Spencer Langford paddles his canoe west from Eleanor Tinsley Park along his usual route through Buffalo Bayou. He tries to get on the water every day. A nature buff, he notes the different species of birds, fish, turtles and snakes. But as he nears Studemont, by the dog park, he stops at something else: an impassable dam of garbage that has developed around a cluster of logs.
"This used to be gorgeous," Langford says. "But now it's, um ... shit water."
The trash collects in storm drains throughout Houston, then flushes out into the Bayou whenever it rains, according to Scott Barnes, the conservation director at the non-profit Buffalo Bayou Partnership, which maintains the area through private donations and funds from the city and county.
The trash had been floating around since the last big rainfall about two weeks ago. Barnes and his crew had to work through a logjam around the bridge columns downtown before they could reach the Studemont "dam."
They broke apart the dam yesterday, a day after Langford's trip, taking chainsaws to the logs, then transporting the debris away by boat. The process loosened up and scattered the trash, so Barnes and company are now out on the water trying to round it up.
"We'll clean up this mess, get the downtown area clean, get all the way down to the port clean," Barnes says. "And while we're doing it all that the stuff is landing in the street every day, falling into the storm drain."
The trash can come from as far away as Barker-Cypress.
Floating garbage and bacteria aside, Barnes says the bayou is relatively clean; there aren't dangerous levels of mercury or other toxins.
Does he recommend eating its fish?
"I wouldn't," he says. "But there's a lot of people that do."
Click here for a slideshow of more images.