Vandals leave Houston up the creek without a pontoon

July 2010 News

Kids do stupid things all the time. Some, like Justin Bieber's haircut, are no big deal. But setting fire to the Buffalo Bayou Partnership's boats - as a pair of bike-riding boys are believed to have done last week - cuts deeper.

The little arsonists' attack Tuesday only did slight damage to the good ship Bio Vac; the one-of-a-kind floating contraption is already back at work sucking trash out of the water. But the Osprey, a $50,000 pontoon boat, burned to an unusable crisp.

That hurts because the Osprey had an important job: Its tours were all about teaching Houstonians to love their bayous. The slow-moving rivers are our city's best natural feature. And for far too long, we've abused them.

Since 1836, when the Allen brothers first paddled up Buffalo Bayou, Houstonians have used the bayous as dumps. As late as the 1970s, some of the city's sewage-treatment plants discharged directly into the water. To compete in what was called "The Reeking Regatta: The World's Smelliest Canoe Race," you had to be brave, crazy or both.

Mid-century engineers saw the bayous as potential drainage ditches yearning to be straightened and paved, "channelized" to hustle floodwater out to the sea. That fate befell far too many; even Buffalo Bayou narrowly escaped.

Since then, we've come a long way. The water still isn't as clean as it should be, but it sure doesn't reek as it once did. And the latest flood-control practices embrace letting the bayous meander, much as they naturally would. Straightened and paved is out; pretty turns out to be more efficient than ugly.

How much have the bayous improved? On the Osprey's tours, Houstonians and their visitors could see for themselves - and could see, too, what those cleaned-up waterways have to offer. Wildlife! Scenery! History! Recreation! (All things this city isn't exactly known for.)

Those tours left riders feeling protective of the bayous and wanting to see them improved still more. And that's important. Because as much as our bayous have already improved, they still have a long way to go. If we get them right, we'll vastly help not just our environment, but our quality of life.

And that's why we're so mad at the stupid kids who set fire to the Osprey. They weren't just burning a boat. They were torching their own city's future.

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