How to Protect Yourself from Flooding Due to Sand Mining

It’s hard for me to write this because I hate government regulation. But when an industry acts so irresponsibly in the pursuit of profit that it endangers my safety, my family, my property, and my community, I will fight to regulate it. I am at that point now with the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association, which represents sand miners. 

The Problem

During Harvey, 131,000 cubic feet of water per second raced down the West Fork … through approximately 20 square miles of sand mines … located in the floodway … below a major dam … in a subtropical climate … prone to hurricanes and torrential rainfalls … where floods would blow through dikes made of sand … and reroute the river through the center of mines. (I’m guessing the Safety Committee was overruled.)

As a result, an abnormally large amount of sediment washed downstream; clogged rivers, streams and ditches; and helped create massive sediment dams. Those dams contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses with water contaminated by sewage when treatment plants were also overwhelmed. 

I don’t care how much TACA contributes to the economy or politicians. The flooding they helped create cost Kingwood College $60 million, Humble ISD $100 million, TexDoT $20 million, homeowners billions, businesses billions more, retirees their savings, and taxpayers $70 million for dredging. But worst of all, it cost 13 people their lives and endangered the life of my community. Forty-four percent of the businesses in the Lake Houston Area Chamber were damaged due to the flood.

Moreover, we have not yet begun to tally the long-term health costs of wading through floodwaters contaminated with sewage and years spent repairing moldy homes while trying to live in them.

The river took a shortcut through this West Fork mine during Harvey, blowing through dikes and roads as it carried sediment downstream. In other mines, it even swept away stockpiles.
The sediment swept downstream contributed to the growth of massive sandbars like this one that almost totally blocks the West Fork where it meets Lake Houston. As much as ten feet was deposited in this area during Harvey (five below water/five above). It continues to back water up throughout the Humble/Kingwood corridor.

If you want more responsible sand mining, the time to fight for it is now. 

Remember the Most Important Thing

 To reduce sediment during floods, move sand mining out of the flood plain. This should not be a huge economic burden. Houston became the fourth largest city in America overnight without sand mines in the floodway of the San Jacinto. 

The Solution

  1. Start with your state senator and state representative. Urge them to sponsor legislation that:
  2. Contact friends and relatives in other parts of the state. Urge them to do the same with their representatives and senators. Let them know that without their support, the homes, lives, businesses and health of their constituents could also be endangered by the same irresponsible business practices. It’s good to be business friendly, but not good to be resident hostile.
  3. Contact the heads of the transportation committees in the House and Senate. Contact Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Patrick. Urge them to demand that TexDoT refrains from purchasing any sand produced in floodways. TexDoT is the miners’ biggest customer.
  4. If they refuse to support legislation that enforces responsible operation of sand mines, ask if they will support a progressive tax on sand mines.  The tax would be based on their distance from the river. The further from the river, the lower the tax. Set the tax so that mining in or near a flood plain becomes disadvantageous and mining outside of the flood plain creates a cost advantage.
  5. Contact other groups or associations that you belong to that may have lobbying efforts in place that could help. We need allies to counteract the millions that TACA has spent on lobbying and political contributions. For instance, is your insurance through USAA? They have an active lobbying effort and the flooding affected them adversely. They would form a natural ally. Look for similar allies – through your work, your church, your bank, your trade associations, insurance company, or environmental groups you support. You can bet TACA is doing the same – with developers, contractors and their trade associations. 
  6. Ask your local city council and county representatives to endorse your efforts. Sad to say, but a letter or call from them counts more than letters from an ordinary citizen.
  7. Put extra effort against committee chairs in the State Senate and House. They have seniority and clout. If this comes down to “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” at the end of the session, their influence could make the difference.

Keep track of your efforts. If you are so inclined, let me know about them. I will tabulate the results and publish them periodically. 

Some Tips

  • Start a grass roots movement in your neighborhood, church or club. Reach out to friends, neighbors and relatives – especially those who flooded.
  • Personal letters count for more than form letters.
  • Be polite.
  • Tell them how flooding personally affected you and why you feel regulation is important.
  • Emphasize that what happened here could happen anywhere in the state and that mining in floodways is not necessary for economic growth. 
  • In fact, it can contribute to flooding that causes people to move away.
  • Tomorrow I will post fact sheets for your reference on key issues related to sand mining and their role in flooding. Refer people to them.

This battle will not be won or lost because Dan Huberty or Brandon Creighton endorse it. It will be won or lost in places like West Texas and North Texas that don’t often flood. The majority of the votes live there. So cast a wide net. Remember: silence is an endorsement of the way things are now. If you want change, let others know. Speak up now.

As always, these thoughts represent 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 December 13, 2018

472 Days after Hurricane Harvey