Wednesday, May 1, 2019, the Texas House of Representatives Environmental Affairs Committee will hear testimony on HB 909. It would require the TCEQ to establish and publish best management practices for sand mining.
Why We Need HB 909
After Harvey, I discovered bright white trails of sand leading from sand mines upstream to massive sediment buildups in the Humble/Kingwood area. The Army Corps later acknowledged that some of our flooding was likely attributable to these massive sediment dams. No doubt some of the sand came from channel erosion, too. But we can’t do much to control that. We can, however, help reduce sediment from man-made sources with sensible regulations found in many other states, including those growing faster than Texas.
Improving Sand-Mining Best Management Practices
Texas sand mines do not follow many best management practices (BMPs) common in other parts of the country and the world. If practiced, they could help increase margins of safety, reduce risks associated with future flooding, and reduce the costs associated with cleanup. Below: the biggest opportunities for improvement.
Locate mines outside of floodways
Texas is the only state that does not mandate minimum setbacks from rivers for sand mines. As a result, virtually all mines in this area are built inside floodways of major rivers where floods can wash sediment downstream.
Establish performance bonds to cover the cost of cleanup
Giant sand dunes deposited during Harvey exacerbate flooding by constraining the conveyance of downstream drainage ditches and the San Jacinto river. Mining exposes downstream populations to heightened flood risk and reduces their property values. Performance bonds could ensure cleanup and repairs after floods in a timely way and force those who caused damage to bear the cost of remediation.
Increase the width of dikes
Texas has no minimum setbacks from rivers and does not recognize erosion hazard zones. Some mines operate so close to the river that floodwaters breach their dikes repeatedly. Wider dikes:
- Make stronger dikes that are less likely to fail and that improve safety.
- If forested, can slow currents as they enter and leave mines.
- Reduce the amount of sediment picked up and carried downstream.
- Reduce the danger of river capture due to river migration.
Decrease the slope of dikes
Other states and countries recommend gently sloping dikes to help grow vegetation, which reduces erosion. The near-vertical slope of many dikes on the San Jacinto can’t sustain vegetation.
Reduce erosion with vegetation
Planting dikes and unmined surfaces with grass and/or native trees can bind the soil, slow floodwater, reduce erosion, trap sand, and help retain sand within mine boundaries.
Virtually all states and countries recommend planting native grasses and trees to help bind soil. Revegetating after plants have been removed can take years. Therefore, the best, cheapest and simplest practice is to leave native vegetation in place when constructing mines.
Replant areas not actively being mined
Loose sand, exposed to floodwaters, exposes downstream communities to unnecessary risk. Replanting with native grasses and trees can bind soil, reduce water velocity during floods and reduce erosion. TCEQ reports that native grasses are 98% effective in reducing erosion. Keeping soil in place is the best way to keep it out of rivers.
Avoid clearing areas that will not soon be mined.
Delay clearing land until the last possible moment to reduce erosion risk from floodwaters. A large part of a sand mine on the East Fork was cleared, then went through three so-called “500-year storms” in the next three years – before any mining took place.
Protect stockpiles from flooding.
Loose sand in stockpiles is especially vulnerable during floods. During Harvey, sand mines adjacent to Kingwood lost four of six stockpiles completely. Another eroded severely. Only one escaped with little loss, the one on the highest ground, protected by a large swath of trees.
Establish performance bonds to guarantee remediation of breaches and repurposing of mined areas once mining is complete.
Satellite images show dike breaches that have remained open 3 to 6 years. Even worse, obtaining a permit to mine in Texas requires a remediation plan, but it does not obligate mines to act on that plan when mining is complete. That creates safety hazards, eyesores, and economic development headaches for communities.
Gaping Holes in Regs Exposed by Harvey
Harvey exposed gaping holes in Texas regulations. It underscored the importance of adopting better practices to help improve public safety, reduce damage to infrastructure, and avoid widespread flood damage to homes and businesses. Consequences of ignoring these recommendations potentially include:
- Destruction of downstream communities through increased flooding
- Illegal “taking” of private property
- More loss of life
- Unfair imposition of remediation costs on taxpayers
- Hidden “subsidies” that distort the true cost of cement and its usage
- Loss of faith in the ethical standards of businesses and the free enterprise system
- Loss of faith in government institutions to protect people and property
- Loss of home and business values
- Reduction of property tax income to city and county governments
- Making Texas a less desirable place to live.
Destruction like we experienced during Harvey is rarely caused by one thing. Multiple failures on multiple levels compounded each other. To the extent that sand mines contributed to the problem, they can help solve it by modifying business practices as described above.
Texas has no simple, easy-to-read recommendations like Louisiana and other states. The few references to best management practices currently on the TCEQ web site have to do with a water-quality district on the Brazos. They do not apply to the San Jacinto.
Please support this legislation. Phone members of the House Environmental Regulation Committee.
- Rep. J. M. Lozano (512) 463-0463
- Rep. Ed Thompson (512) 463-0707
- Rep. César Blanco (512) 463-0622
- Rep. Kyle J. Kacal (512) 463-0412
- Rep. John Kuempel (512) 463-0602
- Rep. Geanie W. Morrison (512) 463-0456
- Rep. Ron Reynolds (512) 463-0494
- Rep. John Turner (512) 463-0576
- Rep. Erin Zwiener (512) 463-0647
If you can come to Austin to testify, please do. The meeting will be in room E1.026 of the Capitol Building. Most likely hearing time is in the evening around 8 p.m., but I plan to get there early. Hope to see you there.
Posted by Bob Rehak on April 29, 2019
608 Days since Hurricane Harvey