New Subdivisions Now Routing Drainage Through, Toward West Fork Sand Mines

Two new subdivisions are now routing their drainage through or toward San Jacinto West Fork sand mines.

The one already going through a mine is Artavia on the north/east side of the Westfork between FM 1314 and river.

The other is near Woodson’s Reserve on the south/west side of the river just inside the Grand Parkway (SH99). Their ditch currently stops just feet short of another sand mine.

Routing drainage through sand mines raises concerns about the potential for increasing sediment in the West Fork. Increased sediment can reduce conveyance and contribute to flooding.

Accident Waiting to Happen?

During a flyover of the West Fork on Friday 7/22/2022 with Ken Williams and Bill Callegari, two fellow members of the Harris County Community Resilience Flood Task Force, I photographed both drainage issues from the air. They gave me a queasy, “accident-waiting-to-happen” feeling.

So, I reached out to Texas A&M, the TCEQ, the Montgomery County Engineer’s office and two hydrologists to ask about about safety. I could not reach anyone at A&M, TCEQ, or the MoCo Engineer’s office. But this is vacation time.

However, the two hydrologists did express concerns. See them below the pictures.

Where Artavia Drainage Reaches Mine

The Artivia ditch approached the LMI Moorehead Mine in 2019. And reached the West Fork in the second half of 2021. Here’s how it looks today.

Wide shot looking SW. Artavia Drainage Ditch heading toward LMI Moorehead mine. West Fork is at far edge of mine in trees.
Water from ditch goes into one pond and makes a right turn into another, then
…spills out into the West Fork via a pipe or overflow swale. West Fork in foreground runs toward the right and Humble/Kingwood Area.

Second Development’s Drainage

On the opposite side of the West Fork, upstream just south of the Grand Parkway, another new development is expanding near Woodson’s Reserve.

Red dot represents location of helicopter when taking the two shots immediately below.
Part of expansion
A small part of the clearing. Note drainage ditch on right (not fully completed).
Close up of the far end of the shot above. Looking east. West Fork is in trees on far side of mine.

The developer could make the ditch go around the mine. But around would be an expensive proposition. Right now, the ditch ends a half mile from the river.

Going around would add another 2 miles. Plus, to reach the river, the ditch would have to make a sharp U-turn and cut across a series of properties owned by other entities. So, I’m fairly confident that’s NOT the plan.

Looking north across mine. Red X marks current end of ditch. West Fork is on right.

This mine stretches two miles north to south and a half mile east to west.

Concerns of Hydrologists

The two hydrologists who returned my calls both spoke on condition of anonymity. They expressed concerns about the potential for sedimentation and erosion created by routing subdivision drainage through sand mines.

The first acknowledged that the practice might have benefits during small rains. Sediment transported down ditches could get a chance to drop out of suspension before it reaches the river. And the ponds might provide some small floodwater retention benefit, too.

However, he also felt that in large floods the higher volume and speed of the water could churn up sediment in the pond and flush it downstream.

The second hydrologist worried about pressure on the mines’ dikes. He cited the potential for breaches and the risk of sediment escaping into the West Fork and onto neighboring properties.

He also worried about erosion of the loose, sandy soils. Already, he said, you can see significant erosion where they are trying to shore up roadways. He remembered the 56 million gallon spill from the LMI Moorehead mine that turned the West Fork white with sludge. He also remembered how LMI tried to blame it on Artavia at the time.

Confluence of Spring Creek and West Fork. TCEQ alleged that Liberty Mines discharged 56 million gallons of white waste water into the West Fork. Liberty blamed Artavia for flooding the mine. Photo taken 11/04/2019.

I couldn’t find any academic papers written about routing subdivision drainage through mines. Montgomery County may be breaking new ground, so to speak.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/25/22

1791 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.