Water Quality Improvements

Brays Bayou

Estuary Program partners created an urban wetland complex to treat storm water from a local neighborhood along Brays Bayou. The Brays Bayou Urban Wetland Project (Project Brays) offers a mini demonstration of  how humans and the ecosystem interact. The marshy ponds help to filter out sediments, oil and other  pollutants from the surrounding neighborhoods’ runoff after a rainfall event—protecting water quality and  collecting discarded trash. It also provides for public use: the walking trails make it a pleasant place to visit, while the educational signs offer a learning opportunity for Houston’s underserved Eastside community.

After Estuary Program staff conceived the idea of integrating, water quality, flood management, habitat, recreation and education into one project and approached Harris County Flood Control District about a partnership effort, fourteen agencies and organizations combined efforts to create a freshwater/tidal marsh. Those instrumental in helping complete the project, included the Texas Costal Watershed Program, Harris County Flood Control, Texas Parks and Wildlife, the City of Houston, Texas Master Naturalists and volunteers. The City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department now manages and maintains the wetlands.

Brays Bayou at Mason Park
Photo of Brays Bayou at Mason Park

Engineered and constructed by the Harris County Flood Control District, Project Brays at Mason Park is a series of three water-quality improvement ponds on 3.5 acres of land. The marsh is just one part of the project.

Harris County Flood Control District managed the pond design and creation, which required a lot of digging and dirt moving. Earth moving is expensive, and because the Tidal Marsh plans included digging three ponds, the cost effectiveness, along with the location, made the site perfect for the project. In addition, the Texas Coastal Watershed Program wanted to ensure there were additional habitat benefits, and after intense evaluation and assistance from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Brays Bayou site was selected. After the dirt was removed and the ponds shaped, area students underwent training and helped plant native wetland plants and grasses around them.

The completed project increased capacity for flood waters, provided treatment for storm water runoff, and created a place for wildlife to feed and rest, families to enjoy a day in the park and for adults and children to learn more about wetlands and Galveston Bay. The site is now home to the annual cleanup and educational event, Trash Bash™, which provides a hands-on opportunity to educate and involve the local community in environmental stewardship of our watershed. Each year hundreds of volunteers turn out and collected more than hundreds of pounds of trash in the park.

  • UHCL Wetland Project – The Estuary Program partnered with the University of Houston at Clear Lake’s Environmental Institute of Houston to retrofit a three acre detention pond and create a stormwater treatment wetland.  The Armand Bayou wetland treats run-off from 19 acres on the University property including buildings, parking lots, and managed landscapes.  The wetland flows into Horsepen Bayou, a tributary to Armand Bayou, which is impaired for high levels of bacteria and low levels of dissolved oxygen.  The wetland was monitored prior to and after it was completed to provide valuable data to share with local and regional stormwater managers and watershed protection programs.
  • League City NPS Implementation Project – The Estuary Program provided technical support and funds to the City of League City for development of a Clean Water Act Section 319 proposal to TCEQ’s Nonpoint Source (NPS) Program. The League City NPS Implementation Project will create a 3-acre demonstration park that will put in place best management practices that will be fully monitored and available to developers, the public, and surrounding communities; work to model stormwater runoff in the city and use these results to evaluate and develop appropriate stormwater ordinances; and finally develop a program to retrofit commercial, residential and public property with green infrastructure to gauge low impact development effectiveness and the use of incentives. The project got underway in the fall of 2011.
  • Supporting TCEQ TMDL and NPS Programs –  The Estuary Program provided facilitation services to engage stakeholders in the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and watershed planning process, and continue to provide staff expertise through participation on advisory committees. The Estuary Program also financially supported development and implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) to address Nonpoint Source Pollution (NPS) in impaired waterbodies.  The septic system risk characterization in Halls Bayou called the Westfield Estates project is sample of implementation effort supporting ongoing TMDLs. The risk assessment identified viable options for corrective action and results are being used by the Houston-Galveston Areas Council, Harris County, and City of Houston to implement corrective action, including replacement of septic systems, maintenance of existing systems, and fundraising for connecting septic systems users to a centralized

Here are some local watersheds where your Estuary Program is at work:

  • Watershed Protection Plans (WPP)
    • Bastrop Bayou – High levels of Bacteria and low dissolved oxygen are concerns for this watershed. The Estuary Program provided initial funding to complete a risk assessment of the watershed and supplied local match for the 319 grant and staff support during the development of the WPP.  Planning efforts have led to local support for development of an annual Trash Bash clean up; seeking of additional funds by the county and the local community of Demi John to resolve the community’s chronically failing septic systems; and a donation of 300 acres of land along Bastrop Bayou by DOW Chemical.
    • Highland Bayou – A Watershed Characterization Report was completed in 2011 to reverse concerns for high levels of bacteria and low dissolved oxygen. Currently work is being done to complete a WPP for the watershed. Additional environmental data has been collected; a landscape analysis of non-point sources (NPS) of pollution has finished; identified potentially failing septic systems; and completed one on one meetings with local planners and decision makers.
    • Dickinson Bayou – WPP is being revised due to EPA comments and completion of the Bacteria I-Plan.  The Estuary Program supported the development of the WPP and provided staff to development of the I-Plan.
    • Armand Bayou – Characterization Report was completed in 2005. The Watershed Partnership, which the Estuary Program is a partner, is seeking in FY 2011 to become a non-profit, and will be searching for additional funding to complete the WPP.
    • Bacteria Implementation Plan – Plan was completed in FY 2011 with staff support from the Estuary Program, and is going through final public review before formally being delivered to TCEQ for approval.
    • Cedar Bayou – With suggestion from the Estuary Program, the Houston-Galveston Area Council and TSSWCB, using $1.1 million in section 319 funding, commenced development of a WPP on Cedar Bayou in FY 2011.  The Estuary Program will be providing future match and staff support for development of the WPP.
    • Double Bayou – The Estuary Program financially supports the development of the Watershed Protection Plan of this waterbody in Trinity Bay identified for water quality problems of dissolved oxygen and bacteria. Environmental data has been collected, as well as an
  • Water Quality Improvement Projects (WQPI)
    • Dickinson Bayou – Initial implementation of the Dickinson Bayou WPP has begun with a TCEQ 319 Program grant with support from the Estuary Program.  A rain garden was completed on June 4, 2011 at Dickinson City Library.  The garden handles run-off from the 10,000 square foot roof. A ten acre storm water wetland is being created within the Clear Falls Clear Creek Independent School District detention basin.  The wetland will be completed by August 31, 2011.
    • Estuary Program, Harris County and the Houston Advance Research Center have partnered to use $900,000 in Coastal Impact Assistance Program funding to preserve Clear Creek riparian habitat and protect water quality from future development.