environments. For further information visit www.houstonaudubon.org

Katy Prairie Conservancy is a nationally accredited 501(c)(3) non-profit organization working to protect coastal prairie, wetlands, and agriculture in southeast Texas for people and wildlife. For further information visit www.katyprairie.org

About HARC

Founded in 1982 by George P. Mitchell, HARC is a nonprofit research hub providing independent analysis on energy, air, and water issues to people seeking scientific answers. For further information visit www.HARCresearch.org.  

Please Help Support This Initiative

These are all great organizations worthy of the support of everyone in the region. The Bayou Land Conservancy has a special focus on the north Houston region. If you want to learn more in person, join the BLC on one of its educational nature walks.

I often focus on the problems of flood mitigation. Supporting this initiative is an easy way to get involved in preventing those problems.

lDr. Stephanie Glenn, HARC’s Program Director for Water and Hydrology is leading this partnership effort.

Posted by Bob Rehak on May 11, 2021

1351 Days since Hurricane Harvey

HGAC Honors Bayou Land Conservancy with Award for Strategic Conservation Plan

Since 1996, Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC) has been a land and water conservation leader. In 2019, BLC developed a Strategic Conservation Plan to continue that tradition for the next twenty years. This plan identified lands with the greatest positive impact on flood control, water quality, and wildlife habitat in the region. 

About the HGAC Awards

H-GAC selected the Plan for recognition in its annual Parks and Natural Areas Award Program, which began in 2006 to highlight best practices and innovative approaches to parks planning and implementation.

H-GAC honors projects in the categories of Projects Over $500,000, Projects Under $500,000, Planning Process, and Policy Tools. BLC received special recognition in the Planning Category. Projects recognized by this awards program are selected by a panel of expert judges and industry professionals.

Photo courtesy of Bayou Land Conservancy

About Bayou Land Conservancy

Bayou Land Conservancy’s mission is to preserve land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife. They envision a protected network of green spaces that connect people and nature. Although a small organization, BLC aims to have a large impact on land conservation, stewardship, and community engagement. Strategic planning is critical to achieving these goals.

Becky Martinez, BLC Conservation Director, explains, “We developed a strategic conservation plan to better prioritize our land conservation projects. The plan is a great tool to direct BLC’s community supported conservation projects. Though Houston feels very urban, there are many beautiful and beneficial natural places around us.”

The goals of the SCP were to identify and describe important areas for BLC to protect and create a plan of action toward their conservation.

Having reviewed the entire plan, I must say that the rigor and discipline used by BLC matches the organization’s dedication and enthusiasm. There’s a reason BLC has thrived for more than 25 years while other groups have come and gone. BLC currently preserves more than 14,000 acres across six counties from Houston to Huntsville.

The Hundred Thousand Acre Opportunity

BLC’s land preservation improves the quality of life for over five million people living in the greater Houston area. The strategic conservation plan identified approximately 100,000 acres of very high priority lands where preservation will have the greatest positive impact on flood resiliency, water quality, and wildlife habitat.

“When floodplains are left in their natural state or undeveloped, they can mitigate flooding by absorbing stormwater before it can inundate houses and businesses,” said Martinez. “Natural corridors along streams also filter runoff and rainwater, safeguarding our drinking water supply. By strategically focusing on these areas, BLC is able to maximize the benefits of land preservation and increase the community’s feeling of safety.”

The SCP also prioritizes land ideal for recreation and environmental education opportunities adjacent to existing parks and other protected spaces and trails.

But without the support of conservation-minded people, a plan is just a plan. Help put it into action. Support the Bayou Land Conservancy.

In the 1247 Days since Hurricane Harvey, I’ve posted hundreds of articles about threats to sensitive areas that could help reduce flooding. Here’s an easy way to help preserve those areas and enjoy them at the same time.

Learn More

Bayou Land Conservancy and other winners will be honored during an online celebration at 9 a.m. February 5, 2021. The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required at https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEsfuqvrT4pHdK8RmnQPh01-XzROD0yEY98

For more information about The Strategic Conservation Plan visit https://www.bayoulandconservancy.org/strategic-conservation-plan. Or click here to review the entire plan.

