Group formed in effort to protect Cedar Bayou

Meandering through the heart of the greater Baytown area, Cedar Bayou is many things to different people — it still has significant natural areas, it is popular for fishing and boating, its lower reaches have commercial shipping development and, as Hurricane Harvey reminded us, it is important for drainage.

When Chambers County Judge Jimmy Sylvia brought community leaders together June 6 one of the speakers was Chuck Wemple, executive director of the Houston-Galveston Area Council. Wemple said Harvey’s damage led several entities with interest in the bayou to get together to coordinate efforts.

That coordination, which Wemple said was also initiated by Sylvia, resulted in the Cedar Bayou Initiative.

At the end of June, H-GAC posted a web page with details on the Cedar Bayou Initiative that will provide a central information point for what is happening on the waterway.

Justin Bower, who works with the initiative for H-GAC, said that the group has met and that some participants have started working together on specific projects, but “for now the partners are continuing to work on their separate projects, and coordinating as we go forward.”

Wemple said the group is working with both the 

Texas General Land Office and federal agencies to identify funding for projects to improve both drainage and navigability, to reduce flooding and improve the economy.

Bower was also the facilitator for the Cedar Bayou Protection Plan, which brought together area stakeholders to develop a strategy for the protecting the bayou environmentally.

The new project, he said, is similar, but with an emphasis on resiliency.

Two of the projects that have planning underway have the potential for coordination to make each more effective:

• Cedar Bayou Flood Risk Reduction Study

Being implemented by the Harris County Flood Control District and the Texas Water Development Board, this project seeks to reduce flooding in the Harris County portion of the Cedar Bayou Watershed.

The 2018 HCFCD bond initiative includes 14 projects in the Cedar Bayou Watershed, including buyouts, channel improvements, detention basins and a wetlands mitigation bank.

The agency’s flood risk reduction plan recommends modifications of tributaries and new detention.

• Baytown Sub-Regional Detention

The City of Baytown Drainage Master Plan envisions developing more neighborhood detention ponds to supplement on-site detention.

Three other projects are well along in planning, but are still in need of funding or regulatory approval. 

• The Cedar Bayou Navigation District conducted a feasibility study to support a plan for dredging and modifications to Cedar Bayou below the Highway 146 bridge to improve its usefulness for navigation. After Harvey, a new study was conducted to evaluate changes to the channel caused by the flood.

• The Army Corps of Engineers and the Chambers-Liberty Counties Navigation District are preparing for maintenance dredging of an 11-foot deep, 100-foot wide channel. The roughly five-mile project goes from the Cedar Bayou channel junction with the Houston Ship Channel in Galveston Bay to a point three miles up the bayou.

• The Cedar Bayou Watershed Protection Plan addresses water quality issues. Strategies include voluntary protection of vegetative buffers along the banks through voluntary conservation easements, modifications of agricultural practices and Baytown’s Watershed Protection Ordinance, which regulates development along the water.

Four other projects are listed as needing more study before progress can begin:

• The NRG “cut channel.” It is not clear how important the channel is for moving floodwater.

• Transportation improvements. A number of projects to raise roadways, replace bridges or change pavement have been recommended to reduce disruption from future flooding.

• Improve drainage channels. Some channels leading to the bayou need to be deepened and widened; others simply need to be cleared of excess undergrowth and debris.

• Neighborhood flooding and hazard mitigation. Some neighborhoods, such as Whispering Pines and Pinehurst, have proven vulnerable to flooding. Specific issues causing flooding in those areas needs to be identified and addressed.

You can find more details on these projects and follow the progress of the Cedar Bayou Initiative at www.h-gac.com/cedar-bayou-initiative.

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