Governor Signs Flood Mitigation and Sand Mining Legislation. Now, what happens when?

Governor Greg Abbott has signed final versions of Senate Bill (SB) #7, SB 500, House Bill (HB) #907 and HB 1824. So, what will happen when? Let’s look at the implementation of each.

Flood Mitigation: SB 7 Implementation

SB 7 establishes special funds dedicated to flood mitigation. The bill creates dedicated Texas Infrastructure and Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Funds for flood control planning and the funding of flood planning, mitigation, and infrastructure projects.

Money from SB 7 could help fund additional flood gates for the Lake Houston spillway. They could help release water faster before and during floods such as Hurricane Harvey.

Within 90 days, a Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund Advisory Committee will submit recommendations to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) on rules it should adopt in administering the fund. TWDB has another 90 days to adopt rules governing the fund. After that, on or before the end of this year, the TWDB may begin financing projects in the state flood plan.

The bill itself takes effect immediately because it passed both the House and the Senate by more than a two-thirds majority. The Senate passed it 31-0. The House passed it 143-1 with two present but not voting. However, Article Two of SB 7 – the part dealing with the infrastructure fund – takes effect on January 1 of 2020 ONLY IF VOTERS APPROVE a constitutional amendment in November. If voters do NOT approve the constitutional amendment, Article Two has no effect.

Flood Mitigation Funding: SB 500 Implementation

SB 500 is an all-purpose special appropriations bill. It appropriates money for SB 7 and other Hurricane Harvey relief projects. For instance, it include $30 million to help dredge where the San Jacinto meets Lake Houston. SB 500 passed with greater than two-thirds majorities in both House and Senate. Therefore, it takes effect immediately.

That means $30 million should be available today to help dredge the mouth bar of the west fork.

$30 million can now used to help dredge the mouth bar.

Sand Mining Inspections and Fines: HB 907 Implementation

On its way to becoming law, the Senate strengthened HB 907. In its final form, it increased inspection frequency for all aggregate production operations (APOs) from every three years to every two.

Breach in Triple-P mine in Porter allowed process water to flow directly into Caney Creek, East Fork and Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for millions of people.

HB 907 also allows the TCEQ to conduct unannounced inspections if the TCEQ investigated a complaint about an APO operation in the previous three years.

It sets registration fees for APOs at a level that will allow the TCEQ to establish an active APO registry.

Finally, it increases penalties for failure to register an APO. It set the minimum at $5000 and the maximum at $20,000 per year with the total not to exceed more than $40,000 for any three year period.

This act takes effect on September 1, 2019. It passed in the House by 135-8 with one present and not voting. It passed in the Senate 28-3.

“Sand Trap” Bill: HB 1824 Implementation

Environmental groups and citizens, including me, fought to clarify the open-ended language in HB 1824. It allows the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) and Harris County Flood Control District take sand and gravel from the San Jacinto without a permit in order to restore the conveyance of the river. They can also deposit the sand and gravel on private land.

Opponents feared that it would open the door to river mining because the SJRA is essentially an economic development entity that is sensitive developers. The SJRA has also shown no desire in the past to control sand mining along the banks of the river.

When I asked legislators, miners, TACA and the SJRA how it would work, I received four different answers!

Proponents of the bill sold it as “the sand-trap bill.” The idea: to get sand mining operations to dredge the river, allow them to sell the sand, and avoid taxpayer expense. By dredging at certain locations under government supervision, proponents hoped to reduce the amount of sand coming downriver. That sand reduces the conveyance of the river and contributes to flooding.

If the bill actually works that way, great. But there’s nothing in its language that indicates how it will work or whether miners will be supervised. River mining is outlawed in many countries, including most of Europe. It has been linked to the destruction of private property in many of other countries that allow it.

Watch private sand mining activity on the river closely! This bill takes effect in three months, on September 1, 2019.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/3/2019

642 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts in this post represent my opinions on matters of public interest and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.