In January, the City hired DRC Emergency Services, LLC (DRC) to begin mechanical dredging of the San Jacinto West Fork Mouth Bar. I’ve provided periodic updates on that. According to Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin, DRC has now officially completed 60% of that project.
In the meantime, other related dredging projects, including East Fork dredging and long-term Lake Houston maintenance dredging are reportedly taking shape. Here’s how pieces of the puzzle fit together. But one piece is still missing – long-term funding to pay for the maintenance dredging.
DRC’s scope of work has two distinct phases:
- Phase One will remove accumulated materials near and at the mouth bar on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River.
- Phase Two will remove accumulated materials in the East Fork of the San Jacinto River AND other locations in Lake Houston.
During Phase One, 400,000 cubic yards of material will be removed over twelve months. To date, DRC has removed approximately 240,080 cubic yards of material. (See photo above.) That’s 60% in approximately 60% of the allotted time, so that part of the project is on schedule.
Phase Two of the project will consist of:
- Hydrographic surveys of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, the East Fork of the San Jacinto River, and Lake Houston to determine dredge material volumes
- City of Houston advertising and awarding a dredging contract to the lowest responsive bidder
Phase Two will run simultaneously with Phase One to expedite dredging.Dave Martin, Houston Mayor Pro Tem
Mayor Pro Tem Martin did not provide an update on where Phase Two currently stands. But residents have reported seeing survey boats on Lake Houston, and the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto.
Long-Term Dredging Plan in Development
Additionally, during Phase Two, City of Houston and its partners will develop a long-term dredging plan for Lake Houston. City of Houston or the Coastal Water Authority will execute the plan.
The intention: to fund dredging operations in perpetuity.
This phased approach will obligate the full grant funding before the 87th legislative session in 2021. This grant funding was made possible thanks to State Representative Dan Huberty (District 127) through the passage of Senate Bill 500.
Mayor Pro Tem Martin credits Huberty for his dedication to the long-term maintenance dredging activities on Lake Houston. “Representative Huberty has been a champion for his residents and a great ally in seeing these additional dredging efforts come to fruition,” said Martin.
$40 Million Project
The total project is valued at $40 million (except for the perpetuity part). Funding for the immediate dredging projects comes through a combination of:
- City of Houston Harvey Disaster dollars provided by Governor Greg Abbott
- Grant dollars from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB)
- Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) Bond Program.
Harris County Engineer, John Blount submitted the grant application for this project to the TWDB. But the City of Houston became a “subrecipient” and is now managing the project.
Long Term Funding – Still A Missing Piece of Puzzle
Lake Houston, a City of Houston asset, is losing capacity. Everyone has recognized that fact for decades. But as silt filled the rivers, inlets and lake, maintenance was deferred, reportedly for budgetary reasons. In 2017, during Harvey, the problem became so big that no one could ignore it anymore. Flooding was the immediate problem. But loss of water capacity is an even bigger, longer-term problem.
It’s one thing to have a long-term maintenance dredging plan and another to put it into action. But where will the money come from?
A tax on sand mines? Won’t work. Most aren’t in the City. Or even in Harris County.
Some have suggested creating a taxing district for lakefront homeowners. That won’t work either. Not enough of them. And it would create a stampede for the Oklahoma border. Moreover, it hardly seems fair; the lake is part of a City system that provides water to two million people and generates revenue.
The logical solution seems to be increasing the cost of water. Adding just a fraction of a penny per 1000 gallons should do it. Dredging isn’t just about reducing flooding. Or preserving views for lakefront homeowners. It helps preserve the lake’s capacity. And that benefits everyone.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/12/2020 based, in part, on a release by Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin
1079 Days after Hurricane Harvey