Posts

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'”…

Conservation Groups Challenge Limited Protections for Lesser Prairie Chicken

Three conservation groups – Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and WildEarth Guardians – have filed a legal challenge to force full protection of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act. The move comes in response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to protect the highly imperiled bird only as “threatened” while providing special exemptions that would allow ongoing destruction of their dwindling grassland habitat.
READ MORE AT  http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2014/lesser-prairie-chicken-04-10-2014.html

Restoration of Warren Creek on the Katy Prairie, Texas

A section of the Katy Prairie’s Warren Creek that has been restored and recently seeded; just one small part of 100,000 linear feet of stream restoration being performed by Restoration Systems for Texas DOT’s Houston Grand Parkway toll road currently under construction by the Zachry-Odebrecht Parkway Builders.
SEE  http://tinyurl.com/ngrfceh AND http://www.grandparkway99.com/about-grand-parkway-99/about-developer

Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) Resource Center

We love the LPC everyday, especially on Valentine’s Day! Lesser prairie chickens (LPC) once ranged all across the Southern Great Plains. Historically this area of the United States boasted both lesser and greater prairie chickens along with teeming herds of bison and pronghorn antelope, huge black-tailed prairie dog towns and mule deer in the wooded draws and canyons.

Lesser prairie chickens could be found in much of western Texas, western Oklahoma and Kansas, eastern New Mexico and southeast Colorado. This regional landscape, however, has seen many changes over the last 150 years, leading to an estimated 92% decline in this little grouse’s population. These losses are a direct result of the declining quality of habitat due to human activities such as conversion of native prairie to tilled agriculture, oil and gas exploration, urban development and suppression of naturally occurring fire.

READ MORE at http://lesserprairiechicken.com/

17,000 feet of stream restoration in Texas

Reach 5 of Warren Creek: 17,000 feet of stream restoration completed ahead of schedule by Restoration Systems for TxDOT  – 52,000 feet still to be done – compensation for impacts of under-construction segments of the Grand Parkway, Houston, Texas.

RS Video: Katy Prairie Stream Mitigation Bank

Restoration Systems was thrilled to see the final cut of the video below RS produced to profile our Katy Prairie Stream Mitigation Bank. The point of a corporate video of this kind is to help explain a project, so I will keep the narrative here to a minimum. Suffice to say, however, that we are immensely proud of this mitigation bank and our many partners; particularly, the Warren Family and the Katy Prairie Conservancy; our stream design team, KBR, Stantec and Forbes Consultancy; our contractor Land Mechanic Designs, and planter Stuckey Seeding — among many others.

We will be turning dirt out on the prairie for years to come, so this is unlikely to be the last version of the film. It will be fun taking footage of the site as it matures — over the next several decades — and including it in an evolving series of similar productions from Human Films.

Stay tuned!

Warren Creek Newly Restored

We were sent some great photos this morning of the newly restored reaches at Warren Creek from Land Mechanics and the construction crew in Texas.

All we need now is both banks planted thick with yellow roses. (Just kidding.)

E&E: Future of Conservation?: RS Katy Prairie Bank Nation’s Leading Commercial Mitigation Project

From more pics of the project visit our public Facebook page.

To learn more about the project visit our Katy Prairie project page:

I’ve read a lot articles about mitigation banking. But this one got it just right.

We made the largest sale in the history of the mitigation industry to the Grand Parkway, for segments F1, F2 and G,” Howard explained. “As Houston grows west, it’s going to demand mitigation, and then that will drive the restoration of the Katy Prairie and the Warren Ranch. — George Howard, E&E, October 5, 2012

Texas launches eco-credit trading to mitigate development impacts
Published:Friday, October 5, 2012 | Source: http://www.eenews.net/gw/

Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter

HOUSTON — One of the largest highway construction projects in the country promises to deliver more urban sprawl to already-diffuse Houston when it is completed in 2019, threatening vast swaths of untouched natural areas.

