As Heavy Rains Approach, Triple PG Wastewater Higher on Neighboring Properties Than In Its Settling Pond

Aerial photos taken on 5/11/2020 show wastewater on neighboring properties outside the Triple PG mine in Porter are higher than in the mine’s settling pond. If heavy rains materialize this weekend as predicted, that wastewater could be flushed downstream into the drinking water for 2 million people.

Mine Has History of Dumping and Pumping

Earlier this year, I photographed the mine pumping wastewater from its settling pond toward the neighboring properties. A TCEQ investigation confirmed that wastewater had exited the mine for the fourth time in a year. Investigators found that the wastewater had levels of suspended solids 676% higher than water from nearby White Oak Creek. But they also found that elevation differences had confined the wastewater and kept it from entering the wetlands near White Oak Creek.

Heavy Rains, Flash Flooding Could Flush Water Downstream

However, heavy rains predicted for later today and Saturday could change that. Jeff Lindner, Harris County Flood Control meteorologist says rainfall rates of 1-3 inches per hour will be possible and there is a slight (10-20%) risk of flash flooding, both days. Isolated totals could reach 6 inches on Saturday, he predicts.

How High Is Water On Neighboring Properties

So how high is the water outside the mine compared to inside?

In the photo below, note the two sets of arrows on either side of the road. The strip of trees under the upper right arrow does not belong to the mine. However, the land under the lower right arrow does belong to the mine. I included the second set of arrows because they are closer to the camera and that makes it easier to see the elevation difference in the water. Notice how much higher the water is on the right than on the left relative to the road.

Looking south at Triple PG mine in Porter. Photo taken 5/11/2020.
Looking east over flooded properties (inside tree-line) that neighbor mine. Photo taken 5/11/2020.
Terms of a temporary injunction restrict the mine from using its dredge. So the mine has started dry (or semi-dry) excavation. That meant removing wastewater from this pit. Photo taken 5/11/2020.

On January 20, 2020, I photographed the mine pumping water out of its settling pond toward adjoining properties. See below. The pit above can be seen in the upper left of the photo below.

See the pipe cutting diagonally from the middle of the frame to the lower right. Also note, the pond in the upper left of this image corresponds to the pond in the foreground of the image below. Note water level on January 20, 2020
By February 13, three weeks later, that pond was largely empty. It is common for mines to pump water from one pond to another. But illegal to pump water outside the mine.

Why Mines Should Not Flaunt Rules

If approaching storms flush sediment- and chloride-laden wastewater downstream, it will end up in the San Jacinto East Fork and Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for 2 million people.

This underscores the need for the state legislature to pass laws that move mines out of the floodway. The Triple PG mine actually sits at the confluence of two floodways. That makes it vulnerable and dangerous…especially when an operator apparently flaunts rules designed to protect the safety of the public.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/15/2020

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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.