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HISTORICALLY CY-FAIR – Heavy Floods are Historic and Demonstrate the Value of Prairies

| June 1, 2016

Prairies act like sponges, holding flood waters and gradually releasing them.

Prairies act like sponges, holding flood waters and gradually releasing them.

Historic floods have dramatically altered Texas, including the Houston and Cypress areas. This past April’s rain broke all previous April records for Houston. But was it the wettest April ever? April 1836 would have been one for the record books as well, but there were no official stations to record the event. It was wet in early spring, but the deluge began the last week of the month. It must have been something similar to what we experienced ourselves this past April. The Mexican Army was retreating from Fort Bend, near present day Richmond, heading west for a crossing on the Colorado River. When the army was near the San Bernard River in the low prairies, they were caught in a rain that turned the prairie into a sea only broken by the small mima mounds that were barely visible above the water. The army of nearly 5,000 soldiers, plus 5,000 camp followers and an equal number of livestock, turned the prairie to a sea of mud. The equipment sank, wagons and mules got stuck, canons and munitions were lost, and the rain never ceased. The army disintegrated before the general’s eyes. So ended the threat of the Mexican Army to Texas. The battle of San Jacinto coupled with an act of God allowed Texas to become an independent nation.

My dad recalled as a young boy of 13 being taken by his uncle to downtown Houston in 1935 to see the flooded city. He vividly recalled how the cypress blocks that paved the street had floated loose and were bobbing around like oversized fishing corks. That flood led to the creation of Barker and Addicks Reservoirs. It was estimated that about 24 inches of rain fell out on the prairies south of Cypress, and perhaps in Cypress, within 12 hours to cause that flood. Downtown Houston has not experienced another flood since, except for the underground tunnel system. However, in the last 20 years, major floods have become an increasing problem. During this time, the Katy Prairie, which includes Cypress, has been transformed from a prairie to an urban landscape. The giant sponge of a prairie that held water and then released it weeks later has become a tarmac that speeds the water to drainage ways and swells them far beyond their banks. The Greater Houston area has experienced floods above the 100-year flood plain an average of every two years since 2000. Unless more prairie can be preserved and more retention built, I fear history will repeat itself many more times in our future.

If you would like to know more about how prairies hold water and the value of these critical ecosystems, contact the Katy Prairie Conservancy, katyprairie.org. If you would like to learn more about Texas or Cypress history, please visit Commissioner Steve Radack’s Cypress Top Historic Park at 26026 Old Hempstead Highway. The park is open daily from dawn to 7 p.m. The museum buildings are open on Tuesdays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. To arrange a special tour, please contact the park at cypresstop@pct3.com or 281-357-5324. The park is home to the Cypress Historical Society, housed in the “California Poppy” yellow train depot in the back of the park. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. They have genealogy and historical information for the Greater Cypress area. You can contact them at cypresshistsociety@att.net or 281-758-0083. If you have questions or comments about this article, contact Fred Collins at fcndc@juno.com.

Historical facts courtesy of Cypress Top Historic Park Collection & Cypress Historical Society: Preserving Cypress History for Posterity.

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