Why Does KPC Protect Prairie Land?
Coastal prairie lands not only provide recreational opportunities for area residents and critical habitat for wildlife, they also play an important role in flood control, promote cleaner air and water, and serve as a local food production source. Prairie grasses absorb and hold floodwaters back from downstream – allowing them to release more slowly, native grassland soils store carbon which make our air cleaner, and wetlands filter water and help improve water quality.
The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat should all come from a healthy planet. KPC has protected over 20,000 acres on the Katy Prairie. The more land we protect on the Katy Prairie, the better for us all.
What Is the Cypress Creek Overflow Project?
During rain events, time is critical. The more time water has to slowly drain, the less likely downstream residents will be flooded. KPC is working hard with others on a plan to capture more water on our preserve system as part of the Cypress Creek Overflow Project along with other community members representing development, conservation, and public works and planning agencies in the City of Houston, Harris and Waller counties.
The committee’s work resulted in numerous plans, including Plan 5 which proposes to acquire between 5,000 - 6,000 acres of land close to the Katy Prairie Preserve System. Next, a berm on the east and south sides of the newly acquired land will be created and the banks of Bear Creek will be flattened and extended so that it can become a huge detention pond when needed. Finally, much of the land will be restored to tallgrass prairie to enhance its water absorption capabilities. This project, if realized, will help prevent water from the Cypress Creek watershed from flooding the Addicks Reservoir.
What Does Tallgrass Prairie and Wetlands Restoration Have to Do with Flooding?
Prairie lands buy us time. When restored coastal prairie holds water, it slows water traveling downstream. In catastrophic flooding events, this time is essential. It’s the time we need for water to drain, for the sun to come out, and for flood-prone residential and commercial areas to recover. Even if waters are only held back for a day or two, this makes an enormous difference. Since 1992, the Houston metropolitan area has lost up to 70% of its wetlands. The EPA estimates that one wetland acre can store between 1 and 1.5 million gallons of water. To date, KPC has restored more than 3,000 acres of wetlands on its preserve system – providing fabulous habitat for migratory waterfowl while also helping to hold back floodwaters.
A recent study by the Harris County Flood Control District noted that “it appears that one acre of prairie would increase the infiltration capacity of undeveloped land by 3.52 inches in a 100-year flood event.” The restoration of tallgrass prairie increases the amount of organic matter in the soil, which leads to deep root systems with increased water holding capacity and increased soil porosity. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that every 1% increase in soil organic matter results in the soil holding an additional 20,000 gallons of water per acre. We are working on restoring 200 acres of grasses and wildflowers on KPC’s Indiangrass Preserve, Williams Prairie, Rock Hollow Creek, and other preserves.
What is the Spongeturf Concept?
Spongeturf would be a mix of five to six native species of grass that can replace a traditional residential lawn. A typical residential lawn only absorbs less than ½ inch of rain per hour and its care and maintenance often results in air and water quality issues from frequent mowing, intensive use of water, and chemical and pesticide overflow into local streams.
KPC has been working with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center to secure funding to undertake a study to develop spongeturf or turfgrasses for the Gulf Coast Region. Turfgrasses could be used in roadsides, parks, corporate campuses, golf courses, utility rights-of-way, and residential lawns. Native turfgrass species can replace the traditional lawn without requiring intensive use of water and pesticides. The result is fewer weeds, less fertilizer, less mowing, and the ability to provide wildlife habitat — all of which help to improve the health and vitality of Houston and the Galveston Bay.