Transportation

Houston’s White Oak Bayou Could Get A New Look

A waterway near the Heights could have a much different look in the future. Engineers will study whether White Oak Bayou can go back to a more natural state while still providing flood control.

White Oak Bayou at Studemont Street
White Oak Bayou at Studemont Street

Next to busy Interstate-10, White Oak Bayou is an oasis for people living on the southern edge of the Heights. Sunflowers line the banks, while cranes and other exotic birds wade in the water.

But the bayou itself has had a few alterations.

Matthew Zeve is the Chief Operations Officer of the Harris County Flood Control District. He’s showing us the bayou’s concrete lining, which was installed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s to handle floodwaters. The bayou was transformed from a meandering waterway into a channel with sloping concrete banks.

But in the future that could change.

The Flood Control District is now working with the Memorial-Heights Redevelopment Authority to study whether White Oak Bayou could be returned to a more natural state. Zeve says they can’t exactly bring it back to what it used to be, but it could look a lot different.

“The design would be some form of channel section, but it’ll have more curves to it,” explains Zeve. “It will be a gentler slope. It’ll be covered with vegetation of some sort. It will look a lot softer than a hard edge of concrete does today.”

An engineering firm will conduct that study and it’s expected to take at least six months. Zeve says the main thing they want to know is if they can even do the project.

“Any alternative that increases flood hazards along White Oak Bayou, we won’t do a project,” says Zeve. “That is a non-starter. We will not allow a project to go forward that will increase flood hazards on White Oak Bayou.”

And if they can do that work, Zeve expects it would be an extensive effort involving multiple city and county departments and costing millions of dollars.

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Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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