State Highway 99, or the Grand Parkway, will become the third freeway loop to circle the greater metropolitan area here, alleviating congestion in some places but inevitably encouraging this fast-growing city to further expand its footprint.

But a new Army Corps of Engineers-administered ecological credit trading system being introduced in the state is viewed by developers as a potential game changer in the struggle to balance conservation and city growth.

Adjacent to the highway project, work crews began construction this week on the nation’s largest “stream mitigation bank” project, a market-based approach to mitigating losses of creeks, streams and smaller waterways affected by development.

The project, undertaken in conjunction with a local conservation group called the Katy Prairie Conservancy, seeks to restore more than 110,000 feet of streams lost to earlier development at a site managed by the conservancy on the Warren Ranch, the largest operating cattle ranch in Harris County. Officials involved in the project say it will serve as a template for this city’s future growth, ensuring that development in one part of the watershed will be met first with protections and ecological mitigation in another part of it.

The project, paid for by the sale of environmental mitigation credits to the highway project, will also potentially create revenues the conservancy can use to purchase and protect other parts of what is left of the historic Gulf Coast prairie that used to dominate Harris County, now almost completely swallowed by the city’s relentless growth.

Mary Anne Piacentini, director of the Katy Prairie Conservancy, said the arrangement will earn her organization enough funds to pay off the debt it took to acquire the ranch and create that portion of the preserve. The conservancy owns 72 percent of Warren Ranch, while family members control the rest.

“Clearly the money is important, and it will … allow us to ensure the permanent protection of the ranch,” Piacentini said. “But it also is important because it is really improving habitat on the ranch, not just the streams themselves, but the banks of the streams and the flood way and floodplain and the improved grasslands that are going to be on either side lining the creeks.”

Under the new Army Corps system, which the agency began crafting in 2008, construction projects that would cross or otherwise affect waterways in Houston’s watershed would have to receive a special permit to be allowed to continue. Developers have the option to avoid the impact entirely, minimize it as much as possible or mitigate the damage by restoring an equal amount of waterway in a different part of that watershed.

The stream mitigation bank project on the Katy Prairie will offset damage to other waterways at points where the massive Grand Parkway will be built. Click the map for a larger version. Map courtesy of Restoration Systems LLC.
The system allows third-party developers to manage their own restoration projects and bank credits for doing so. Later projects can then purchase those credits from these mitigation banks to meet regulations and proceed with construction.

Mitigation banking has been up and running in North Carolina for a few years but had yet to be introduced to Texas. George Howard, president of Restoration Systems LLC, said this initial project will serve as a template for future development mitigation banking throughout Houston and eventually across all of expanding Texas. Restoration Systems is the firm leading the Katy Prairie stream mitigation bank project.

“We made the largest sale in the history of the mitigation industry to the Grand Parkway, for segments F1, F2 and G,” Howard explained. “As Houston grows west, it’s going to demand mitigation, and then that will drive the restoration of the Katy Prairie and the Warren Ranch.”

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimates that the Katy Prairie — a popular birding spot and home to a variety of species — once covered an area of 500,000 to 750,000 acres before development began, first in the form of rice farms and later as subdivisions. Little remains; Piacentini estimates that less than 20 percent is in “OK” condition, while perhaps 1 percent is considered “pristine.”

And a booming Houston economy is still putting pressure on the land. Plans for thousands of new homes and businesses are in the works for both sides of the route along the future Highway 99 toll road.

Segment E of the parkway, scheduled to open to traffic in late 2013, was permitted under the old system and is not contributing to the current stream construction. But the other three segments of the highway that will link Houston’s north suburbs will cross more waterways, and the state highway department is required to purchase conservation credits to get the permits it needs.

The city is eager to open segments F1, F2 and G in time for the opening of a massive new corporate campus that Exxon Mobil Corp. is building in the northern suburb of the Woodlands. To offset the damage caused by those three segments to north and northwest Harris County waterways, the Grand Parkway project will purchase banked mitigation credits from Restoration Systems, covering the cost of the Katy Prairie project and possibly more conservation initiatives.

