By: Matthew Jackson
The Willows Waterhole Greenspace
is a flood control area for Brays Bayou in the southwestern portion of Houston. For Houston residents, heavy rain throughout the year is always a threat either through spring thunderstorms or summer and full tropical systems. With heavy rain, usually comes flooding. In the first half of the 20th century, Houston was subjected to a series of devastating floods that caused millions of dollars of damage around the city and the Ship Channel in addition to loss of life. In the 1930's, Jack Rafferty, the first Harris County Flood Control Engineer, was among the first to begin planning a city-wide flood control system consisting of of canals and enlarged bayous that would help divert flood waters.
Fast forward to present day, the Houston area has 22 watersheds
, each being managed by the Harris County Flood Control District
. What used to be natural bayous that meandered there way across the coastal prairies, now have been channelized and straightened to allow flood waters to quickly move down the water shed and eventually out to the Houston Ship Channel and ultimately Galveston Bay. As development in the bayous has become more dense, even short-lived storms can produce dangerous flood conditions in the watersheds.
, the Brays Bayou Foundation funded initial studies establishing the need and identifying the location of stormwater retention ponds in the Brays Bayou watershed. Fifteen years later, excavation of what are now the ponds at the Willow Waterhole Greenspace begins. In 2001, the Willow Waterhole Greenspace Conservancy is established. In the same year, the Conservancy, with the help of the National Park Service, gains more land to make the greenspace a usable park for the public. In 2004, the first park features were completed including trails, bridges and signs. Since that time, the greenspace and park has continued to grow to nearly 300 acres.
Activities and Opportunities
Paved trails throughout the park wind their way around the ponds that offer excellent views of wildlife that may be in the ponds. The wetlands here attract dozens of species of birds that even the most casual birder couldn't find easily only a mile away in the surrounding neighborhoods. In fact, Houston Audubon regularly hosts bird walks at the Willow Waterhole Park throughout the year and post their findings on the announcements board at the park. Ducks, herons, egrets, ibis, hawks, woodpeckers, swallows, and wrens were all seen in June 2013 at the location.
Additionally, the Willow Waterhole Greenspace Conservancy also hosts volunteer work day events throughout the year which include picking up litter and planting native plants that strengthen the wetland ecosystem.
Why is it significant to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge?
The Willow Waterhole Greenspace is a perfect example of demonstrating the
importance of wetlands. In this particular instance, wetlands were created primarily to retain excess storm runoff to prevent flooding downstream and to improve the water quality. As a side effect, natural habitat has been re-created and been made accessible for wildlife and the public to use. In the case of Anahuac NWR, the wetlands and prairies are being preserved primarily for waterfowl and migrating songbirds habitat, but it also provides the same benefits to the surrounding areas. Much like the torrential rainfall and resulting runoff and flooding in Houston, Anahuac NWR is susceptible to storm surges from tropical systems. In either case, the wetlands provide a buffer to protect areas away from bayous and the coast from more severe flooding. They also both help filter contaminants out of the water which would eventually make it into Galveston Bay.
Places like Anahuac NWR are used as models for wetland creation in other environments. Come see for yourself what they have to offer at one of YOUR Houston National Wildlife Refuges.