For more information about H-GAC’s Parks and Natural Area Awards, visit http://www.h-gac.com/parks-and-natural-areas/awards.aspx

Posted by Bob Rehak on January 27, 2021

1247 Days since Hurricane Harvey

You’re Invited: Bayou Land Conservancy Virtual Gala Tonight, Keynote Speaker Ben Masters

The Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC) preserves land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife.

Bayou Land Conservancy Achievements

With the support of individuals and corporations, BLC now protects 14,000 acres at 60 preserves in the Houston region. They focus on 4,000 square miles which includes the Lake Houston Watershed. And they log thousands of volunteer hours every year. This group stands tall among the many worthy conservation groups in Houston.

If you haven’t met BLC yet, tonight you will have a chance to see what they do from the comfort of your own laptop.

Event Details

From 6-7 pm, you can:

There’s no cost to attend. BLC simply wants to encourage you learn more about their efforts to preserve land.

Register for and view the event here. Donations to the Bayou Land Conservancy are welcome, but optional.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/13/2020

1172 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Sand Miners Donate 117 Acres of Unspoiled Wetlands Along Spring Creek to Bayou Land Conservancy

Often, I post about sand mines or developments that encroach on floodplains and floodways to the detriment of people downstream. But when I learned of this story, it made me extremely happy. The Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC) announced last week that Joe Swinbank and Don Poarch, partners at Sprint Sand & Clay, have donated 117 acres of unspoiled wetlands to the organization. The land borders Spring Creek in Tomball, north of Lone Star College and Harris County Precinct 4’s Spring Creek Park. It will have a significant impact on conservation, according to the BLC.

Natural wetlands on the tract donated to BLC by Swinbank and Poarch. This and all photos below are courtesy of the Bayou Land Conservancy.

“We are excited to own this ecologically rich nature preserve that will help us connect the community to the benefits of land conservation”, said BLC board chair Lisa Lin. “This donation will benefit the community for many generations, and be an enduring legacy of the incredible generosity of Mr. Swinbank and Mr. Poarch.”

Spring Creek meanders along the property’s southern border.
Ecologically rich wetlands such as these help retain water during floods, reducing the impact on downstream residents.

Land Originally Purchased for Mining

“As the greater Houston area continues to grow at a rapid pace, striking a healthy balance between land preservation and land development has never been more important as we seek to protect the many economic and community benefits we all enjoy,” Swinbank said. “The Bayou Land Conservancy’s extensive network of preserved trails and waterways just minutes from Houston is impressive in its form and function—a model of what can be achieved when community stakeholders work together. We’re proud to partner with the Conservancy to continue these important environmental efforts and extend BLC’s preserved trails and waterways west into the Tomball area.”

Don Poarch echoed his partner’s sentiments in acknowledging the award.  “We’re grateful for the recognition as this year’s Conservation Champions and happy to continue to champion the BLC and its important mission to preserve these lands for natural flood control, cleaner water and wildlife protection,” Poarch said. “On behalf of our entire team at Sprint Sand & Clay, Joe and I hope this land along Spring Creek enhances the community with protected green space while providing beautiful trails and waterways for people to reconnect with nature and each other.”

Family History Led to Donation

Beyond the positive environmental and community impact, the land in Tomball has personal significance to Swinbank and his family. “My wife was raised in the area, and her extended family has deep roots in Tomball and Rosehill going back to the area’s original German settlers,” Swinbank added. “My family and I couldn’t be happier that the Conservancy will ensure this land is preserved and protected for generations to come.”

Location of new preserve

Online Gala to Honor Conservationists Nov. 13

BLC will honor Swinbank and Poarch at its annual Annual Land Lover Gala as Conservation Champions. The Gala will be held virtually this year from 6-7 pm on Friday, November 13th. More information about the event can be found here. Wildlife film maker Ben Masters will be the keynote speaker. Mark your calendar.

