06/08/16 3:30pm

GROUP FORMS TO CLEAN UP THE UPPER SAN JACINTO BEFORE IT GETS AS BAD AS BRAYS, BUFFALO, SIMS BAYOUS West Fork of San Jacinto River, Montgomery County, TX  The West Fork of the San Jacinto River (implicated in much of the latest flooding between The Woodlands and Conroe) is in a bacterial “sweet spot”, environmental planner Justin Bower tells Matthew Tresaugue in the Houston Chronicle this week  — more contaminated than is acceptable, Bower says, “but not so much that we can’t do anything about it.” Tresaugue writes that E. coli levels have been trending upward since 2002, in some cases running as high as 10,000 colonies per 100 milliters of water (around 80 times higher than the 126-colony limit recommended by the state of Texas). The river’s water quality problems are multifaceted, but generally boil down to increased development in the watershed causing increased runoff that carries more junk — from human and animals waste to sediment from a nearby gravel mining operation — into the river and ultimately the Lake Houston reservoir (from which the city pulls drinking water). The newly formed West Fork Watershed Partnership has no definite plan yet (other than to work with area stakeholders to develop a plan). But Lisa Gonzalez (VP of the Houston Area Research Council) notes to Tresaugue that not doing anything could allow the West Fork’s water problems to get as bad as those of other major urban waterways in Houston. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of West Fork of the San Jacinto: West Fork Watershed Partnership

03/08/16 2:30pm

Renovation of Sunset Coffee Building at Allen's Landing, Downtown, Houston, 77002

A shiny new cistern is now in place at the former Sunset Coffee building at Allen’s Landing, which Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Houston First have been redeveloping into an office-topped boat-and-bike-rental spot.  The 1910 coffee roasting facility has once again donned walls after moving past a Summer 2014 minimalist phase, and is currently decked out in a muted Café du Monde orange.

The no-longer-see-through structure is back to limiting the view from the Harris County Jail across the bayou (visible on the far right, above). A set of stairs are in place alongside the new cistern, along with railings around what appears to be the planned rooftop terrace.


Nearing Launch at Allen’s Landing
02/09/16 10:30am

Vehicle Recovery for Operation Submerge, Gulfgate, Houston, 77023

If you are the owner of the bottom half of a red Ford Ranger left in Brays Bayou near Wayside Dr. some time in the last 20 years, your vehicle may be waiting for you in HPD’s impound lot. The pilot program intended to test out a procedure for fishing out the 127-or-so vehicles mapped beneath the surface of a few of Houston’s waterways reeled in its 20th and final car over the weekend before the $49,500 project grant ran out.

The removals started near the Wayside bridge over Brays Bayou in late January, then moved upstream of the crossing of Lidstone St. on the 29th; last Friday, operations jumped down to Sims Bayou to score a few final sets of wheels. Harris County Flood Control District, which oversaw the fishing trips, tweeted that project executives will now meet to discuss future removal plans and compare notes on the process, which involved divers from Saltwater Salvage submerging to attach giant yellow floaties to the sunken vehicles:


Stirring Up Mud in Gulfgate
01/19/16 4:30pm

Encampment removal at Louisiana St. and Congress Ave., Downtown, Houston, 77002

The encampment under Louisiana St. (shown above) was dismantled earlier today; a reader sends both now-you-see-it and now-you-don’t shots. The camp was previously tucked above the south bank of Buffalo Bayou, about halfway between Sesquicentennial Park and Allen’s Landing.

The removal appears to have been carried out by workers for Houston First, responsible for maintenance of public venues such as Miller Outdoor Theater and the George R. Brown Convention Center, along with a list of downtown parks that includes Sesquicentennial and the Sabine Promenade. Houston First also works on marketing and branding for the venues (and more generally for “the Houston product”) in partnership with the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Here’s what the spot looked like after today’s clear-out:


Gone Downtown
01/13/16 4:00pm

Renderings of Houston Botanic Garden at Glenbrook Park Golf Course, Glenbrook Valley, Houston, 77017

Bright and shiny renderings from the recently-released master plan for the Houston Botanic Garden show that design firm West 8 is aware of the challenges involved in straddling a world-class park across Sims Bayou, on the site of Glenbrook Park Golf Course just across I-45 north of Hobby Airport.  The Dutch firm, known internationally for unusual bridges and unconventional landscape design, has planned for many of the Garden’s displays to flood at will; the shores of Sims Bayou on the Garden’s property will also be resculpted. And to combat Houston’s just-shy-of-year-round heat, shade trees would be preserved or planted throughout the park, including the towering cypresses depicted in the bayou-side wetland gardens shown above (parts of which will be explorable by kayak).

