Sand mines aren’t the only source of sediment on the West Fork, but humans can and must control them. Upstream from Kingwood, on the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto, we have approximately 20 square miles of mines.
Contributing to Erosion and Sedimentation
Several key facts about them:
- Virtually all are at least partially in the floodway (meaning they’re in the main current of the river during floods).
- Texas has no laws requiring a minimum setback from the river. As a consequence the river runs right through them during floods, often breaching dikes.
- The process of “river” or “pit capture” creates erosion both upstream and down, as this video demonstrates.
- River migration over time can erode dikes in a process that increases the likelihood of pit capture.
- Texas has no laws that require mines to reclaim the land when mining stops. Mines must file a reclamation plan before they begin mining, but nothing forces them to execute the plan when they are done.
- Sand mines on the west fork have denuded a swath of forest that averages a mile wide, increasing the river’s potential for erosion during floods by approximately 33X.
HB 509 and HB 2871 Can Help
Two bills being heard tomorrow by the Texas House Energy Affairs committee could help address all of these issues.
HB509 allows Texas Railroad Commission to regulate aggregate production operations (APOs) with the TCEQ. Before mining can start, it requires: a hydrologic impact study, public notice, public hearings, and provides fines up to $10,000 and 1-year in jail for false statements.
The hydrologic impact study must take into account the cumulative impact of all mines in an area. This is critical for an area such as the West Fork, which is heavily over-mined.
HB 2871 requires sand mines and other aggregate production operations to acquire a reclamation permit and to file a performance bond ensuring reclamation. Significantly, they would have to do both of these things before they could acquire a production permit. It also attaches civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance.
Both Bills Deserve Our Support
They can help make a difference and could help reduce sedimentation due to human sources.
Consider them together with other bills in the House Environmental Regulation Committee (House Bills 907, 908, 909 and 1671) that would create a series of best practices for sand mines, stiffen penalties for violations, and create a water quality control district between Lake Conroe and Lake Houston.
Your First Chance As an Individual to Make A Difference
HB 509 and HB 2871 will be the first bills actually considered since Harvey that could reduce the amount of sediment clogging the San Jacinto and Lake Houston.
Dredging that sediment could potentially cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Obviously, that’s not something the City, County, State and FEMA can fund regularly. So we must takes steps to stop dangerous sand mining practices now.
Ultimately we must require sand mines to move out of the floodway. And we must attach penalties if their dikes breach during floods. That will force miners to establish greater setbacks that reduce the likelihood of pit capture.
Please Help NOW! Here’s How
So please take fifteen minutes and email the members of the House Energy Affairs Committee before they convene tomorrow. Make your voice heard. Reduce the sediment coming downstream that backs up the river and ditches, contributing to flooding. Email address and a sample letter are below.
Spread the Word
If you have friends or relatives living in any districts below, reach out to them: their voices as constituents may be even more powerful. Please call or write and encourage friends and relatives to do the same.
Hill Country representatives authored both bills, and considerable support exists for them outside this area. Hill Country concerns differ slightly from ours because different types of APOs operate there – rock quarries. But the rules that help Hill Country people will help us.
Posted by Bob Rehak on April 7, 2019
586 Days since Hurricane Harvey