No-Cost Gala Great Way to Learn More About BLC

Because of COVID, BLC’s net proceeds will likely be down this year. There’s no cost to attend the virtual event. “We’d just like to encourage people to join us,” said Jill Boullion, Executive Director of the BLC.

On a personal note, I will say this. The Bayou Land Conservancy and its committed staff stand tall among many worthy conservation groups in the Lake Houston Area. Their cooperative strategy is simple.

They put conservation easements on environmentally important land that is bought or donated so that it serves its natural function. They make a huge difference and deserve everyone’s support.

Bayou Land Conservancy protects land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife. BLC is a nationally accredited, community-sponsored land preservation organization working to permanently protect land, with a focus on the streams that feed Lake Houston, an important source of drinking water for millions in the region. More information is available at: www.bayouland.org.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/31/2020

1159 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Many Yards That Flooded Last Year See Crayfish Population Explosion

I have received a flood of emails lately from people complaining about the sudden explosion of crayfish in their yards this year. The worst cases seem to be in yards that flooded last year, either from nearby construction, which altered drainage, or from Tropical Storm Imelda.

The most common complaint: the mud chimneys make mowing yards nearly impossible. And, “You can twist an ankle without even trying,” says Gretchen Dunlap Smith, one of the affected homeowners. On an even more serious note, they can also undermine earthen dams. “What to do?” people ask.

Be Thankful You Don’t Live in Tasmania!

Crayfish, crawfish, crawdads, mudbugs, whatever you call them, they’re all essentially the same thing. More than 550 species exist worldwide. They range in size from less than an inch in Louisiana to more than 8 POUNDS in Tasmania. There are 390 species in North America, 338 in the United States. Texas alone has 40 species according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. Counties in the north Houston area even have their own unique breed.

Attracted to Water, Danger to Pond Dams

Louis A. Helfrich, Extension Specialist; Jim Parkhurst, Extension Specialist; and Richard Neves, Extension Specialist; Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, at Virginia Tech published a study called “The Control of Burrowing Crayfish in Ponds.” They say that burrowing animals such as crayfish “construct their homes or ‘burrows’ by digging into soil banks along the shorelines of waterbodies. Tunnels dug below the water level provide channels through which water can escape. Tunnels dug above the water level can decrease structural support of the embankment and increase the risk of washout during flood conditions. These hazards are multiplied in waters where burrowing animals are abundant and where water levels fluctuate.”

Chemical Treatments Not Recommended

The breeding season peaks in early spring, say the authors. “Complete elimination is usually not possible … Control is successful when the balance between the predator (fish, birds, mammals) and the prey species (crayfish) is reached, and excessive burrowing damage is reduced to an acceptable level.”

The Virginia Tech study does not recommend chemical treatments because they: (1) threaten water quality, (2) kill beneficial plants and animals as well as pests, and (3) can be widely distributed by wind and water movements.

No chemicals are currently registered for crayfish control. Never apply toxic chemicals directly to waters or near shorelines where they can seep into waterways.”

An explosion of crayfish chimneys in a yard flooded last year next to the Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village construction site. This and photos below courtesy of Gretchen Dunlap Smith.
Gretchen Dunlap Smith’s yard after smashing the crayfish chimneys.
As soon as you smash them…
…the crayfish rebuild them. This is because they burrow. Tunnels can go down 2-3 feet with side chambers.

Another homeowner, Susanne Kite says, “Places in my yard have not completely dried up since Imelda. A lot changed after that flood. I don’t understand what was so different and caused so much to change.”

Crayfish Love Wetlands

Suzanne Simpson, a wildlife biologist with the Bayou Land Conservancy, may have an explanation. “Crayfish love wetlands. So much so that the presence of crayfish mounds is considered a secondary indicator of wetland habitat on wetland delineation sheets for the Corps of Engineers.”

“Crayfish feed on detritus and mostly make their mounds during the rainy season,” says Simpson. “I’m sure the floodwaters brought in some detritus with them, and flooding leaves traces that likely lead the crayfish to identify these yards as good habitat. They’re not too easy to get rid of, but it can be done.”

