Tag Archive for: conservation easement

Bayou Land Conservancy Protects Another 966 Acres in Lake Creek Watershed

Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC) has announced a conservation easement on 966 acres of critical Lake Creek property in Montgomery County. The property is just northeast of Magnolia on Tranquility Ranch, which is owned by Nathan and Lindy Ingram. BLC started working with the Ingrams in 2015.

The conservation easement is across Lake Creek from the 7,000-acre Cook’s Branch preserve owned by the Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation. The proximity of the two large properties will benefit wildlife by maintaining the “carrying capacity” of the land.

Lake Creek flows diagonally through this satellite image from Google Earth. Note how new developments are gobbling up the natural (green) area in the middle where the conservation easement is.

The 966 acres permanently preserved at Tranquility Ranch help meet BLC’s long-term conservation goals and contribute to the environmental health of the region.

The preserve will function as a wetland and stream mitigation bank, known as the West Montgomery Mitigation Bank. It has credits available to developers seeking to offset impacts in this rapidly growing area.

Wild area along Lake Creek where it flows through Tranquility Ranch.

Featuring a mix of hardwood and pine forest, Tranquility Ranch consists of over 400 acres of existing wetland habitat, 20 acres of streams & ponds, and 13,000 linear feet (2.5 miles) of stream frontage on Lake Creek.

In addition to high quality existing habitat, over 90 acres of wetlands and 300 acres of flooded forests will be improved and restored on the land.

Bottomland hardwoods provide habitat for wildlife.

The 966-acre preserve is part of a larger 1200-acre property that hosts a special event venue called The Wyldes at Tranquility Ranch. It hosts retreats, weddings, and other events.

Benefits to People and Wildlife

Jill Boullion, Executive Director of Bayou Land Conservancy, said, “This conservation agreement makes a significant stride towards BLC’s conservation goals to preserve land in the Lake Houston watershed.”

“We’re grateful to landowner Nathan Ingram and his care and protection of this special place,” said Boullion.

“This land will provide positive impacts in the region for generations to come.”

Jill Boullion, Exec. Director, BLC

Preservation of Tranquility Ranch will provide many community benefits. They include flood control, water-quality improvements for drinking water and recreation, and wildlife habitat. The preserve also is an important nesting, wintering, and migratory stop-over site for many bird species, including owls, raptors, and songbirds.

Importance of Lake Creek Preservation to Downstream Flood Protection

Leaving natural areas natural won’t reduce flooding per se. But it will keep flooding from getting worse.

It will also reduce flood damage by ensuring generous setbacks from areas that flood.

Wetlands are nature’s sponges. They retain runoff that might otherwise quickly add to flood peaks downstream. They also clean water.

Bayou City Waterkeeper ranks the wetlands along Lake Creek as one of the five most critical wetland areas in the Houston Region.

For those who may not know where Lake Creek is, it enters the San Jacinto West Fork just south of Conroe, about 9 miles south of the Lake Conroe Dam. See the big green area in the upper left.

watershed map of the San Jacinto
Watershed map courtesy of San Jacinto Regional Water Authority.

From this map, we can see that rainfall from seven watersheds flows under the US59 bridge. Comparing peak flow data from them during the January 2024 flood, we can see that Lake Creek had the highest discharge rate. See below. USGS graphs are arranged in order from highest to lowest, except for the last, which reflects rain falling in all seven watersheds.

Lake Creek peaked at 20,800 cubic feet per second (CFS)
Lake Conroe peaked at 19,100 CFS.
Spring Creek peaked at 9,810 CFS.
Cypress Creek peaked at 6,580 CFS.
Willow Creek peaked at 842 CFS.
Little Cypress peaked at 780 CFS.

All of the streams above flow under the US59 bridge.

USGS registered a peak of 40,400 cubic feet per second at the 59 Bridge.

Note: the first six peaks do not total up to the last because streams peaked at different times.

Of course, these numbers partially reflect uneven rainfall distribution during the January event. And rainfall totals in the Lake Creek watershed were among the highest in the area.

The discharge rates above also reflect watershed size. According to Table 2 in the San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan:

  • Spring Creek drains 392 sq. mi.
  • Lake Creek drains 330 sq. mi.
  • Cypress Creek drains 266 square miles (sq. mi.)
  • Little Cypress drains 52 sq. mi.
  • Willow drains 52 sq. mi.

Looking solely at watershed size shows that even if the rainfall distribution had been uniform, Lake Creek would have contributed a major percentage of the overall flow.

And that – in a sentence – is why Lake Houston Area residents should care about conservation along Lake Creek, especially considering that the watershed is developing so quickly!

