Comments Due to TCEQ on Sand-Mining BMPs by August 19

A couple weeks ago, I posted about rules governing the application of sand mining best management practices (BMPs). Now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is accepting public comments on the BMPs themselves. Think of the difference this way: how/when to enforce guidelines vs the guidelines themselves.

More than 90 people responded to the enforcement question. Thank you. The TCEQ left so many “outs,” it was doubtful whether sand mines would ever have had to follow any of the BMPs.

Comments Coming Due on BMPs, Not Just Rules Governing Them

Now it’s time to consider the content of the BMPs themselves and provide public comment.

We have more time this time – until August 19. So I will publish a series of posts about different aspects of the BMPs that I believe could be improved.

Here is a draft of the 24-page document listing all BMPs that the TCEQ is considering.

Today, I will simply give you an overview of the major categories of recommendations. In coming days, I will discuss major areas of concern. These will be things where, in my opinion, the sand mines in the San Jacinto watershed fall short of ideal practices in ways that directly contribute to flooding.

Some Caveats

Having said that, let me also qualify that last statement three ways:

  1. Not all sand mines are bad actors, but some are.
  2. We need sand to make concrete.
  3. Sediment comes from both man-made and natural sources. While massive amounts of sand clogged our river after Harvey, it’s unclear what proportion of that came from sand mines.

It’s easy to see that floodwaters eroded stockpiles, breached levees, and swept sediment downstream. It’s also easy to see how suboptimal sand mining practices contributed to those issues.

Sand mining increased the width of the exposed sediment adjacent to the river by an average of 33X.

USGS calculations, photographs, and first responder reports during Harvey also indicate that the velocity of the river was sufficient to transport not just sand, but large chunks of gravel.

However, it’s not clear how much suboptimal sand mining practices contributed to blockages, such as the East and West Fork Mouth Bars, Sand Island, and the giant side bar that blocked the Kingwood Diversion Ditch. Some likely also came from erosion of the river bed itself as well as upstream developers with suboptimal practices of their own.

It will take someone smarter than me to figure that how much came from where.

The Public Policy Question

It is clear, however, that we’re investing $222 million in dredging to eliminate sediment blockages that contribute to flooding. And many sand mines have shown, in my opinion, a callous disregard for the cleanup costs they externalize to the public sector. One is even currently being sued by the Texas Attorney General.

Scope of BMPs Being Proposed

The BMPs being considered by the TCEQ have to do with:

  • Vegetative and Structural Controls to help reduce erosion
  • Pre-Mining site evaluation, drainage studies and site preparation
  • Mining activities, such as dredging, processing, maintenance, and the handling of petroleum products
  • Post-Mining site stabilization, debris removal, and property grading
  • Requirements for a final stabilization report.

I will discuss each of these in coming days before the deadline. I will also show photos that illustrate how current practices fall short of BMPs and contribute to sedimentation.

Sand mine pumping wastewater directly into San Jacinto West Fork
Another sand mine discharging wastewater directly into the West Fork.

Two things ARE clear, however. We can and must do better if we want to reduce:

  • Financial hemorrhaging
  • Flooding from man-made blockages that clog our rivers.

How to Make a Public Comment

Submit written comments on BMPs to with the subject line “BMPs Guidance Document” before August 19, 2021.

More details to follow in the coming days.

Posted By Bob Rehak on 7/8/2021

1440 Days since 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.