Bill that Could Open Door to River Mining Modified and Heading to Full Senate

Senate Bill 2126, which allows sand mining in rivers – without permits or royalties – was voted out of the Senate Water and Rural Affairs committee last night. The committee left the bill pending during the previous day’s testimony after four of the seven members expressed concerns about it.

Changes in Committee Substitute SB 2126

However, when the bill’s author, Senator Brandon Creighton, created a “committee substitute” bill, four senators voted FOR it.

The substitute bill contains two major changes:

  • It limits the bill’s geographic scope to the San Jacinto River and its tributaries.
  • It gives the Harris County Flood Control District the same powers that it gives the San Jacinto River Authority.

Local bills rarely encounter serious opposition. So this may guarantee the bill’s passage.

Issues with Revisions

Unfortunately, the language is still so sweeping, that I fear it could open the door to abuses.

Someone reading this for the first time, without the benefit of all the senate testimony, could draw the conclusion that the San Jacinto and its tributaries are wide open to sand mining – 24/7/365 – as long you justify it by saying you will improve the river’s conveyance.

Vague Language Opens Door to Abuses

For instance, after reading this bill, unless you watched the testimony, how would you know that it’s supposedly:

  • For the purpose of building sand traps that are maintained once or twice a year?
  • Limited to “strategic locations”?
  • Based on scientific studies?

Several years down the road, when the players change, all the verbal promises made during testimony will be long forgotten. It’s easy to see how people could get the wrong impression of the bill’s original intent.

Nightmare Scenario

At that time, I can see developer’s coming to sand miners and the SJRA (or Harris County Flood Control) saying, “I need more fill to elevate my property. Can you take it out of the river for me?”

The only problem is this. While it may reduce the risk of flooding on the developers’ property, without proper safeguards, it will likely increase flooding for surrounding and downstream properties.

It could even increase sedimentation downstream as many academic studies have shown.

Example 1: Loss of riparian vegetation along the banks increases erosion. So even though you take sand out of the river, you put more back in.

Example 2: Imagine a flood moving slowly through a widened area. Now imagine those same floodwaters moving downstream through a narrower area. As the water hits the constriction, it starts churning at and eroding the river banks.

Example 3: Lack of permitting or engineering studies means that developers could put fill anywhere. Even in streams. They could divert flows onto neighboring properties. They could put fill in wetlands and pave it over. This would accelerate flooding downstream.

Proponents of the bill argue that removing deposits like this one near a mine could keep the sand from migrating downriver. Opponents argue that it could destabilize river banks and worsen sedimentation. The vagueness of the language in the bill would also make it easy to widen the river anywhere developers wanted to build in floodplains.

Better Ways to Reduce Sedimentation

Creighton’s original stated intent was to eliminate disincentives for public/private partnerships that could help address excess sedimentation. A noble intention.

But if he really wants to stop sediment from coming downstream, he might be better off partnering with groups like the Bayou Land Conservancy that protect and restore floodplains. Or accelerating bills like his own SB2124, which creates best management practices for sand mining. Texas is the only state that I could find that doesn’t require minimum setbacks from rivers for sand mines. That contributes to repeated flooding of mines. We sure could use some help in that department. Frankly, so could the miners.

This session ends on May 27th. Tick Tock.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/18/2019

597 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 39 days until the end of this legislative session