Urban Wetlands Project Nears Completion

Set along Brays Bayou in southeast Houston, an urban freshwater tidal marsh is nearly complete, a unique project that will serve as a natural filter for polluted stormwater run-off that ends up in Galveston Bay.

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The project began in September of 2004 just across the bayou from Mason Park, an effort to try the tidal marsh concept in an urban setting. Now, three terraced ponds are complete along what used to be a storm water culvert that flows into the bayou from a nearby neighborhood. The next step is to place thousands of native wetlands plants in and around the ponds to create a natural filtration system. Marissa Sipocz is with the Texas Sea Grant Texas Cooperative Extension and hopes to have the planting done by this summer.

"Everything is native. Everything is adapted to this region. Everything is something that we would find here normally. If this wetland had existed from the beginning of time these would be the kinds of plants that we would see."

The wetlands project is part of a larger Harris County Flood Control District effort to deepen and widen a 21-mile section of Brays Bayou. Sipocz says the tidal marsh concept has proven itself in the past and should work as well in an urban setting as it does elsewhere.

"While yes, we can say it's new because we've never done it on Brays Bayou, we've never done a best management and practice wetland right here to treat stormwater in an urban situation, every component about it has good science behind it that's been developed and worked on and used in the past. So we're just kind of putting different components together and we have a really neat wetland."

Students from nearby high schools are helping with the planting and will use the marsh as an outdoor lab of sorts as it becomes more established. Sipocz says the fact that the tidal marsh is part of their neighborhood is an advantage.

"It's not the kind of thing where they have to collect money and write letters and try and stop rain forest damage in some foreign country. This is right in their back yard. This is their neighborhood. They grew up here and a lot of them would come visit Mason Park. I think it makes a real strong community link for them."

The 3.5 acre marsh should eventually filter the water that flows into the bayou, improving the water quality that flows into Galveston Bay. This is the Flood Control District's Heather Saucier.

"These plants absorb a lot of sediments and pollutants that eventually end up dumping into the bayou, so anything that we could do to contribute to having cleaner water to go into Brays, we want to be a part of."

The larger Project Brays effort is a flood mitigation collaboration between the Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers. It includes a wider, deeper bayou and a reduced 100 year flood plain that will benefit hundreds of homes and businesses.

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