Meanwhile, the more formal garden spaces planned for the park are shown with their own built-in shade (complete with custom ceiling fans): Colonnade structures (like the ones picture below) will ring each of the major collection gardens, which are designed to be “entered, enjoyed, and contemplated from the comfort of the shaded perimeter”:


Glenbrook Valley Garden
06/30/15 12:45pm

The Dunlavy, Lost Lake, Buffalo Bayou Park, North Montrose, Houston

The Dunlavy, Lost Lake, Buffalo Bayou Park, North Montrose, HoustonA reader sends pics of 3 notable new features near the western end of Buffalo Bayou Park that appear to be just about complete: The multi-purpose private event space known as The Dunlavy, overlooking a restored and upgraded pond now called Lost Lake — and its signature central feature, a bell-mouth spillway to suck up the overflow, referred to more commonly as a morning glory. That’s the hole in the middle of the water feature; if you look closely at the photos of it below you can see the odd sight of the tip of a construction ladder peeking out at the top:


And the Dunlavy, Almost Done
06/09/15 11:30am

SEWAGE NOW FLOWING PROPERLY UNDER GULF FWY. AGAIN Repaired Sewer Line Under Gulf Fwy. at Brays Bayou, East End, HoustonThat pipe break spotted underneath an I-45 South overpass leaking what appeared to be raw sewage onto a concrete path adjacent to Brays Bayou last week has now been repaired — or at least covered with a new sleeve. A photo of the fix also shows flood-remnant bouquets still intact along the pipe’s length at the bayou crossing south of Idylwood and just east of Telephone Rd. Photo: Allyn West

06/08/15 12:15pm

Brays Bayou Trail at Almeda Rd., Hermann Park, Houston

Reader Scot Luther, who claims to have witnessed “wrecks and several flat tires” on a gap in the bayou-side trail along the north side of Brays Bayou just across N. MacGregor Way from the eastern border of Hermann Park wonders why this portion of the several-year-old concrete trail was never completed. Here’s a photo of the scene — where more cautious bike riders regularly dismount for the muddy or bumpy path under the Almeda Rd. bridge. A few hundred ft. beyond the bridge, the trail picks up again on its way to Riverside Terrace.

Photo: Scot Luther

Water’s Edge
06/04/15 5:00pm

Leaking Pipe Under Gulf Fwy. at Brays Bayou, Sylvan Dell, East End, Houston

There’s a busted pipe hanging under the Gulf Fwy. overpass as it crosses Brays Bayou, just east of Telephone Rd. and south of Idylwood in the East End. The pics shown here were taken late yesterday afternoon, though some sort of liquid had been seen dripping from the break at various points over the weekend.

Grassy remnants of last week’s high water on Brays Bayou can still be seen hanging from various points along the pipe’s length:


05/28/15 3:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A BETTER WAY TO TELL IF YOUR HOME IS GOING TO FLOOD Flooded Home“My neighborhood flooded in Allison in 2001, and then again on Monday night. I can’t tell you how many ‘so much for the 100-year flood plain‘ comments I heard walking up and down the street. What it really means is that it is a flood (or more properly a storm, or my favorite, ‘rain event’) that has a 1% chance of happening every year. So what that really means is that if you live in the ‘100 year flood plain’ you have a 26% chance of flooding during your 30 year note. And for many of these areas the 100-year storm on which these maps are based have 100 years or less of accurate rainfall data. A better rule of thumb is to remember: (1) if you live near a bayou and it rains A LOT, you will probably flood at some point. (2) if it’s raining A LOT and the road you are on dips below the grade of the adjacent roads, it’s probably going to flood and (3) if it’s raining A LOT where you are in Houston, you can count on it flooding.” [Txcon, commenting on That Place on I-45 North of Downtown Where the Cars Always Seem To Hang Out After It Floods] Illustration: Lulu

05/22/15 11:45am

Alligator in Brays Bayou at Country Club Bayou, Near Gus Wortham Golf Course, Forest Hill, Houston

Site of Alligator in Brays Bayou at Country Club Bayou, Near Gus Wortham Golf Course, Forest Hill, HoustonA Swamplot reader sends in these pics of a reptilian Houstonian out for a morning swim in the recently replenished waters of Brays Bayou from shortly after 10 am today. Also included: a handy locator map, so any follow-on spotters of the same alligator might be able to compute distance traveled, and perhaps mileage and calories burned as well.


Alligators of the East End
12/08/14 3:15pm


Over Thanksgiving weekend city workers opened a portion of the proposed hike-and-hike trail that will one day link downtown and Acres Homes.

Work began last October on this new section, one that heads west from the MKT hike-and-bike trail’s former official western terminus at Lawrence Park, under the N. Shepherd Dr. and N. Durham Dr. overpasses, and over White Oak Bayou, west to Cottage Grove and north towards an eventual link with the existing White Oak Bayou trail.