Conservation Easement Will Protect Land in Perpetuity

BLC conducted an extensive audit of natural resources including wetlands and wildlife on the Ingram property before the conservation agreement was put in place. No matter who the owner is, the easement will run with the land and protect the land in perpetuity. The audit will provide a baseline for future comparison.

Ingram reportedly had offers to buy the land from sand miners and developers but chose to conserve it instead. Said Boullion, “I commend him because obviously it’s not cheap to own and hold that much land in a natural state. So, he looked for a way to monetize his property while conserving the land and benefiting the community. He is one of the most conservation-minded people I know.”

The conservation easement held by BLC will let Ingram sell wetland-mitigation credits through the West Montgomery Mitigation Bank. He will sell them to developers who have no other choice but to disturb wetlands while developing the rest of their property.

For more about how the wetland credits work in Texas, see this page from Texas A&M.

The Army Corps controls and permits the process. But non-profit groups, such as the Bayou Land Conservancy, play a major role in it.

About Bayou Land Conservancy

BLC is one of the leading conservation groups in the Houston region. It preserves 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 of people.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/25/24

2361 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Earth Week Part 4: Slope of Sand Mine Dikes, Riparian Vegetation and Cost Offsets

Yesterday, I posted about how greater setbacks from rivers could improve safety for sand mines and downstream residents. Setbacks reduce the potential for erosion, sedimentation and consequent flooding. Here’s a related post that shows what happens when you try to build too close to rivers.

Note repairs to dike. I took this photo two weeks after Harvey.

First, understand that the closer you mine to the river, the steeper the slope of dikes must be. At a certain point, the slope becomes so steep that:

  • Grasses and trees can’t take root in it.
  • The loose soil becomes prone to erosion.
  • During floods, water in the river rises faster than in the pit.
  • It exerts pressure on the dike.
  • The dike can collapse through one of more of several mechanisms (piping, erosion, overtopping, sloughing, etc.)
  • The river invades the pit.
  • Depending on the depth of the pit, the volume of sediment in it, and the force of the flood, sediment could be carried downstream.

Another factor leading to dike collapse in the photo above is the road built on top of it. Running heavy equipment over the sandy soil causes it to compact and push outward. Vehicle traffic also keeps vegetation that could bind the soil from growing.

Accidents Waiting to Happen

It doesn’t take a Harvey-scale flood to breach these loose dikes. The unmemorable July 4th flood of last year breached the dike shown above.

Another flood on December 7th last year breached a dike in another sand mine downstream from the first one in three places!

Repairs to one of three dike breaches at a sand mine in Dec. 7 flood last year. Photo by Don Harbour Jr.

Here’s another breach at the same mine that hadn’t yet healed when I photographed it on September 28th last year.

Site of a breach in the dike of a sand mine. Note how the loss of vegetation has led to erosion and sloughing in the sandy soil.

When such breaches happen on both sides of a point bar, the river will “capture” the pit by rerouting through it – the shortest distance between two points.

West Fork sand mines on 8/30/17, one day after the peak from from Harvey

West Fork vs. East Fork and Value of Riparian Vegetation

Almost all of these problems could be solved by greater setbacks from rivers. That would retain more natural riparian vegetation and allow lower, more gradual slopes on dikes. It would also allow additional re-vegetation to take hold.

Shooting across the West Fork from on top of the dike shown in the first photo above. Note how loose the soil was in the foreground and how difficult it is to establish vegetation on the opposite shore in the middleground. Floods have torn away the erosion blankets trying to establish grass on the steep slopes.

Imagine 131,000 cubic feet per second ripping through a channel like this. That’s how much came down this portion of the West Fork at the peak of Harvey. It’s easy to see how the river could erode these dikes and invade the mines.

That’s why we need greater setbacks. It will allow more conveyance through the normal channel. And if we just leave native negation in place, it should help hold the dikes in place.

Now contrast the images above with this one taken on a portion of the East Fork where there are no sand mines.

Lush riparian vegetation and trees held the banks in place during Harvey.

Here’s another.

Offsetting Opportunity Costs with Conservation Easements

Mother Nature’s solution to sedimentation is free. If we could only just learn to respect the river and its flood plains. Yes, there would still be some sedimentation to deal with, but not nearly as much.

The loss of sand close to the river is an opportunity cost, not an out-of-pocket cost. Groups like the Bayou Land Conservancy can help offset some of that opportunity cost by providing income in exchange for conservation easements. I wish miners would explore this option more…for everyone’s benefit including theirs. It certainly might reduce their legal costs.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 27, 2019

606 Days after Hurricane Harvey

High-Rise Protest Letter from Former EPA Scientist Suggests Unique Approach

Letters to the Army Corps and TCEQ keep pouring in. Without exception, they protest the permitting of the proposed high-rise development near River Grove in the flood plain and floodway of the West Fork.

