Texas flood and the Katy Prairie Stream Mitigation Bank

The Katy Prairie west of Houston is in a certain sense ground zero for the recent Texas floods. The section of Harris County where RS’ Katy Prairie Stream Bank is located is an absolutely critical landscape for protecting Houston from flooding — and indeed mitigating the threat that already exists.

2009 Katy Prairie flood

Here is the deal: The 7000 acre Warren Ranch (owned by our partner in the mitigation bank, the Katy Prairie Conservancy) is centered in the last undeveloped expanse of the Katy Prairie west of Houston. It is well known that the relative worsening of Houston floods over time is attributable to the loss of storage capacity upstream as formerly pervious agricultural landscapes are devoured by the ‘concrete beast’ lumbering westward from the city center.

As the city and its environs devours land that once soaked up peak rain events, flooding downstream in Houston increases. The situation is the subject of increasing anxiety for Houston residents and the Corps of Engineers, who operate two flood control reservoirs protecting the city. 

The Katy Prairie Stream Mitigation Bank was deliberately located to address these problems. The project is a very positive development for Houston flood control for several reasons:

  • Water courses on the Warren Ranch are permanently protected in the future from culverting and concrete armoring which worsens flooding.
  • The former canals and ditches that once conveyed flood water too quickly downstream are restored to natural design channels which (ironically) flood more easily, thereby easing the flow downstream to the city.
  • Proceeds from the mitigation project collected by the Katy Prairie Conservancy are plowed into protecting more uplands in the region — leading to a virtuous cycle whereby mitigation dollars for aquatic mitigation are indirectly leading to the protection of flood protection uplands.

The 2008 Mitigation Rule is very clear that banks should be located using a watershed approach whereby the purpose and needs of the project are addressed regionally instead of locally. It would be hard to identify any mitigation bank in the country that more appropriately incorporates the watershed approach than the KPSMB.

Finally, perhaps you were interested to know how the restored streams fared in the recent deluge? Keep in mind 90% of the time our restored creeks are bone dry (or a “low-energy” system in hydro-parlance) but were designed — hopefully — to withstand every now and then a monstrous event of the scale recently witnessed.

Travis Hamrick popped up the drone and took the photos above and video below. As they used to say in the Timex commercial, the KPSMB: ‘Takes a lickin’ — and keeps on tickin'”…

North Carolina, Neuse River Basin Dam Removal Paying Dividends for Anadromous Fish

Anadromous fish are those, such as shad, that return to freshwater to spawn after spending part of their lives in the ocean. Bennett Wynne, the North Carollina Wildlife Resources Commission’s Anadromous Fisheries Coordinator is quoted as saying “In the Neuse River, hickory shad have been more abundant. Last week, we picked up a few around Goldsboro, along with some American shad. I am cautiously optimistic about shad numbers. Removing dams is important to both species but more so for American shad because they prefer spawning on the rockier substrate above the fall line. Most of the hickory shad population is found from Kinston downstream, where Pitchkettle Creek is the historical place where fishermen catch them. Last year we had strong flows in the river and we saw a good turnout of anglers at Milburnie Dam near Raleigh in Wake County. It is great that we can have a fishery for shad that far inland.”
READ MORE AT  http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/09/3771485/neuse-shad-run-nears-peak-numbers.html?sp=/99/103/126/

Dept of Interior to shift away from ‘project-by-project’ management

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has unveiled the outlines of a new landscape-level mitigation strategy across millions of acres of federal land that she said is designed to take the department’s agencies away from narrowly focused project-by-project assessments. The mitigation strategy includes four key objectives the department will work to implement in the coming months in an effort to take a broader approach to managing public lands – landscape-level planning, banking, in-lieu fee arrangements and other mitigation tools.
READ MORE AT  http://www.eenews.net/greenwire/2014/04/10/stories/1059997717

