Discovering Greens Bayou

By Teresa Tomkins-Walsh

Greens Bayou watershed imposed on rendering of Harris County.  Photo courtesy of Bayou Preservation Association.

Greens Bayou watershed is contained wholly within Harris County, in contrast to some regional watersheds that tap into adjoining counties. Comprising 212 square miles of drainage and including 308 miles of open streams, Greens Bayou watershed sprawls like the lopped off, gnawed ear of an ogre felled in northern Harris County. Its headwaters rise north of Jersey Village close to the Jones and Mills roads intersection (29°58′ N, 95°35′ W), then flow forty-three miles east and then south, and finally dip into the Houston Ship Channel.

Navigation along lower Greens Bayou, 1925. Photo courtesy of Harris County Flood Control District.

Houston is a city of flows. Geographer, Maria Kaika, posits that cities or built environment are social constructions designed to detach or insulate humans from nature. Water’s crucial relationship to city and home, its fundamental importance to city building, and its fluid quality reveal that nature and city are not separate; they are hybrid. Modernization promotes the myth that nature can be tamed. Disaster reveals nature is an intruder and a threat to development. Water flows within channels and overflows through natural processes meant to cleanse, refresh, and sometimes redesign. People, goods, and capital flow, sometimes in concert with water and sometimes in contraflows that can enhance, overwhelm, or distort sustaining flows of water.

The rear of Dee Owens home, as seen here in 1994, looked out onto Greens Bayou.  Photo courtesy of Dee Owens Maner.

Before human habitation, water flowed through bayous, earthen conduits designed by nature to drain, filter, and replenish watersheds. As nomadic humans populated Southeast Texas (beginning around 11,000-10,000 B.C.E.), cycles of weather and flooding governed human flows. Rains, floods, and droughts came to Southeast Texas and human inhabitants artfully navigated and accommodated their environment. European contact began in the early sixteenth century with the Narvaez expedition, described and published in Cabeza de Vaca’s anthropological notes. Early Anglo immigrants settled in Harris County during the 1820s, slowly at first and then more densely as opportunity attracted new arrivals and inhabitants multiplied.

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Endnotes for the article can be found here.

Learn more about the Greens Bayou Coalition’s mission to improve the Greens Bayou watershed by visiting their official website.
Read more about the Harris County Flood Control District progress on the Green Bayou watershed.

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