Drainage Improvement and Traps: Your Best Bet. Puppies? Not So Much

You best bet: terrascaping to improve drainage, say the experts. Failing that, “traps are humane and non toxic. You don’t have to worry about poisoning other animals or leaving persistent residue in your soil,” says the web site Gardening Know How.

“My littlest schnauzer had puppies Dec 30th,” said Gretchen Dunlap Smith. “The puppies are DIGGING them up at a rapid rate and EATING them! It is GROSS hearing them crunch!! Sounds like they are chewing gravel. So, no chance for étouffée…the dogs are having sushi.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on March 30, 2020 with help from Suzanne Simpson, Gretchen Dunlap Smith and Susanne Kite

944 Days after Harvey and 193 since Imelda

Bill that Could Open Door to River Mining Modified and Heading to Full Senate

Senate Bill 2126, which allows sand mining in rivers – without permits or royalties – was voted out of the Senate Water and Rural Affairs committee last night. The committee left the bill pending during the previous day’s testimony after four of the seven members expressed concerns about it.

Changes in Committee Substitute SB 2126

However, when the bill’s author, Senator Brandon Creighton, created a “committee substitute” bill, four senators voted FOR it.

The substitute bill contains two major changes:

  • It limits the bill’s geographic scope to the San Jacinto River and its tributaries.
  • It gives the Harris County Flood Control District the same powers that it gives the San Jacinto River Authority.

Local bills rarely encounter serious opposition. So this may guarantee the bill’s passage.

Issues with Revisions

Unfortunately, the language is still so sweeping, that I fear it could open the door to abuses.

Someone reading this for the first time, without the benefit of all the senate testimony, could draw the conclusion that the San Jacinto and its tributaries are wide open to sand mining – 24/7/365 – as long you justify it by saying you will improve the river’s conveyance.

Vague Language Opens Door to Abuses

For instance, after reading this bill, unless you watched the testimony, how would you know that it’s supposedly:

  • For the purpose of building sand traps that are maintained once or twice a year?
  • Limited to “strategic locations”?
  • Based on scientific studies?

Several years down the road, when the players change, all the verbal promises made during testimony will be long forgotten. It’s easy to see how people could get the wrong impression of the bill’s original intent.

Nightmare Scenario

At that time, I can see developer’s coming to sand miners and the SJRA (or Harris County Flood Control) saying, “I need more fill to elevate my property. Can you take it out of the river for me?”

The only problem is this. While it may reduce the risk of flooding on the developers’ property, without proper safeguards, it will likely increase flooding for surrounding and downstream properties.

It could even increase sedimentation downstream as many academic studies have shown.

Example 1: Loss of riparian vegetation along the banks increases erosion. So even though you take sand out of the river, you put more back in.

Example 2: Imagine a flood moving slowly through a widened area. Now imagine those same floodwaters moving downstream through a narrower area. As the water hits the constriction, it starts churning at and eroding the river banks.

Example 3: Lack of permitting or engineering studies means that developers could put fill anywhere. Even in streams. They could divert flows onto neighboring properties. They could put fill in wetlands and pave it over. This would accelerate flooding downstream.

Proponents of the bill argue that removing deposits like this one near a mine could keep the sand from migrating downriver. Opponents argue that it could destabilize river banks and worsen sedimentation. The vagueness of the language in the bill would also make it easy to widen the river anywhere developers wanted to build in floodplains.

Better Ways to Reduce Sedimentation

Creighton’s original stated intent was to eliminate disincentives for public/private partnerships that could help address excess sedimentation. A noble intention.

But if he really wants to stop sediment from coming downstream, he might be better off partnering with groups like the Bayou Land Conservancy that protect and restore floodplains. Or accelerating bills like his own SB2124, which creates best management practices for sand mining. Texas is the only state that I could find that doesn’t require minimum setbacks from rivers for sand mines. That contributes to repeated flooding of mines. We sure could use some help in that department. Frankly, so could the miners.

This session ends on May 27th. Tick Tock.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/18/2019

597 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 39 days until the end of this legislative session