FEMA/Corps To Stop Dredging Mouth Bar Before Finishing Job; What You Can Do

Having barely scratched the surface of the mouth bar of the San Jacinto West Fork, FEMA and the Army Corps will pack up their gear next week and call their job done. Last-ditch pleas by the City of Houston, Harris County and the State of Texas to get the federal government to extend its dredging program have fallen on deaf ears, perhaps because of the shifting of disaster relief funds to the construction of migrant detention facilities.

Mouth bar of the West Fork shortly after start of supplemental dredging. Photo courtesy of BCAeronautics.

Regardless, the bottom line is this: the Corps and FEMA will leave millions of cubic yards of sediment in place without restoring conveyance of the West Fork to a prior good condition.

The pullout caps months of arguments over how much sediment Harvey deposited. The City estimated 1.4 million cubic yards and the Corps 500,000.

According to City Council Member Dave Martin, the Corps agreed Harvey deposited 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment in the river near the mouth bar. The Corps also agreed, said Martin, that there was nothing wrong with the Tetra Tech study that arrived at that total.

Waffling by Corps

As late as last Friday, Martin said, the Corps agreed to write a letter to FEMA, recommending dredging more than the 500,000 cubic yards. The letter would say that almost a million cubic yards of Harvey-related sediment remained in the river and should be removed. However, at a meeting in Austin this Tuesday, the Corps revealed that FEMA told it not to write the letter. The Corps now intends to demobilize equipment as soon as it finishes dredging 500,000 cubic yards from the mouth bar. That should only take until next week.

These developments confirm speculation that the Corps “backed into” the 500,000 cubic yard number for reasons unrelated to Harvey. Mystery still surrounds how they arrived at that number. The Corps refused to release many documents related to their decision. A review of their 4-page analysis obtained from the City found numerous issues, logical flaws, and questionable assumptions – uncharacteristic of the Corps.

Next Steps

With the year-long dredging program now almost complete and perhaps less than a quarter of the sediment removed that is required to restore the natural flow of the river, what will happen next? We have some hope.

  • The Corps has finally approved Berry Madden’s property as a storage site for 500,000 cubic yards. That should be enough to get the next phase of the program started while the City seeks additional storage sites.
  • The City has committed to a maintenance dredging program according to Martin.
  • The State and Harris County have earmarked $30 million and $10 million respectively to continue dredging.
  • Additional funds may become available early next year through SB7.
  • Callan Marine has agreed to remain on site and do the dredging.

Your Help Is Needed

However, to make that money stretch far enough to finish the job, we will need FEMA and the Corps to designate the remaining sediment as Category A. City Council Member Dave Martin is sending this letter to all congressional and senatorial representatives in the area. Designating the sediment as Category A will:

  • Enable reimbursement from FEMA
  • Allow the City of Houston to utilize existing resources and pre-positioned contracts.
  • Save nearly $20 million associated with mobilization.

Please Contact These Officials

Here’s how you can help. Send the letter below to:

Tell them that you support the Category A designation and see the mouth bar removal as crucial to public safety with a letter like the one below.

Sample Letter


Dear _____________: 

Thank you for helping to make dredging of the San  Jacinto West Fork a priority.  It will help reduce flooding, protect property, save lives, and improve public safety.  

However, part of the existing mouth-bar located at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston remains.  

I’m writing to enlist your support in urging the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to designate that remaining debris as Category A for reimbursement.  

Category A designation will allow the City of Houston to:  

  • Utilize existing resources and pre-positioned contracts  
  • Save nearly $20 million associated with mobilization  
  • Protect life, property and safety  

Field data collected by the City of Houston and provided to FEMA demonstrates that the remaining debris was directly associated with Hurricane Harvey. As of August 20, 2019, the City of Houston has proactively secured a third United States Army Corps of Engineers permitted disposal site needed for the additional debris.  

Your assistance is crucial to rehabilitate the San Jacinto River to its prior good condition.  Please urge FEMA to grant this Category A designation. It will let the City of Houston continue rebuilding from Harvey.  





Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/30/2019 with drone photo from BCAeronautics

731 Days since Hurricane Harvey