New Wetland Mitigation Bank Proposed for Areas Upstream from Lake Houston
LH Ranch, Ltd has proposed a new wetland mitigation bank for the area upstream from Lake Houston. Part of the land borders the San Jacinto East Fork, opposite Lake Houston Park. Another part to the east stretches across Luces Bayou.
Why Have Mitigation Banks in General?
Such banks provide a way to encourage conservation. They do that by giving ranchers, farmers and other landowners economic incentives, usually in the form of tax breaks, not to develop land. This page by the Texas Agricultural Land Trust explains how the process works. (The Bayou Land Conservancy also offers advice for those interested.)
Developers, pipelines, etc., whose projects will cause unavoidable resource losses elsewhere, negotiate “credits” with such organizations to offset the impacts of their developments.
About the Proposed Lake Houston Mitigation Bank
Threatened and Endangered Species
Preliminary indications are that no known threatened and/or endangered species, or their critical habitat will be affected by the proposed work.
Goals of Mitigation Bank
The primary goals of the Lake Houston Mitigation Bank are to protect the water quality of the San Jacinto River system including Luce Bayou and Lake Houston.
From a conservation perspective, restoration projects within the proposed bank could:
- Reduce sediment flowing into Lake Houston by 4,000 – 6,000 tons per year
- Increase flood storage and reduce pulse flows that exit the property
- Restore the ability to transport an amount of sediment adequate for the stream’s watershed
- Provide habitat and refuge to wildlife
- Establish a dynamically stable forest both resistant and resilient to disturbance
- Ensure the longevity and function of the system through long-term conservation measures.
From a mitigation perspective, the bank would also:
- Provide resources to allow for compensation of unavoidable (but authorized) impacts to aquatic resources elsewhere
- Meet the need for stream and wetland mitigation credits within the service area of the Bank
- Meet the need for mitigation outside the service area when approved by USACE.
Specific Actions to Enhance Property
If this proposal is approved, the applicant would:
- Place the entire 952.65 Ac. mitigation bank within a perpetual conservation easement held by an accredited land trust.
- Restore 53,264 linear feet (ten miles) of severely entrenched, intermittent stream channels that currently have limited access to a floodplain and are actively eroding an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 tons/yr. into the Luce Bayou/San Jacinto/Lake Houston system.
- Enhance 1,342 linear feet of severely entrenched, intermittent stream channels.
- Protect more than over 10,000 linear feet of Luce Bayou, 10,000 feet of high-quality, unimpaired intermittent tributaries to Luce Bayou, and nearly 5,000 linear feet of ephemeral streams.
- Enhance 315.44 acres of stream buffers to reduce erosion, increase flood storage, improve wildlife habitat, and enhance intermittent stream channels.
- Establish 150.64 acres of wetlands, approximately half of which are forested, to increase flood storage, water quality, and wildlife habitat.
- Restore 6.58 acres of isolated, non-jurisdictional wetlands and reconnect them to intermittent stream channels.
- Enhance 107.75 acres of wetlands impacted by previous silviculture operations and invasive species infestation.
- Preserve 53.46 acres of high-quality forested wetland habitat associated with the floodplain of Luce Bayou.
- Enhance 280.07 Ac. of forested upland buffer habitat to provide additional protection for wetlands and streams within the Bank.
Why This Is Needed
This area has experienced tremendous population growth. Counties within the proposed service area have added nearly 1-million people with an average 16% growth rate from 2010 to 2017.
The extension of SH 99 (the Grand Parkway) will open up vast new areas to development, including a large portion of the mitigation bank’s proposed service area. Additional mitigation banks are necessary to meet increasing demand because of this growth.
This geographic area also possesses a high degree of low-lying wetland areas and streams compared to higher areas. Here are some aerial photos of the area taken January 1, 2021. Timber on the property was recently thinned, something mentioned in the project’s prospectus.
Army Corps Seeking Public Comment
The US Army Corps of Engineers seeks public comment on the LH Ranch proposal which you can find here.
The applicant proposes the establishment and operation of western and eastern tracts within a larger parent tract of the Lake Houston Mitigation Bank (LHMB). The Western Tract is 351.46 acres. The Eastern Tract is 601.19 Acres. The combined tracts total 952.65 acres.
The restoration and enhancement of wetlands and streams would serve as compensatory mitigation for unavoidable, permitted impacts to “waters of the United States.” That designation triggers Corps involvement in the permitting process.
The Corps has issued a public notice based on information furnished by the applicant. This project information has not yet been verified by the Corps.
A preliminary review of this application indicates that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is not required. However, that could change depending on input received.
The applicant’s prospectus contains hundreds of maps, photos and descriptions of what they intend to do. (Caution: 151 megabyte, 418 page file.) But don’t let that scare you. For those who want to understand how this fascinating process works, it’s a good read.
CLOSE OF COMMENT PERIOD: All comments pertaining to this Public Notice must reach this office on or before 29 January 2021. If no comments are received by that date, it will be considered that there are no objections.
Comments and requests for additional information should reference file number, SWG-2019-00077 Lake Houston MB, and should be submitted to:
- Mitigation Banking Program / Policy Branch Regulatory Division
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
- P.O. Box 1229
- Galveston, Texas 77553-1229 409-766-3869
- Phone 409-766-6301 Fax
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Personally, I feel this project would benefit the Lake Houston Area. There’s little downside, because it’s directly upstream from us. It ensures sensitive wetlands will never be developed. That will help reduce flooding.
That’s especially important with Colony Ridge upstream us. And with a proposed new 8,000 acre development called Kingland just north of the mitigation bank about to kick off. (More on that tomorrow.)
There’s only one potential drawback. In the future, if the Flood Control District ever wanted to do a major drainage project in those areas, it couldn’t because they will be protected by a conservation easement. However, the San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Study did not identify either of the areas in this mitigation bank as a priority for a regional detention basin.
All things considered, I’d lock this in now. When the areas north of the mitigation bank are developed, the wetlands will provide some insurance against flooding … sooner rather than later.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/10/2021
1230 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 479 since Imelda