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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. Using a drone is my new hobby, so I watched him very carefully. As they used to say in the Timex commercial, the KPSMB: ‘Takes a lickin’ — and keeps on tickin'”…

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.

 

The Flying Turkey takes more air photos

When Pam and the kids and I visit our family in Beaufort, North Carolina, I often take the opportunity to hire a small plane at the friendly Michael J. Smith Airport to take photos of nearby RS sites. I did so yesterday and enjoyed nearly perfect conditions.  Here are some pictures of the Bear Creek, Jarman’s Oak and Lloyd wetland and stream mitigation sites. (As regular readers will recall, I flew Bear Creek earlier this month. But I returned this time WITH my stabilized lens).

I also flew the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s North River Restoration Site, about which I have provided some background below.

Note: If you “click through” the photo box you can more easily read captions and navigate the photos.

Enjoy!

Below are some photos of North River Farms, which is being restored by the North Carolina Coastal Federation. This project is near and dear to RS’ heart. RS owned the option to purchase this 6000 acre farm in the 90’s. Determining that the farm had significantly more restoration potential than could be used as mitigation in the watershed (unless Cape Canaveral were relocated to the NC coast), we contacted the NCCF and suggested they take our option and make an application for its restoration to the then newly formed NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

The rest is history. The project is now one of the largest coastal restoration projects in the nation. We retained 390 acres within the farm, for which RS was recently awarded a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to restore and protect. Brassgrill and I will blog in the future and tell you more about this project.

New Photos of RS' Bear Creek Wetland Mitigation Bank — Year 8 Since Restoration

I enjoyed great weather today for a flight to take some pics of RS’ Bear Creek Wetland Mitigation Bank straddling US 70 between Goldsboro and Kinston, NC. My family and I are staying with friends further east in Morehead City, and the nearby Beaufort, NC, airport is a convenient place to get up for some photos. Unfortunately, we had less than two hours for the flight and I was unable to photograph any other RS sites in the region.

But Bear Creek is special and can justify its own trip. It is the first project Restoration Systems put in the ground, in 2001. The wet and sloppy areas you see in these photos were bone-dry cornfields before we purchased, restored and protected the wetlands eight years ago. We planted twenty native species and 200,000 trees, as well as removed agricultural levees and backfilled major canals and drainage ditches. The Bear Creek bank and its associated site, Sleepy Creek, required the assemblage of over 1000 acres of property from more than twenty land owners at three locations in Lenoir and Craven Counties.

I look forward to putting up some “before and after” photos of Bear Creek. We have been taking photos of the mitigation bank since 1998 and can show in vivid detail the miracle of environmental restoration.

Feel free to click on a pic to be taken to Google Albums. From there you can play them full screen or download them!

Update: I put some photos of a ground reconnaissance hike we took at Bear Creek a little over a year ago:


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