State Representative Dan Huberty introduced House Bill 1671 this week. It amends Section 26.551 of the Water Code to give the West Fork of the San Jacinto protections enjoyed by the John Graves Scenic District on the Brazos as a result of a pilot program started in 2005. The bill covers the portion of the West Fork between Lake Conroe and Lake Houston which has 20 square miles of sand mines.
Visual Inspections Twice a Year
If adopted, it would obligate Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to conduct visual inspections of the West Fork twice a year. The inspections would consist of two parts: flyovers and from the water surface. TPWD would conduct one set of inspections in summer and the other in winter.
Any fines received as a result of these inspections would go into a fund for reclamation and restoration of “beds, bottoms, and banks of water bodies affected but the unlawful discharges.”
Pilot Program Ends in 2025
If approved HB1671 would take effect on September 1, 2019, and run through September 1, 2025. That’s because the original bill was conceived as a pilot program that expires in 2025.
Greater Setbacks, Performance Bonds and Best Practices
The original bill also prohibits the construction or operation of any new quarry, or the expansion of an existing quarry, located within 1,500 feet of a water body located in a water quality protection area. However…
Exceptions may be granted if the quarry can prove that it satisfies performance criteria that address:
- (A) slope gradients that minimize the potential for erosion, slides, sloughing of quarry walls, overburden piles, and banks into the water body and related water quality considerations;
- (B) whether operations could result in significant damage to important historic and cultural values and ecological systems;
- (C) whether operations could affect renewable resource lands, including aquifers and aquifer recharge areas, in which the operations could result in a substantial loss or reduction of long-range productivity of a water supply or of food or fiber products; and
- (D) whether operations could affect natural hazard land, including areas subject to frequent flooding and areas of unstable geology, in which the operations could substantially endanger life and property.
The other major provisions of the bill make quarry operators:
- Follow best management practices which, presumably, would be defined under HB909.
- Post a performance bond that covers site reclamation when they finish mining.
This bill would be a good first step in protecting the shores of the San Jacinto.
It would requires new operations to move farther back from the river. That should help reduce sedimentation and erosion in the long run. Lake Houston Area flood prevention activists have pushed this idea for more than a year.
HB1671 would also force operators to follow industry best-management practices and to reclaim land when they are done mining.
Unfortunately, the pilot program only runs for six more years. However, if successful, the legislature could make the program permanent in 2025.
The twice yearly inspections are a disappointment though. The major damage to water quality comes from breached dikes. Operators can patch dikes and plant grass which conceals the evidence of breaches after a few weeks in this climate. Landsat images, such as those in Google Earth, provide a much more effective method of monitoring. The satellite goes over this area every 1.5 hours…16 times a day. Monitoring operations from a computer monitor in near-real time would be much more effective and cheaper. One person could monitor every mine in the state on a daily or weekly basis.
However, neither miners, regulators, nor legislators seem eager to take advantage of this technology when I bring the subject up. It makes one wonder why.
All in all, I love what HB1671 is trying to do and support it whole-heartedly. I hope as it makes its way through committee, the amendment can be amended to include more frequent satellite inspections.
Posted by Bob Rehak on February 14, 2019
535 Days since Hurricane Harvey