This link legitimizes a an unsanctioned though fairly popular “ninja route” long used by off-trail cyclists, who had been pedaling the gravel path from the park to a rickety, burned-out White Oak Bayou railway trestle known to as the “Bridge of Death,” seen below in a 2012 photo.


That’s been demolished and replaced with a sturdy span of of concrete and steel, complete with fancy, built-in insignia, and skyline and AIG building vistas.


Bike Path Breakthrough
12/02/14 2:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHY THE WATER IN YOUR NATURALLY FILTERED BAYOU-SIDE SWIMMING HOLE IS GOING TO BE BROWN Illustration of Proposed Houston Swimming Hole“I’ll bite. Here’s a very simple engineering analysis. Problems with stream-fed swimming pools in Houston are going to be three-fold: 1) Silt (in engineer-speak, Total-Suspended-Solids or TSS). TSS is treated with sedimentation basins. That can be a large pool (that people don’t swim in) adjacent to the real pool. In water/wastewater treatment plants, a coagulant like alum is usually added to sedimentation basins to make TSS precipitate out quicker. If you’re going to do this with no chemicals, you’ve got to be willing to accept either VERY long treatment times, or only partially successful results. The tiny diameter of the clay particles that make up the TSS in our bayous just flat out won’t come out of suspension without a coagulant, so the water WILL be brown. It’s not necessarily a deal breaker — the water in Galveston’s brown too. 2) Bacteria (in engineer-speak, total coliform count). See here. Usually these are E. Coli, algae, and some protests. ALL streams/lakes/oceans in the entire world have this, even the cleanest and clearest. Realistically, to get an insurance policy to operate, the water’s going to have to be disinfected to some degree. That means chlorination (chemicals), ozonation (chemicals), or UV disinfection. More on UV in a minute. 3) Dissolved oxygen content. You don’t want the water to turn anaerobic. If there’s enough carbon-containing compounds dissolved in the water, the bacteria naturally in the water will eat it rapidly, causing the bacteria to use up all the oxygen that’s already dissolved in the water. This leads to any/all fish in the water suddenly dying off, as well as noxious smells and other really terrible stuff. You can make sure the dissolved oxygen doesn’t drop by filtering out carbon containing compounds (takes chemicals), or using aerators. A dual-way to solve the #2 and #3 issues is by passing the water over a very shallow (less than 6-in. deep) bed of rocks at a fast speed. Think rapids. This lets the water simultaneously re-oxygenate and also absorb huge amounts of UV. This might be the sort of silver bullet that makes this possible in Houston. So: This is going to be expensive, but it’s probably do-able. However, the water is still going to be brown. Sorry.” [Ornlu, commenting on Bayou Swimming Hole Promoters Jump To Kickstarter To Jumpstart Project] Illustration: Houston Needs a Swimming Hole

11/26/14 12:15pm

BAYOU SWIMMING HOLE PROMOTERS JUMP TO KICKSTARTER TO JUMPSTART PROJECT Proposed Central Houston Swimming HoleJust how feasible would it be to build a 3-acre self-cleaning swimming hole somewhere near the center of Houston, so you could take your own bathing-suits-and-skyscrapers pics like the one shown here — without resorting to Photoshop? If enough people donate to the Kickstarter for the Houston Needs a Swimming Hole campaign, you may get to find out. Promoters Monte Large, Evan O’Neil, and Jeff Kaplan are hoping to raise $30,000 from contributors for a feasibility study for their proposal — including a preliminary site selection component. The study would be conducted by Sherwood Design Engineers, whose Houston branch is a tenant in office space connected to Kaplan’s New Living store on Kirby Dr. The swimming hole, meant to serve as a centerpiece of Houston’s growing our-bayous-are-our-parks system, would be patterned on the natural swimming pool model common in Europe, where adjacent plant-filled “regeneration zones” filter the water, and no chemicals are needed. [Kickstarter; more info] Photo: Houston Needs a Swimming Hole

09/23/14 1:00pm

How long has it been since you’ve run along, rowed along, or flown over Buffalo Bayou? Guy-out-with-his-Phantom-quadcopter Marco Luzuriaga filmed this scene earlier this month above a short section of the city’s most prominent drainage canal beginning near the Rosemont Bridge, then turning around and heading a ways toward Downtown. He gives up on the waterway and substitutes a bit of downtown-tangling freeway spaghetti near the end, but if you look into the distance around the 1:30 mark, you can catch a quick progress report on reconstruction of Buffalo Bayou Park.

Video: Marco Luzuriaga, via Brittanie Shey


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