More About Sand Mining than You Ever Wanted to Know

Regular readers of this site will notice something new today – a top-level page that contains links to information about sand mining best practices.

The page features four categories of information about sand mining:

  • Best management practices from other states and countries
  • Academic articles and case studies
  • Texas laws and regulations
  • Observations

The material within each category ranges from easy-to-understand to for-experts-only. Descriptions beneath each link hint at the nature, content and authorship of the entry along with its degree of difficulty.

I hope to expand the page over time. If you know of additional valuable references, please send me links.

Knowledge: Your Best Defense

People who have closely followed the sand mining debate in the Lake Houston area know that the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association and others have pushed back against this website.

Sand mine in Porter next to Caney Creek covers approximately 600 acres as of Hurricane Harvey. Kingwood’s East End Park, just downstream from here, had 30 acres covered with sand up to 10 feet high after Harvey.

I believe that such debate is healthy. I also believe that informed people can make better decisions about what’s in the public interest and their own self-interest.

Start with Louisiana

If you want to learn more, the Louisiana Best Management Practices represent a great place to start. Louisiana has geology, topology, weather, climate and vegetation much like ours. Beyond that, the document is clear, concise, well-illustrated and well researched…and balanced. It contains sections that explain why we need sand mining and how it’s done. It also contains good descriptions of the dangers. Then it describes best management practices and explains how they can help mitigate those dangers.

Similarities Around the World

As you explore best practices, notice their similarity throughout the world. Our problems are not unique.

Pay particular attention to recommendations pertaining to:

  • Setbacks from the river
  • Slopes of dikes
  • Location and protection of stockpiles
  • Vegetative ground cover
  • Buffer zones
  • Remediation
  • Erosion control

Huge Gaps Exist Between Desired, Required, and Actual Practices

Be mindful of the distinctions between desired, required and actual practices. Best practices lead to best outcomes. Required practices usually lead to minimally acceptable outcomes. Actual practices sometimes fall short of even those. That’s why I’ve also included the section on laws.

Statewide, sand mine operators received more than 600 fines for violations in the last five years.

After reviewing laws and best practices, browse through the aerial photos of sand mines on this site and ask yourself, “Are they complying with laws and observing the industry’s best management practices?”

If your answer is “No”, ask “Why?” And DEMAND answers.

Finding the Solution to Pollution

Sand comes at us from many sources, some natural and some man-made. We can’t stop nature, but we can stop harming ourselves.

  • Our lake and river are rapidly filling with sediment.
  • Drainage ditches are backing up into neighborhoods.
  • Water filtration costs are high.
  • Turbidity is high.
  • Oxygen in the water is low.
  • Recreation, boating and fishing are impaired.
  • Dredging will cost tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars.
  • Maintenance dredging will cost even more.

Demand Excellence, Not Just Compliance

We must hold the mines to the highest standards if they want a license to operate next to the source of drinking water for millions of people. Violations are simply not acceptable.

Also, any solution must acknowledge that this region is prone to repetitive flooding. We’ve had FIVE five-hundred year storms in the last 24 years (1994, 2001, 2015, 2016, 2017). During each, we also had huge releases from Lake Conroe that exacerbated flooding.

If mine design cannot withstand these types of events, we invite disaster. The most sediment transport happens during floods; it’s time we started planning for them.

How You Can Help

All of us are smarter than one of us. You may see things that I missed. Please review the aerial photos, best practices and laws. If you see opportunities for improvement, send them to me.

Example: Alaska, I noticed, discourages mining within 1000 feet of a public water source. Here, the sand mines operate right next to ours and even drive trucks through it.

Sand mines on the west fork of the San Jacinto adjacent to Kingwood. Note how close they are operating next to the source of our drinking water. Also note what appears to be a breach of the dike between the mine on the left and the river about two-third of the way up the left side of the photo. Photo taken after Harvey on 9/14/2017.


Sand mine on the West Fork of the San Jacinto adjacent to Kingwood. Industry best practices elsewhere discourage running vehicles through water sources. Here the operator built a road right through the river. Also notice the steepness of the dikes. Most best management practices recommend setting them back from the river, sloping them at 3:1 to 10:1 and planting them with vegetation such as grass to retard erosion. 


Fresh sand deposits after Harvey coming out of the sand mines on the west fork of the San Jacinto adjacent to Kingwood. Note that the height of the dune is engulfing several medium sized trees on the right. Also note the road leading to the river on the left and machinery at work in an area unprotected by dikes.

Let’s compile of list of such observations, then start a dialog with the sand mining industry to encourage voluntary compliance with best practices and improve disaster planning.

Posted on 6/15/18 by Bob Rehak

Day 290 since Hurricane Harvey