Stream Banks – an Essential Tool to achieve No Net Loss

“Mitigation Banking” may be an difficult term but it’s proving to be an essential tool for improving and protecting wetlands, streams, and other aquatic resources impacted by development.  It will only grow in importance as America yearns for energy security, while continuing to embrace noble goals of “no net loss” of wetlands and “fishable and swimmable ” quality under the Clean Water Act. For starters, the word “mitigation” is confusing. It has a different meaning in the Clean Water Act (CWA) and aquatic resources context compared to mitigation under Clean Air Act and greenhouse gas programs, where it connotes reduction, even prevention of emissions. For CWA and aquatic impacts, it’s essentially about compensation – the actions permittees must take to pay for resulting “sins” of a project making its way through the regulatory process.This all underscores the most important principle for environmentalists and responsible regulators: “sequencing”. They may be willing to support compensatory mitigation if it’s the third and final step, the last resort, after step 1: practicable alternatives analysis and step 2: minimizing unavoidable impacts. Controversy surrounding the first step, when regulators challenge the purpose of a project and whether it really has to be in or near wetlands and other waters, creates a temptation to simply build first and ask forgiveness later. Regulators may also be tempted to skip or marginalize the second step, minimization, where permit applicants are expected to reduce environmental impacts by modifying project features, and go straight to mitigation. Environmentalists argue that deviations in sequencing, which put a priority on avoiding and minimizing harm, can lead to wheeling and dealing to enable unwise development.
READ MORE AT:  http://www.uswateralliance.org/2014/02/26/stream-banks/
Printed with permission of Ben Grumbles

Water Conservation: Florida Washed Out

With its many lakes, rivers, springs and wetlands, one would think Florida must be overflowing with freshwater — plenty for drinking, irrigation and enterprise. However, a coalition of three large regional water-management districts calculates that continuation of today’s practices will result in Central Florida running out of fresh water in 21 years.
TheLedger.com, 2/20/14
Read more at http://tinyurl.com/kkrdo8s


Curbing Agricultural Runoff that Pollutes the Gulf of Mexico

From the Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2014
+ + + + + +
NEW MADISON, Ohio— Kevin Hollinger planted radishes and oats last fall in his corn and soybean fields, but he isn’t planning to harvest them. Instead, he is letting the crops die over the winter to improve the soil and keep fertilizer and other nutrients from running into nearby waterways. “I could hardly go to town without someone asking: ‘What’s that in your field?’ ” said Mr. Hollinger, a fourth-generation farmer. Helping to foot the bill for his experiment is a pilot program set to launch fully next month. Farmers in the Ohio River basin are being paid to make changes—from what they plant to how they handle manure—in an effort to minimize runoff that can cause hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, in waterways.
Nutrient runoff plays a role, nearly 1,000 miles downstream from Mr. Hollinger’s farm, in the formation of the so-called dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico—an area where fish and other aquatic life can’t survive and which is considered one of the nation’s biggest water-pollution problems. Shrinking the dead zone—which was most recently the size of Connecticut—has challenged regulators. Nutrients that flow down in the Mississippi River and end up in the Gulf come from hundreds of thousands of sources across more than a dozen states.

Read the whole article at http://tinyurl.com/k43j2k8

Forestry Management in Riparian Buffers

A Guide to Implementing Neuse River Basin and Tar-Pamlico River Basin Riparian Buffer Rules for Forest Management Activities was published by the NC Forest Service in July 2012 but worth re-reading or reading for the first time. The rules apply to perennial streams, intermittent streams, ponds, lakes, and estuaries located in either river basin. READ MORE at http://ncforestservice.gov/publications/Forestry%20Leaflets/WQ11.pdf

Stream Mitigation Benefits to Private Landowners

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act authorizes the Secretary of the Army to issue permits for the discharge of dredged or fill material into streams, wetlands, and other waters. Applicants for Section 404 permits generally must mitigate for unavoidable impacts to streams and wetlands associated with their development. Stream mitigation may include such on-the-ground activities as preservation or restoration of vegetated riparian buffers; fencing of livestock from riparian buffers; stream bank stabilization activities; installation of in-stream habitat structures; and reshaping of streams to make them more stable and less likely to erode.
READ MORE at:  http://www.etowahriver.org/stream%20mitigation.pdf

Bass Mountain Stream and Nutrient Bank under construction

Five recent photos of construction on Bass Mountain Stream and Nutrient Bank.

Click on the link below for a map of the service area and a drone-taken video:

Drone’s Eye View

Photo was taken from approximately 500 vertical feet above ground level looking North Northwest upstream along the Cache La Poudre River (Colorado) and down on the 3-Bell conservation easement.





The bottom center of the photo clearly shows a healthy oxbow ecosystem dominated by sandbar willow and cottonwood galleries. Upstream are remnant oxbows which have been heavily degraded by human agricultural practices. Drone under control of Raymond Holz; still picture clipped from video.