Why You Should Be Concerned About Sediment and Sand Mines

For readers new to the site, I’d like to explain why I frequently mention sand mines in posts.

Bright, White Trail of Sand from the Mines

Shortly after Harvey, I became alarmed by the huge buildups of sand and sediment along the banks of the San Jacinto and in the river itself. I rented a helicopter to see if I could determine where it came from. It didn’t take long. I found bright, white trails of sand and monstrous dunes leading from sand mines on the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto all the way downstream to Lake Houston. I posted four hundred and fifty photos that I took that day (9/14/17) in the gallery section of this web site. See for yourself.

A six foot high dune – not present before Harvey – now virtually blocks the West Fork just south of the Kingwood Country Club.

Possible Sources

TACA claims that all the sand came from somewhere else, a contention that I have always found self serving and hard to believe. Miners exposed approximately twenty square miles of sand surface  to 131,000 cubic feet of water per second at the height of Harvey. As one of the world’s leading hydrologists told me, “The miner’s claims don’t appear plausible.”

Sand certainly came from other sources. But I believe my own eyes. Review the photos and Google Earth for yourself. You can see far more sand in the river and on the banks now than before. It had to come from somewhere.

Harvey deposited sand four to five feet deep along both shores of the San Jacinto for miles.

Sand now reaches into the tree tops at the West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge and blocks water from flowing under it.

The problem comes in determining how much came from different sources: Spring Creek, Cypress Creek, West Fork, Peach Creek, Caney Creek, East Fork, channel scouring, channel widening, sand mines, sand stockpiles, urbanization, etc. The short answer: some came from all of the above. How much came from each source? I personally can’t say with certainty.

So why should you worry about sand mines then?

Restoring Channel Conveyance is Costly

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently trying to remove 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment from a 2-mile stretch of the West Fork. Their objective: restore channel conveyance to the river between River Grove Park and King’s Harbor. Cost: Approximately $70 million.

That project will NOT include the “mouth bar” between King’s Point and Atascocita Point. Estimated cost of that project: another $100 million…if it happens. And we have not yet even estimated the cost of dredging the remainder of the West Fork, the East Fork, and channels down through the FM1960 bridge.

Other Concerns

HGAC has discovered alarming levels of bacteria in both forks of the San Jacinto and linked the levels to sedimentation.

The capacity of Lake Houston is rapidly decreasing at a time when the City of Houston plans to radically increase the number of people using its water.

River migration could soon capture a number of abandoned sand pits, increasing levels of sediment in the river.

It could be years before land for additional upstream detention is identified and purchased. Harris County and the SJRA are still awaiting funding from FEMA for the study that will help identify the best locations. FEMA has studied the study since April.

Stephen Costello, the City’s flood czar, told a meeting of residents at the Kingwood Community Center in October that additional flood gates for Lake Houston could take 5-10 years.

It’s Time for Progress, Not Promises

The next legislative session starts in less than two months. Two things we can focus on NOW: strengthening sand mine regulation and putting some teeth in the TCEQ. Let’s get the sand mines out of floodways. Let’s establish an erosion hazard zone like they have on the Brazos.

Other mitigation projects to reduce flood risk are far off. And if the mouth bar project is delayed, any additional sediment coming downstream will likely be deposited behind the bar in the heavily populated Humble/Kingwood/Atascocita corridor again.

The risk of a future flood could be catastrophic to the community. Dozens of people I have interviewed have told me that they are rebuilding now based on the Mayor’s assurances of additional dredging, upstream detention and flood gates. However, they say they will never rebuild again if flooded a second time.

It’s been 448 days since Hurricane Harvey. We need progress, not promises.

As always, these are my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on November 19, 2018

448 days since Hurricane Harvey