If researching ideas for your own letters, consult the high-rises page of this web site, specifically the right hand column. It explains the controversy and how you can protest the permitting if you wish.

I have posted many of the letters, both from groups and individuals, to help give people ideas for how this process works. Today, I received a letter from an environmental scientist who spent almost three decades with the EPA. His name is Ken Teague and his letter impressed me – for the points it made. the succinct way he made them and a unique twist.

Mr. Teague suggested trying to get the EPA to elevate consideration of the permit by asking to have the West Fork considered as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance. He gave me permission to reprint his letter. See it below.

Text of Letter from Former EPA Employee

To: swg_public_ notice@usace.army.mil; 401certs@tceq.texas.gov; Kaspar.Paul@epa.gov; Martinez.maria@epa.gov; david_hoth@fws.gov; Rusty.Swafford@noaa.gov

Subject: SWG-2016-00384

Dear Sir/Ms: I have reviewed the subject PN and have the following comments:

  • I suggest that the wetlands proposed to be destroyed by this project may be Aquatic Resources of National Importance, and if so, I recommend the U.S. EPA elevate review of this permit application under EPA/USACE procedures.
  • The applicant has not met the Clean Water Act Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines.  The information provided with the PN does not support that the applicant has conducted an appropriate alternatives analysis, or demonstrated efforts to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic habitats.  I strongly recommend USACE require the applicant to demonstrate they have met the requirements of the Guidelines.
  • Most of the components of the proposed project are not water dependent.  The one component that is water dependent, the marina, has not been demonstrated to be needed. The USACE must review the proposed project for its water dependency.  Non water-dependent projects should not  be permitted if they impact aquatic habitats. Water dependent projects should only be permitted if they are demonstrated to be needed.
  • The applicant stated an existing 17.59-acre conservation easement exists within the commercial and residential district which is associated with a compensatory mitigation area for Department of the Army Permit SWG-99-26-012 verified on 25 May 1999. This permit was conditioned to place 21.90 acres (12.19 acres of wetlands and 8.99 acres of upland buffer) into a conservation easement. It is not clear what this means, but if it means the applicant is proposing to destroy aquatic habitats that were previously preserved as compensatory mitigation as compensation for previous destruction of aquatic habitats, such impacts to such mitigation absolutely must not be permitted.
  • The site is subject to flooding (see attached image).  I assert that it is not in the public interest for the USACE to permit development in flood prone areas, so USACE should not permit the proposed actions. The applicant proposes to greatly elevate the areas it proposes to develop using soil from an undisclosed location.  This elevation will change hydrology in surrounding areas, guaranteeing that nearby low elevation properties will flood much more frequently, for a longer duration, and greater depth, than is currently the case.  This will almost certainly negatively impact nearby infrastructure and habitats.  Permitting such changes would clearly not be in the public interest.
  • The applicant has not proposed mitigation, other than to say that they will either conduct permittee responsible mitigation or purchase credits from a mitigation bank.  The USACE must provide the public the opportunity to review and comment on proposed mitigation. This does not meet the requirement.
  • Do not permit the proposed activity.


(Signed) Kenneth G. Teague, PWS, Certified Senior Ecologist

Aquatic Resource of National Importance?

I’m not sure if the specific 47 acres of wetlands are an Aquatic Resource of National Importance. But I have no doubt that the West Fork of the San Jacinto is. And these wetlands help protect that resource, by holding and filtering water before it reaches Lake Houston.

Why is it so important? Five reasons come to mind:

  1. This reach of the West Fork connects two lakes that provide water for two million people.
  2. It provides industrial process water for a large portion of America’s refining and petrochemical plants.
  3. Bald eagles, a threatened and protected species, live up and down the West Fork. Hundreds of other species of birds use the river and the forests that surround it as a migration corridor.
  4. The shores of the river contain many bottomland hardwoods, bogs, marshes and wetlands that are all integral parts of a unique connected environment.
  5. It’s a rare and beautiful natural resource that’s easily accessible to millions of people.

Long Shot, But Worth a Try

Lake Houston communities have proved for decades that low-impact development like we now have can co-exist with this unique environment without disturbing the wildlife that make it so special. But I doubt it could survive the kind of high-rise, high-density development that Romerica Investments has in mind.

As always, these are my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statutes of the great state of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on January 21, 2019

510 Days after Hurricane Harvey