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Buffalo Bayou Cistern Opens To Public

Tours in the former underground drinking water reservoir are already booked out through next Thursday.

A small group of visitors were getting a sneak peek Friday morning at the cistern that is hidden underground next to the Lee and Joe Jamail Skate Park on Sabine Street.

They were visibly impressed by the cavern-like structure supported by 221 concrete columns.

To demonstrate the up to 17 seconds-long echo, Buffalo Bayou Partnership President Anne Olson shouted “Hello, cistern!” into the dark.

It’s a 90-year-old underground drinking water reservoir that the city decommissioned in 2007 — most of Houston’s drinking water is now surface water from lakes and rivers.

The Buffalo Bayou Partnership re-discovered it about six years ago when it was working on developing its $58 million park project. The initial idea was to make it into a parking garage.

“But when the design team dropped down here and they saw these perfectly symmetrical columns and this noise that they heard and saw this light reflection on the little bit of water that was down below, they were really awe-struck,” said Stephanie Kiouses, the partnership’s visitor services supervisor for Buffalo Bayou Park.

She said it reminded them of the Roman Basilica Cistern in Istanbul.

With the help of a $1.7 million grant from The Brown Foundation, the partnership added an entrance tunnel and a walkway along the walls with a guardrail.

They also installed some lighting but the cistern is still pretty dark to maintain the original atmosphere. A few inches of water still cover the ground.

The plan is to later include light and sound art installations.

Katharine Lusk, who was visiting from Boston, was enjoying the view.

“It’s just a stunning space, and the magnitude of it is really impressive,” she said.  

There are guided tours every Thursday through Sunday. They are already booked out for this weekend.

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Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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