Long before I-10 came along, White Oak Bayou along the edge of the Heights was once a meandering waterway with lots of turns and switchbacks. Everything changed in the 1960's when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installed a concrete lining as a flood control measure.
But according to a study funded by the Memorial-Heights Redevelopment Authority, there are now ways to remove that lining, to bring the bayou back to a more natural state without increasing the risk of flooding.
To learn more about the study's findings, we visited Stude Park on the bayou's banks. We met with Matthew Zeve, director of Operations for the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD).
Zeve said the study outlines three alternatives for White Oak Bayou between Taylor and Hogan Streets. Under all those scenarios, the sloping concrete sides would be removed.
“The vegetation in White Oak Bayou right now is fairly limited on what can grow on the side slopes,” explained Zeve. “What the study found is by doing different types of benches in different widths in different angles of the side slopes, it promotes different types of vegetation that can be planted that would attract other types of wildlife.”
But considering White Oak Bayou can quickly rise out of its banks during a rain event like Harvey, what would be the flood control benefits?
Zeve said the project could create more green space to absorb water.
“Every little bit helps,” added Zeve. “And primarily what would happen is that there would be a lot more flood plain storage, a lot more volume, a place for the water to go, that doesn't exist today.”
Before any project could go forward there is the issue of funding. Estimates show the cost of the project ranging between $30 and $60 million. There is also the cost of yearly maintenance.
Zeve said the Flood Control District would be a partner in that work, but another group would have to put up the bulk of the money.
“We've said all along that the Flood Control District wasn't going to provide funding to actually do any construction on this project, especially in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and our recovery and resilience efforts,” explained Zeve. “We need all the money we can get to focus on that.”
Zeve also emphasized that the project would take a number of years to complete between design and construction. But if it does become a reality, Zeve said it could be a real boost to the city's efforts to create green space.
“It's a highly-visible area of White Oak Bayou. You can see it from the Katy Freeway and it's also highly-utilized with all the parks and trails along there. I think it would get a lot of publicity and visibility from the public and visitors to Houston.”
You can read the study on restoring the Lower White Oak Bayou Chanel here: