FEMA Concludes Partial Mouth-Bar Dredging

Over the weekend, Rachel Taylor, a Lake Houston area resident who lives near the mouth bar sent me the video below. It shows an idle dredge near its starting point. The video, plus reports from boaters, fueled speculation that the mouth bar dredging had concluded. That fact was confirmed this afternoon by Houston City Council Member Dave Martin. His office issued a press release stating that FEMA had finished dredging 500,000 cubic yards of sediment from the San Jacinto West Fork Mouth Bar.

Lake Houston area resident Rachel Taylor shot this video of the Great Lakes Dredge on 9/8/2019. The dredge had returned to its starting point, fueling speculation that it had completed its mission assignment.

FEMA Concludes Dredging Addtional 500,000 Cubic Yards

Said Council Member Dave Martin, “The Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) mission assignment modification to address partial removal of the San Jacinto River West Fork mouth-bar has concluded.” The mission assignment authorized the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to remove an additional 497,400 cubic yards of debris from the West Fork near its confluence with Lake Houston. As of September 3, 2019, USACE removed 500,000 cubic yards of debris from the mouth-bar.

However, Martin never accepted the amount of debris included in the mission modification and continues to fight that number to this day.

Running, Year-Long Argument Over Volume

Council Member Martin and the City of Houston, through Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello, argued for almost a year to remove more sediment, believing that 500,000 cubic yards was much too low. But their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

According to Martin, FEMA cannot explain how 497,400 cubic yards was calculated, even while the City of Houston has provided verifiable scientific data showing the volume deposited by Harvey near the mouth bar was 1.4 million cubic yards.

During a meeting in June, 2019, FEMA representatives verified the City’s estimate was sound. That lead Martin to believe another contract extension was feasible. In August, FEMA representatives again stated, “Your (City of Houston) data is NOT bad data”, leaving Martin with lingering questions as to why no additional modification had been granted.

Comparison of Two Reports

The analysis that FEMA used to justify their number (497,000 cubic yards) is a four-page table top study that does not begin to answer questions that were asked of the City of Houston by FEMA, which produced a 94-page comprehensive report. I previously analyzed and compared these two reports and believe there are major flaws in the Corps’ analysis which they tried to keep secret for months.

How You Can Help

As a result of the most recent meeting held in Austin, Texas, with representatives from FEMA, USACE, Texas Division of Emergency Management, City of Houston, and Governor Greg Abbott’s office, Council Member Martin along with Mayor Sylvester Turner have sent a letter to our Federal Congressional Delegation requesting action be taken to address the Hurricane Harvey debris remaining in the mouth-bar. This letter urges Senator John CornynSenator Ted CruzChairman Kevin Brady, and Congressman Dan Crenshaw to continue to support recovery of our area through requesting an additional mission modification from FEMA. It would enable dredging another one million cubic yards of sediment related to Hurricane Harvey.

Overall, dredging in the San Jacinto removed more than 2 million cubic yards of sediment. That will help reduce the effects of potential future flooding, but it will not restore the conveyance of the river.

Granting a second mission modification allows the use of existing pre-positioned resources as well as an estimated savings of nearly $20 million for mobilization.

The City of Houston has secured a third disposal site, Barry Madden’s property south of the river, that has already received USACE permits for another 500,000 cubic yards of sediment disposal.

Request from Council Member Martin

Martin asks residents who support the request for additional dredging to contact their federal representatives. Martin says he remains committed to removing additional sediment in the mouth-bar and will continue to fight for additional dredging at that location.

Why We Still Have A Problem

Last weekend, boaters, canoeists and kayakers reported that water depth in the mouth bar was only 3-5 feet deep. Even though the Corps has so far refused to release its plans or survey results, that’s very close to the estimate I calculated when dividing 500,000 cubic yards by the acreage within the dredge area.

However, boaters also report the water upstream from the mouth bar is almost 40 feet deep in places.

This will herd water into an underwater box canyon.

As water hits that wall, it will also slow down, dropping more sediment out of suspension faster. That, in turn, will accelerate re-deposition and quickly fill in the area that FEMA just spent $90 million dredging. What a tragic waste of tax dollars!

Benefits of Additional Dredging

Creating a consistently wide and deep channel through the mouth bar that connects upstream areas with the Lake beyond FM1960 will reduce flood damages to properties regionally and provide for increased resilience to transportation systems, water treatment systems, public/private utilities, emergency response facilities, petrochemical industries, and other critical infrastructure, in the West Fork, San Jacinto River Watershed, plus Harris, Montgomery, and Liberty Counties.

Last year, the Corps estimated the flood protection benefits to be on the order of $200 billion.  

FEMA regulations allow the agency to restore a river to a prior good condition if a risk to health and human safety exists.

Given that petrochemical industries in the region produce a significant amount of the nation’s petroleum-based energy products, reducing flood risks to these plants and their workers who reside in flood-prone areas will provide greater resiliency and a National security benefit. 

Environmental benefits include reduced risks to water treatment plants from flooded sand mines and chemical spills which are threats to human health and safety. Non-monetary benefits include reduced risks to life, especially among residents with insufficient means.

Start writing. It’s your home and your community.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/10/19

742 Days since Hurricane Harvey