Houston’s annual Buffalo Bayou Regatta was started in 1972 by Wayne Walls and the Houston Canoe Club. The Buffalo Bayou was so polluted that the event was called the “Reeking Regatta” and was dubbed “The World’s Smelliest Canoe Race.”
The Buffalo Bayou was partially cleaned up in the late 1970s and the event is now formally called the Buffalo Bayou Regatta, but the name “Reeking Regatta” is still often used.
Wikipedia: Buffalo Bayou
Buffalo Bayou is a main waterway flowing through Houston, in Harris County, Texas. It begins in Katy, Fort Bend County, Texas, and flows approximately 53 miles (85 km) east to the Houston Ship Channel and then into Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way the bayou receives several significant tributary bayous, such as White Oak Bayou, Greens Bayou, and Brays Bayou and passes by several major parks and numerous smaller neighborhood parks.
Restoring the Buffalo Bayou
Spurred by the 1972 Federal Clean Water Act, the State of Texas sued Houston in 1976 over pollution levels, toxic run-off, and untreated sewage that was being discharged into the bayous. This led to a $3 billion sewer upgrade in the metropolitan area which has significantly improved water quality in the region, although much effort still needs to be expended to reduce non-point source pollution from the urban watersheds.
18 April 1974, Friendswood (TX) News, “Diversions” by Sue Dauphin and Linda King, pg. 7 col. 2:
ECOLOGY ECHOES—Canoe enthusiasts might want to check out the 5th Annual Reeking Regatta Canoe Races scheduled for Saturday, April 20th in Buffalo Bayou. Real enthusiasts will show up in old clothes at the San Felipe Bridge at 7:30 a.m. with canoes. There are six events for novice to experienced boaters, with trophies for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places.
Already more than 150 brave souls have registered to tackle the 16-mile trash-infested polluted course that finishes at Allen’s Landing Park in Houston. Wayne Walls, chairman of the event believes in the potential of the Buffalo Bayou for canoeing, boating, picnicking and hiking, and the Reeking Regatta frankly hopes to publicize these unrealized potentials. “When the water runs clear and free-flowing,” Walls promises, “the name will be changed to the Sweetwater Sweepstakes.”
23 April 1977, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), pg. 7-A, col. 1 photo caption:
I can row a boat. Canoe?
Canoeists jockey for position at the starting line of the “Reeking Regatta” at the San Felipe Bridge in Houston. The race was part of an annual event aimed at raising money to help clean up and beautify Buffalo Bayou.
Houston (TX) Chronicle
Gray: Reeking havoc with the Reeking Regatta
By Lisa Gray | February 24, 2009
In March, the Buffalo Bayou Regatta, the state’s largest canoe race, will lure a few hundred Houstonians down to the city’s hidden natural resource. On the slow-moving river, paddlers will pass mansions’ backyards, wild tangles of trees and the pretty gardened stretch of banks near downtown.
In 1969, when Wayne Walls, an avid amateur paddler, hatched the idea for a Houston canoe race, Buffalo Bayou had hit bottom.
Walls and his friends from the Houston Canoe Club paddled the bayou anyway. And they thought that if more people did, too, they’d see that it was worth saving.
They scrounged up a few hundred dollars and launched what they called “The Reeking Regatta: The World’s Smelliest Canoe Race.” Someone designed posters and a logo with a canoeist wearing a gas mask.
Houston (TX) Chronicle
Buffalo Bayou Regatta marks 40th anniversary
By Lana Berkowitz | March 7, 2012
About 400 canoes and kayaks will shove off the banks Buffalo Bayou Saturday for the 40th annual regatta. For those who haven’t visited Houston’s primary waterway in several years, this could be a good day to become reacquainted with one of the city’s natural wonders. What is known today as Texas’ largest canoe/kayak race was called the Reeking Regatta in 1972 because Houston’s bayou was a smelly mess often used as a dump site.
“We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress,” said Mike Garver, Buffalo Bayou Partnership board member. The partnership was formed in 1986 as a coalition of civic, environmental, governmental and business representatives to revitalize the bayou.
Painting the Town Orange:
The Stories Behind Houston’s Visionary Art Environments
By Pete Gershon
Charleston, SC: The History Press
You’ll find few swimmers in Buffalo Bayou today. Although considerably cleaner now than in the ‘70s, when it hosted the Reeking Regatta (billed as the “World’s Smelliest Canoe Race”), it is still a breeding ground for bacteria that cause dysentery and is not recommended for swimming by the Parks Department.