Hallett piping wastewater into river again

Sand Mine Leaks Upstream from Blocked Drainage Ditch

Just upstream from the blocked drainage ditch at Northpark Drive and the San Jacinto West Fork, Hallett Materials operates the biggest sand mine between I-69 and I-45. The mine complex sprawls across several square miles and has several leaks. During the last flood in January, those leaks likely contributed to sedimentation in the West Fork and a blocked drainage ditch immediately downriver from the mine.

Blocked Northpark Ditch at West Fork
Contrary to a popular narrative among miners, this sand did not come from Spring Creek. That’s another watershed. Picture taken on 2/5/2024. The Hallett Mine is to the left (upstream) of the channel.
This picture of the blockage above shows the height of the sand relative to the top of the banks. Courtesy of a resident who prefers to remain anonymous.

Location of Mine Relative to Blockage

In late January, the West Fork experienced an estimated five-year flood after several days of nearly constant rains. Waking up after the flood was like a bad hangover. The blocked ditch above was just one of the problems. It is immediately downstream from the giant Hallett mine. See below.

Landsat image from Google Earth. Arrow shows direction of river’s flow. Circle shows location of blockage. Numbers show approximate location of leaks listed below.

Mine Leaks in Multiple Places

Let’s take a closer look at each of those three areas.

  1. One pond was wide open to the river through a large gap in its dike. The gap appears to have remained open since at least July 2023 and enlarged.
  2. A pipe was expelling water from a second pond straight into the river.
  3. A bulldozer appeared to have helped a third pond overflow across a road. Wastewater from the settling pond then flowed through woods and neighboring properties on its way to the river.

Pictures Taken on Feb. 8, 2024

Leak #1

Notice the huge gap in the dike of the pond in the center of the image below. Also notice that pond’s elevation compared to the one on the right.

The dike breach (center of image) first showed up in Google Earth in July 2023. It now appears considerably larger, indicating severe erosion from the recent flood.

The drought last summer and fall certainly didn’t cause the breach to enlarge.

Historical images in Google Earth show that this pond frequently breaches its dikes in different places. Something’s going through there!

Leak #2

A little farther downstream on the west side of the river, a pipe drains another Hallet pond directly into the river.

I photographed Hallett piping water into the river at this same location in 2020.
Leak #3:

Haven’t seen this before! On the east side of the river, in the woods next to Hallett’s main settling pond, a bulldozer apparently created a path for water to escape across a maintenance road. Water then flowed through woods 600-feet wide and onto neighboring properties before entering the river just above the blocked channel. See the series of images below.

Notice bulldozer tracks to left of perimeter road and wet area on road in the middle of the frame.

Flying closer, you can see that the bulldozer had pushed dirt from the road into the pond (see below, right side of frame).

Silty wastewater then escaped from the pond into the woods on the left.
The silty wastewater then migrated south (top of frame) through the woods.
Along the way, it invaded neighboring properties.
Then it drained back across the access road and into an abandoned mine (top of frame).

Hanover Estates now owns that abandoned mine. In the photo above, note the open path to the river in the upper right. It’s shown below in more detail.

Closer shot of wastewater exiting Hanover pond through another breach that leads straight to blockage (circled in red in the distance).

Apportioning the Relative Contribution of Different Sources

The Hallett mine owner told me that sand can’t escape his pits. I remain skeptical.

To be fair, some of the sediment in the channel blockage likely came from river-bank erosion and sand bars upstream.

Also, a new development called Northpark South, now in the clearing stage, likely also contributed to the blockage. Silty stormwater flows unchecked from it into a second abandoned mine (also owned by Hanover Estates) and then into the blocked drainage ditch.

Northpark South, which drains into Northpark ditch is being built over wetlands.
Northpark South photo from January 24, 2024, looking south toward abandoned mine, blocked ditch and river in distance.

No one can say that Hallett and Northpark South contributed all of the material in the blockage. But it would be hard to pretend that none of it came from them.

The mine is still leaking two weeks after the flood!

And even before the flood, a giant ravine was sending stormwater from Northpark South into the second abandoned mine on the south side of the ditch.

ravine at Northpark South
Northpark South on December 28, 2023 before flood. Note ravine caused by erosion.

That mine drains into the blocked channel directly above the blockage. (See very first shot in this post.)

The SJRA, which is investigating sedimentation in the river basin, relies on a sediment gauge at I-45 – upstream from the mines and most of the new developments along the river. So they can’t really help sort out this issue.

The Calm After the Storm

Now that the immediate danger has passed, we need to investigate the contribution of mining and floodplain development to sedimentation.

When rivers and ditches fill up with sludge, it reduces conveyance.

Then, when the next flood comes, instead of water staying within the riverbanks, it may back up or overflow into living rooms.

The greatest area of deposition will normally be where floodwater slows down as it reaches a standing body of water like Lake Houston. We’ve seen what that led to.

Corporate waste-disposal practices are matters of public safety and concern. We need to examine them more closely.

If Hallett and/or the Northpark South developer wish to respond to this editorial, I will be happy to post their points of view.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/9/24

2355 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.