Howard said it took the group four years to secure the permit for its stream mitigation project, but he said the delay was expected. Having never administered such a system in its area of jurisdiction before, the Army Corps of Engineers’ office in Galveston essentially had to develop standard operating procedures. Future projects will experience fewer bureaucratic hurdles, officials predict.

BUILDING STREAMS

 

During a recent tour of the stream restoration project site, Lee Forbes, a fluvial geomorphologist and president of Forbes Consultancy PLLC, explained the team’s plan for building — sometimes almost from scratch — more than 100,000 feet of streams that will be nearly identical to natural streams that once were found on the ranch.

Before the banking method was introduced, construction projects could offset their ecological impact by funding wetland restoration elsewhere in the region. The new rules specifying mitigation of streams bring greater technological challenges, Forbes said.

“Stream impacts, which prior to this were able to be mitigated with wetlands, now have to be mitigated with streams,” Forbes said. “And streams are a lot more complex to design, build and maintain, and they have different function, ecological function, than a wetland.”

Earlier settlers to the site worked to straighten out some streams and create a direct path to their tributaries, believing that was better for moving water efficiently and for flood control. But natural streams engineer themselves to move both water and sediment in the most economic manner that nature allows, creating the winding paths that creeks and rivers take in near-flat terrain.

Blueprints of the first phase of the project show what Forbes and others involved have planned. The course is deliberately windy and crosses much of the existing straight channel several times. Crews will also build the stream to have different depths at different places, and trees and branches will be carefully inserted in places to brace the walls of the stream, just as naturally fallen trees do for wild streams.

“A stream functions best when it has easy access to the floodplain. That’s how it builds itself, how it manages its energy,” Forbes said. “We’re putting back in ripples, runs, pools and glides. … It’s a very complex science.”

Stream construction is so complex that advanced computer models and the latest satellite-driven surveying equipment have to be laid out to plot the best meandering path to take. Local construction crews are also unschooled in the idea, requiring extra training, Forbes said.

“The contractors that do it have been from other states where they have been doing it a lot longer,” he said. “We have a mission here in Houston to start training the local contractors on how to do this.”

FUTURE OF CONSERVATION?

Technical challenges aside, both Forbes and Howard are convinced that the market-driven approach behind the mitigation banking concept is the future of environmental conservation across the United States.

Restoration Systems estimates it will generate about 250,000 credits from just this project, each credit selling to construction projects for about $250. As the first project, the Katy Prairie stream mitigation bank is being priced in the absence of competition, but Howard expects more actors to enter the fray and force credit prices lower as Houston continues to grow. City leaders believe Houston will overtake Chicago as the nation’s third most populous city by 2030.

Conservation through market-based credit trading systems has detractors. A similar project proposed by U.S. EPA for Chesapeake Bay is facing a court challenge by environmentalists who allege that credit trading will invite fraud and abuse (Greenwire, Oct. 3).

But the Army Corps of Engineers and the forces behind the pilot in Texas seem convinced that the concept is proved to work and may be one of the best methods for balancing development and environmental protection.

“There could be additional banks, and then it would be a competitive market that sells to the impactor at the best rate, so it’s a market-driven ecosystem management,” Forbes said. “Meanwhile, economic development and growth are restoring some of the last vestiges of native prairie and streams in the country.”

Piacentini says she’s equally enthusiastic about the concept and the millions of dollars her organization will receive from it. She is looking for other market-based conservation models that the Katy Prairie could tap into, to grab hold of more tracts of land to preserve ahead of the expanding zone of concrete.

The stream mitigation bank going up now is a prime example of the obvious benefit, she said.

“It will give us water. It will give us a place to put trails. It will allow us to improve the water quality in that stretch of the various tributaries to Cypress Creek,” Piacentini said. “And it will also just ensure that there are places that continue to be available for wildlife.”

Want to read more stories like this?

