Plans For Next Phase of Dredging Announced

Behind-the-scenes work for the next phase of dredging has already started. The City, County and State are working together on a $30 million grant application for submission this month. The legislature earmarked the money for dredging at the confluence of the San Jacinto and Lake Houston. However, the money must go through the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to Harris County and then the Harris County Flood Control District.

Circuitous Route for Funding

The supplemental appropriations bill, SB500, that the legislature approved dictates the circuitous route for funding. See the exact text from SB500 below.

“Out of funds appropriated in Subsection (1), $30 million is dedicated to the Texas Water Development Board to provide a grant to Harris County for the purchase and operation of equipment to remove accumulated siltation and sediment deposits located at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston.”

DIY vs. Outsourcing

State Representative Dan Huberty, who authored the SB500 amendment, has worked closely with all parties involved to explore the most cost-effective and timely solutions. For instance, Flood Control explored how much it would cost to hire an outside company for dredging versus buying the equipment and doing it themselves. Said Huberty, “In my discussion with the TWDB last week, they have agreed we can buy equipment if we need to, which is the direction we are pushing for at this time.” However, that option would take longer to implement and the money must be spent within the current bi-annum – by law.

Long Term vs. Immediate Needs

Meanwhile, the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto have urgent, immediate dredging needs, too. So the partners could break the work up and pursue both DIY and outsourcing options.

Said Huberty, “I met with DRC (Disaster Recovery Corporation) a week ago. DRC has an ongoing contract with both the City and County for debris removal from Lake Houston and they are still removing debris from the lake. So they might be an option that would let us deploy faster.” 

DRC is the parent company of Callan Marine, a subcontractor during the Army Corps’ Emergency West Fork Dredging project after Hurricane Harvey.

The dredges are gone but the pipe is not. The quarter-mile long sections of pipe used in the initial Emergency West Fork Dredging Project have been broken down into smaller sections for transport, but much of it remains on the West Fork. Photo taken 12/3/2019.

Additional Sources of Funding

Huberty also said that, “In addition to the $30 million, the Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Council Member Dave Martin committed last weekend to help us fund this in partnership with Harris County Flood Control.” The City committed approximately $6 million, according to Huberty.

The ever-growing mouth bar on the San Jacinto West Fork. Imelda wiped out many of the gains from the Corps’ supplemental dredging program that ended on Labor Day and removed 500,000 cubic yards. Photo taken on 12/3/2019.
The growing mouth bar on the East Fork of the San Jacinto near the entrance to Luce Bayou and the Interbasin Transfer Project.
The Inter-Basin Transfer canal empties into the lower reaches of Luce Bayou, which flows into the northeastern corner of Lake Houston, near the emerging mouth bar. The project costs $351 million and will provide water to the Northeast Purification Plant. Photo taken 12/3/2019.

“In addition,” says Huberty, “I spoke to the Governor’s staff this weekend. We still have money left over from Harvey debris removal. That’s approximately another $16 million. They told us we can spend the money on the river and lake, but not for other purposes. This will let us complete the mouth bar dredging and get mechanical dredging done in areas like Huffman and Atascocita. The scope of the project is expanding, which is very good news. We’ll be able to help more people.” 

Smaller mouth bars have set up around the lake at the entrance to drainage ditches, like this one in Atascocita near Walden. Photo taken on 10/4/2019. Such blockages can force water up, out and over the banks into neighborhoods during large rains.

Next Step: Commissioners’ Court Needs to Approve Grant Request

The ball, at this moment, is in Flood Control’s court. Commissioners’ Court must approve all grant requests made by any part of the County. Says Huberty, “There will be an item on the December 17th Commissioners Court agenda requesting permission from the Court to submit the grant application to TWDB. All parties involved have already had discussions with the TWDB staff and are working on the grant application paperwork.”

Early next week Huberty plans to meet with John Blount, the Harris County Engineer; Stephen Costello, the Mayor’s Flood Czar; and John Sullivan, President of DRC.

Constant Dredging for Foreseeable Future

“In my discussions with all interested parties,” said Huberty, “we should have the application submitted by year end. We have been pushing to get it awarded quickly. It is a formality. We need to spend this money quickly which works to our advantage. We can always go back to the legislature for more after that.”

“All of these initiatives will ensure we can have constant, permanent dredging on the Lake for the foreseeable future,” said Huberty. “I am very pleased with the result and look forward to getting this project started.”   

Posted By Bob Rehak on 12/4/2019

827 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 76 since Imelda