If the Clean Water Act were still being enforced, we might see scenes like this less often. You’re looking at the confluence of Spring Creek and the San Jacinto West Fork. It has looked like this during random flyovers in four out of the last six months.
Clean Water Act Abuses
Only after the infamous and extreme white-water incident in November last year was West Fork pollution reduced briefly. The white-water episode was so egregious that it attracted network television attention and prompted a crackdown by the TCEQ. TCEQ cited Liberty Materials in Conroe for allegedly discharging 56 million gallons of white goop into the West Fork. The discharge had 25 times the normal level of suspended solids in it.
Liberty isn’t the only sand mine on the West Fork. You can find approximately 20 square miles of sand mines in the twenty mile stretch between I-69 and I-45. Spring Creek on the other hand has only one mine – almost 30 miles upstream at SH249.
Most West Fork mines have a tendency to leak waste water from time to time. That’s part of what you see in the photo above. Below are seven NEW breaches spotted this month upstream on the West Fork.
MoCo Tax Breaks for Polluters
Why such a high concentration of mines on the West Fork? It might have something to do with tax breaks by the Montgomery County Appraiser’s Office which passes out ag and timber exemptions for industrial cesspools. That’s contrary to how the State Controller says MoCo should appraise the mines. But nobody at the state level seems to put much pressure on MoCo.
Construction Practices Muddy Clean Water Act, Too
Another part of the West Fork turbidity problem is upstream construction in Montgomery County. Believe it or not, Montgomery County starts at the tip of that white sand bar at the confluence of Spring Creek and the West Fork.
Sediment control is not a high priority for MoCo developers. Nor is enforcement a high priority for MoCo. In fact, the East Montgomery County Improvement District actively advertises its LACK of rules as a way to lure developers.
That’s how you get construction practices like those in the new 2200 acre Artavia complex going in next to the West Fork sand mines, just south of SH242 by FM1314. Brand new culverts are already clogging. See below.
More on Artavia in a future post.
The erosion is so bad, even the erosion is eroding in many places.
Decline of Clean Water Act
Then, of course, another part of the problem is the gutting of the Federal Clean Water Act. States, counties and municipalities used to have someone setting standards and looking over their shoulders. The rollback of key provisions, such as the redefinition of “waters of the U.S.”, has been heralded as a boon to developers and the death knell of wetlands.
Just last week, we saw the Army Corps rule that the wetlands on Perry Homes Woodridge Village property did NOT fall under their jurisdiction, so there was no violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
Of course, you don’t have to change regulations to kill them. You can just not enforce them. By turning a blind eye. Gutting enforcement staff. Overruling staff. Reinterpreting policy. Ignoring evidence. Or resetting priorities. To name just a few.
Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone
Many of us who grew up before the Clean Water Act (formerly known as Federal Water Pollution Control Act, passed in 1972) remember how bad things were. Like the Cuyahoga River fire in 1969.
The San Jacinto West Fork has already been named one of the most endangered rivers in America. But my biggest fears are not for the river. They’re for the health of the millions of people who depend on water from the river. For the people who will flood when the river becomes clogged with sediment. For the poor and elderly who can’t afford sky high bills to cover the cost of water treatment. And for the long-term health of the economic hub of the region, Houston.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/14/2020
928 Days after Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.