Click here to start a free trial to E&E — the best way to track policy and markets.

About Greenwire
Greenwire is written and produced by the staff of E&E Publishing, LLC. The one-stop source for those who need to stay on top of all of today’s major energy and environmental action with an average of more than 20 stories a day, Greenwire covers the complete spectrum, from electricity industry restructuring to Clean Air Act litigation to public lands management. Greenwire publishes daily at 1 p.m.

E&E Publishing, LLC
122 C St., Ste. 722, NW, Wash., D.C. 20001.
Phone: 202-628-6500. Fax: 202-737-5299.
www.eenews.net
Login
Follow the discussion

Workshop – Implementing the Galveston Stream Tool

On October 26th a workshop will be held in Houston, Texas to discuss the Interim Stream Condition Assessment Standard Operating Procedure which was recently put on the street by the Galveston Corps District.   This workshop is free and open to the public so if you would like to attend please visit the webpage and RSVP.  The workshop is key to anyone working on projects that may impact streams within Galveston District.

There will be three topics discussed during this workshop-

  • Jayson Hudson and Dwayne Johnson (USACE) will present on the Stream Condition Assessment SOP and how it should be implemented.
  • Lee Forbes (KBR) will discuss stream restoration techniques and present local project examples.
  • And RS’s very own Travis Hamrick will discuss our newest stream bank servicing the Houston Metro area- The Katy Prairie Stream Mitigation Bank.

 

We expect this workshop to be well attended (100+ people responded on the first day) so please RSVP to insure that there is enough room for everyone. See you there!

Creek Week: New Galveston District Stream Mitigation Operating Procedure Published

Texas-Sized news for RS’ soon-to-open Katy Prairie Stream Mitigation Bank (KPSMB).  The Galveston District of the U.S. Army Corps has put on Special Public Notice a well-composed and carefully considered Standard Operating Procedure for complying with federal requirements for the compensation of streams (as distinct from wetlands).

Below is the new Galveston District Standard Operating Procedure for stream regulation and compensation:

Galveston Corps Stream Mitigation SOP and Tool

The KPSMB was planned by RS in 2007 to coincide within a year or two with the publication of the regulatory document above.  The stream SOP spells out how linear waters will be regulated and mitigated in the Galveston District.  It looks as though RS has succeeded in not being too early or too late on the mitigation side of the equation. The KPSMB will open in the next few weeks, shortly after the mitigation requirements are in place.

The Corps Galveston District did yeoman’s work building a comprehensive stream regulatory program from scratch since the publication of the Federal Mitigation Rule in 2008.  The final product is admirable (and subject to comment over the next year).  The SOP appears to have met the requirement of the Rule for in-kind regulation of streams, and also provided the regulated and banking community with a transparent and workable document from which to begin meeting the requirements.

Houston is America’s 4th largest market and the KPSMB will service the majority of the growing metropolis and its environs.  The bank is scaled to fit the town.  As far as we know, the KPSMB will be the largest permitted stream mitigation bank in the United States, with more than 20 miles of permitted restoration and protection potential.

Perhaps just as exciting for our firm is our land partners in the venture, the Katy Prairie Conservancy (KPC) and the Warrens.  The entire restoration project is situated along streams on the 6000 acre Warren Ranch owned by the KPC and the Warren Family.  The Warren Ranch, among other things, is the largest working cattle ranch in Harris County and Houston.

The Warren Ranch is an ideal location for the establishment of a stream mitigation bank. Here’s why: As credits are sold the Katy Prairie Conservancy and the Warren family will receive a royalty from sales which will allow the Conservancy, if they choose, to retire debt and permanently protect more uplands on the Warren Ranch with conservation easements, or acquire and protect additional threatened property in the watershed. As waters are restored and protected uplands will be protected as well.  A rare but fruitful dynamic in mitigation banking.

We love our landowners at RS but have never seen the proceeds from our real estate transactions go to more wonderful ends than is likely at this ranch and with the Katy Prairie Conservancy.