Though Luce Bayou is a key component of the LBITP moniker, it is important to note that the project will not disturb the natural drainage channel that is known as Luce Bayou, which meanders from the Sam Houston National Forest south to the East Fork of the San Jacinto River near upper Lake Houston.
Don Ripley, CWA’s Executive Director, said that the in-depth environmental studies carried out long before any dirt was turned on LBITP found that using the bayou as an avenue to carry the water from the Trinity River to Lake Houston could disturb its natural environment. The Coastal Water Authority would be required to make up for – or mitigate – those changes, which would mean the project’s cost would skyrocket. The alternative was to dig a new canal to carry water from the pipelines to the lake. The canal would parallel Luce Bayou, with the two approaching each other near FM 2100 where the bayou drains into the East Fork of the San Jacinto River.
Ripley said the CWA conducted a full environmental impact study on the canal option, and purchased a 3,000-acre site on the San Marcos River to mitigate impacts along the canal’s path, which primarily runs through old rice fields. The CWA donated the mitigation land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has property across the river.
So if the bayou is no longer part of the project, why is Luce Bayou still part of the project’s name? It is a nod to the project’s history, which is impressive and extensive. The concept of transporting water from the Trinity River through Luce Bayou was envisioned early in the city’s history, and in fact, was mentioned as a future option for water management in an article in the Houston Chronicle in 1938. In the 1970s, a population boom spurred by Houston’s red-hot oil and gas market prompted Houston city leaders to move the Luce Bayou concept to the project planning stage. The plan that emerged in the early 1980s supported moving water through Luce Bayou because no environmental studies had yet been carried out, and the concept made sense. The vision gained traction after the City of Houston obtained a permit allowing the transfer of up to 940,000 acre-feet of water from the Trinity River Basin to the San Jacinto River Basin each year (one-acre foot equals 326,000 gallons, enough to serve two typical Texas families for one year).
Ripley said the Luce Bayou project plan was shelved in the mid-1980s because of the oil bust that followed the boom.
“There was no demand for the project at that time because the population growth that was once projected was not there anymore,” Ripley said. “The plan was put on the shelf for close to 30 years.”