Buffalo Bayou Watershed
Updated July 2013
The Buffalo Bayou watershed is primarily located in west-central
Harris County with a small portion crossing into Fort Bend County. Rainfall within
the 102 square miles of the Buffalo Bayou watershed drains to the watershed’s primary
waterway, Buffalo Bayou (HCFCD Unit W100-00-00). Buffalo Bayou travels through heavily
wooded residential areas and much of the bayou remains in a natural state. Near
downtown Houston, White Oak Bayou (HCFCD Unit E100-00-00) flows into Buffalo Bayou.
Just east of downtown Houston near the Turning Basin, Buffalo Bayou becomes the
Houston Ship Channel. There are 106 miles of open waterways in the Buffalo Bayou
watershed, including Buffalo Bayou and its major tributaries, such as Rummel Creek
(HCFCD Unit W156-00-00), Soldiers Creek (HCFCD Unit W141-00-00), Spring Branch (HCFCD
Unit W140-00-00) and Turkey Creek (HCFCD Unit W167-00-00). Based on the 2010 U.S.
Census, the estimated population of the Buffalo Bayou watershed is 444,602.
In the past 20 years, the Harris County Flood Control District
has spent more than $58 million on projects in the Buffalo Bayou watershed. Some
active projects include repairing erosion, evaluating future flood damage reduction
projects, and improving our infrastructure.
- Channel Conveyance Restoration at Buffalo Bayou Park - In July
2010, the Flood Control District began construction on a maintenance project to
remove sediment from and repair the banks of Buffalo Bayou from Sabine Street to
Shepherd Drive. The first reach of the project, referred to as the Buffalo Bayou
Pilot Project, spanned the section of the bayou from Sabine to 1,200 feet upstream
and was completed in August 2010. The pilot project was met with public support
and demonstrated the type of work the Flood Control District planned for the larger
Channel Conveyance Restoration at Buffalo Bayou Park project, which began in August
2012. This project spans approximately 2 miles of the bayou from Shepherd to 1,200
feet upstream of Sabine. Construction activities include removing sediment, restoring
and reshaping the bayou’s banks, removing undesirable vegetation, and installing
bank stabilization and protection material in key locations. An extensive planting
plan will be implemented following construction to plant trees and other native
vegetation. The project is expected to be complete in 2014.
- Charting Buffalo: A Study of Buffalo and Lower White Oak Bayous
- Charting Buffalo is a regional strategic approach that will identify options for
flood damage reduction improvements and demonstrate how these options could be integrated
with other community and environmental interests. The study area includes 32 miles
of Buffalo Bayou eastward from the Barker Reservoir through downtown Houston to
the Houston Ship Channel. Also included in the study area is seven miles of lower
White Oak Bayou from North Loop 610 West to the point at which it joins Buffalo
Bayou near downtown Houston. The study proposes a partnership approach to implementing
larger stormwater detention basins that could be used for both riverine flood reduction
and drainage mitigation. While the Charting Buffalo study is funded by the Flood
Control District, many organizations that are already investing resources in the
area are participating in the study. Preliminary flood damage reduction options
have been identified by the study, and the Flood Control District is currently determining
how to move forward with additional study efforts. As of mid-2013, the Flood Control
District has not allocated funding for the implementation of the preliminary flood
damage reduction options. For more information, visit www.chartingbuffalo.org.
- Memorial Park Demonstration Project - The Flood Control District
recognized the need for repairs to the drainage channel formally identified as HCFCD
Unit W129-00-00 and launched a three-phase reconstruction project in 2004. The drainage
channel runs adjacent to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks just inside West Loop
610 South. The first phase of the project consisted of rebuilding the drainage channel,
which had experienced severe erosion, between San Felipe Street and Buffalo Bayou.
This $9.4 million project enclosed the channel with dual 12-foot by 10-foot reinforced
concrete box culverts and was completed in 2006. The second phase began in August
2011 and the Flood Control District is enclosing the section of the drainage channel
from San Felipe to Richmond Avenue in dual 12-foot by 10-foot reinforced concrete
box culverts. As part of the second phase, the bridge at Westheimer Road was reconstructed
in April 2013, and the bridge at San Felipe will be partially or completely closed
(temporarily) during reconstruction. This phase is estimated to cost $13.2 million,
and the City of Houston is contributing funds to the bridge projects. The third
phase, which has not yet been funded for design or construction, will consist of
similar work from Richmond to Westpark Drive. When all three phases are complete,
the structural integrity of the drainage channel will be greatly improved, reducing
the risk of flooding in surrounding neighborhoods and commercial areas. For more
information on this project, please visit www.hcfcd.org/w129.
- North Canal Bypass Channel Project - At the confluence of White
Oak and Buffalo bayous near downtown Houston, a narrow channel and severe channel
bends restrict the flow of stormwater during heavy rainfall events. A North Canal
Bypass Channel is being considered that would help reduce the risk of flooding to
downtown Houston and would also provide flood damage reduction benefits to areas
farther upstream of downtown Houston along both White Oak and Buffalo bayous. The
Flood Control District is in the process of investigating the concept, and property
acquisition, design and construction phases are not yet fully funded. If implementation
is feasible, there will be opportunities for the Flood Control District to work
with the community on the design of the project.
Downtown Houston skyline as seen from the banks of Buffalo Bayou
ROUTINE AND COMPLETED MAINTENANCE PROJECTS
The Harris County Flood Control District oversees more than 2,500
miles (about the distance from Los Angeles to New York City) of bayous and creeks
and routinely performs maintenance projects to repair channels and stormwater detention
basins that have experienced erosion, slope failure and sediment accumulation. The
Flood Control District also plants native grasses, wildflowers and trees to help
reduce erosion and mowing costs.
- Mowing and Vegetation Maintenance - The Flood Control District
performs routine cyclical maintenance, including mowing right-of-way along bayous,
creeks and stormwater detention basins in the Buffalo Bayou watershed. The Flood
Control District also performs selective clearing of invasive trees and vegetation.
- Tree and wildflower plantings - Bald cypress, cedar elm, and green
ash are just a few of the tree species that were planted along Buffalo Bayou during
the 2010-11 planting season. Along a Buffalo Bayou tributary formally identified
as HCFCD Unit W167-04-04, the Flood Control District planted southern magnolia,
sweetbay magnolia and sweetgum trees during the 2009-10 planting season. Along Buffalo
Bayou and a tributary formally identified as HCFCD Unit W165-00-00, the Flood Control
District planted several species of wildflowers, such as clasping coneflower, Drummond
phlox, and lance-leaf coreopsis in 2002 and 2005.