HOUSTON — Three months after flood torrents from Hurricane Harvey submerged Buffalo Bayou Park under almost 39 feet of water, scars left by the storm are still evident.
The Houston Chronicle reports mounds of sand still sit waist-high in some parts of the 160-acre park, branches and stripped trees still hang from the underside of bridges spanning the bayou and waterlogged plant matter still chokes tributaries that feed into Houston’s central waterway.
“The silt levels that resulted from Harvey were beyond anything that we have ever seen with any flooding event,” Buffalo Bayou Partnership president Anne Olson said.
The complete recovery effort, estimated to take another four to six months, involves clearing the over 70,000 cubic yards of sediments the bayou deposited along its banks as floodwaters made their way to Galveston Bay.
“Initially, the sand was higher than my head,” the Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s volunteer coordinator Leticia Sierras said. “The trails here were all buried.”
The partnership’s 22 maintenance workers began clearing downed trees Sept. 6, but their Field Operations headquarters on Memorial Drive — where much of their mechanical maintenance equipment was stored — took on more than 3 feet of water during the storm, Sierras said, submerging and destroying $300,000 worth of golf carts, mowers and electrical equipment.
Without power tools, the more than 1,000 volunteers that have come out since the waters receded in early September have made do with shovels, wheelbarrows and rakes to move the mountains of sand and pluck plastic bags and other storm refuse from trees that line the channels.
“With everything that’s happened, people really want to make it look like it did before,” said volunteer Eloise Cowan, 17. “It’s such an essential part of Houston.”
Sierras said a combination of corporate and individual volunteers have put in more than 3,000 man-hours plucking plastic bags and storm refuse from once-submerged trees. “These people are so eager to get us back to where we were,” she said.
Buffalo Bayou Park has seen three major flood events since 2015, but weathered the Memorial Day and Tax Day floods relatively easily thanks to the curve of the bayou and heavy-duty infrastructure — reinforced bridge pylons, concrete light standards and buildings with flow-through first floors.
The park took on more than 40 feet of water at the Shepherd Drive bridge during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. But Harvey, Olson said, was different.
A weekslong, prolonged release of water from the Barker and Addicks Reservoir dams led to greater rates of erosion and damage to the footpaths that run almost the entire length of the park.
“The amount of silt is so much more in comparison,” said volunteer Carlyn Burton, 37, who also volunteered in 2009 to help clear out Buffalo Bayou Park after Hurricane Ike brought 31 feet of water to the bayou. “All of the water had to recede first before they could clear it out to a point where we could even come in.”
The damage from Harvey will be felt and seen for months — there are 12 spots in the park’s network of trails still in need of repair, where the oversaturated soil from the storm undermined the paths and caused some sections to collapse.
The cost of the collection and removal of the enormous mounds of silt alone is estimated to be more than $1 million, said park officials.
Johnny Steele Dog Park, built to withstand such flooding events, was closed for weeks after 2015 and 2016’s floods.
Months after Harvey, it still sits abandoned, the sidewalks and pavilions buried under several feet of silt and choked by overgrown weeds. It’s unclear when it will reopen and the cost of repairs to the once-popular dog park have not been estimated but conceivably, said Olson, the partnership president, adding the site could be elevated using the silt already deposited there.
Hundreds of trees were determined to have died in the immediate aftermath of the storm — an alarming number, but much less than the thousands that were initially feared killed, Olson said.
Still, the work continues. The sediment removal process should be finished within 7 to 8 weeks and grass is already sprouting in areas along the trails once buried by sand.
“Our priority was to get the trails uncovered so people can use them,” Olson said. “We’ve made great progress.”
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com
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