East End Park after may storm

May Floods Destroyed Popular Trail in East End Park

May floods destroyed the popular “Overlook” hiking trail with spectacular river views in Kingwood’s East End Park.

The northern perimeter of East End Park is on the cutbank side of the San Jacinto East Fork where it joins Caney and Peach Creeks.

According to the National Park Service, “As water flows around these curves, the outer edge of water is moving faster than the inner. This creates an erosional surface on the outer edge (a cut bank) and a depostional surface on the inner edge (a point bar).”

You can see these forces at work in East End Park. For students interested in earth sciences, a simple stroll in the park can turn into a memorable learning exercise.

Looking N from over East End Park. Note how river makes a 90 degree turn. River flows toward right.

Note how a giant sand bar has built up on far side of river, inside the curve in the photo above.

However, it’s a different story when you get out over the water and look back at the south shore of the river bordering the park. No expansive, white-sand beaches beckoning boaters, picnickers and sunbathers on the East End Park side!

Tangled roots, downed trees, washed-out trail, destroyed bench (lower right) on East End Park’s Overlook Trail

Note that tree with a clearing behind it in the middle of the photo above and compare the photo below.

The washed-out trail suffered considerable erosion during Hurricane Harvey. At that time, an alternate trail was built farther back from the river. Now it, too, looks like it will require replacement.

“I Know There Used to Be a Trail Here Somewhere!”

Here’s how the same scene looked from the ground. Note the same tree in the middle of the photo below.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Charles Campbell

Poor pooch. How confusing! All the familiar smells and sights are gone.

The bench has a lot of leg room now and an unobstructed beach view. But don’t use it as a water slide. At least one teen died trying to swim to the beach on the opposite shore. Photo courtesy of Dr. Charles Campbell

Before the Storm

The Kingwood Service Association will have to spend money making this area safe and usable again. Before the storm, it was one of the prettiest parts of East End Park.

east end park poster
Two of the photos in this poster were taken from the washed out trail: Blue Water (middle left) and pelicans (bottom center).

Mother Nature Can Be Difficult At Times

Unfortunately, East End Park repairs will pile on top of repairs to River Grove Park. The mouth of the Kingwood Diversion Ditch has silted in at River Grove, severely limiting the use of the boat launch there. The water is up about a foot since I took pictures of the new sand bar there a couple weeks ago.

However, a few small boats have churned a narrow channel through the sand with their props. I talked to the owner of a john boat this morning. The shallow draft of his boat meant that he could get through/over the sand bar, whereas larger ski boats could not.

Note sand churned up by the prop of the john boat at River Grove boat launch. That indicates how shallow the water is.

He virtually had the river to himself. And liked it that way. But the river won’t stay that way for long.

Either the boat launch area will be dredged. Or the mouth of the diversion ditch will be cut off by another sand wall the way it was in 2017.

Remember to register your opinion about what to do with the River Grove boat launch with your Homeowner Association board before the HOA’s vote on options later this summer or fall.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/11/24

2478 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.

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sand mine breaches

Two More West Fork Sand Mine Breaches Discovered

6/9/24 – After posting about four West Fork sand mine breaches just last night, I discovered two more this morning. Both were at the end of White Sands Drive, which branches off of Sorters-McClellan Road a half mile south of Kingwood Drive.

The first was at the Eagle Sorters mine north of White Sands. Operators have opened up a pit to drain it directly into the river.

The second was at the Williams Brothers Mine south of White Sands. There, nature did the dirty work. The January flood caused large slabs of the mine’s dike to break off and fall into the river. The May flood finished the job. The dike separating the mine from the river is now completely gone … like a cool spring breeze.

According to historical satellite images in Google Earth, the Williams Brothers Mine last showed signs of activity shortly after Hurricane Harvey. It appears to have been abandoned, but the Montgomery County Appraisal District shows that William Brothers still owns the property.

The satellite image below from Google Earth shows the respective locations of the two mines.

Eagle Mine (north) separated from Williams Brothers Mine (south) by White Sands Drive. Date 2/19/24before May flood wiped out Williams Brothers dike.

Eagle Sorters Mine Opens the Drain

Let’s look at the Eagle mine first.

West Fork in foreground, silty pit in background, and trench running between them.
Reverse angle. Trench (center) leads from pit to West Fork at top of frame.
Enlargement shows tracks of heavy equipment, such as an excavator, between the piles of loose dirt next to road.

This breach appears intentional.

Nature Finishes Job Started in January at Williams Mine

At the Williams Brothers Mine during May floods, nature finished the job it started in January. As reported in February, half of the dike that separated the mine from the river partially collapsed in the late January flood.

Giant slabs peeled off, taking huge trees and half of the mine’s perimeter road with them.

river bank collapses at Williams Brothers Mine
Williams Brothers dike after January Flood.

No you see it. Now you don’t.

Reverse angle. During May flood, dike disappeared altogether. Looking SW from over pit toward West Fork, which cuts diagonally through upper right.
Looking downriver. West Fork on right, mine on left. Breach is approximately 600 feet long.

This wasn’t a pit capture in the traditional sense. At least not yet. It was more like nature making a hostile corporate takeover.

As you can see in the satellite image below, the Willliams Brothers mine sits on a point bar. The river has forced its way into the pit and will almost certainly cut the rest of the way through it in some future flood. See red arrow below.

River has now cut its way into pit, but has some distance to go before exiting other side.

We will need to watch this closely in future floods.

Consequences

In recent weeks, we’ve talked extensively about excessive sedimentation that blocks drainage ditches farther down the West Fork, potential flooding impacts and the high cost of remediation.

A study by Jacobs in Australia discusses many other dangers of floodplain mining. They include channel widening, undercutting of banks, and increased erosion and sediment transport.

However, understand that this isn’t floodplain mining per se. It’s floodway mining.

Although part of the Eagle mine extends into the floodplain, most of it sits within the floodway. And the entire Williams Brothers Mine sits within the floodway.

That means the mines are in the main body of the current during floods. So when the SJRA releases 72,000 CFS, look out below!

The red arrow in the map above shows the likely centerline of the current when the pit is finally captured. That means the center of the river will be a quarter mile closer to the new high $75 million high school shown in the lower center of the satellite image.

Part of the floodplain already crosses Sorters-McClellan Road. And FEMA has advised that the new flood maps, when released, will show the floodplains expanding 50% on average.

If that happens here, floodwaters will lap at the front door of the new high school. Oh well. It only cost $75 million dollars or so. And it isn’t even finished yet. But TACA says we need the sand to support growth.

If you find this disturbing, complain to the TCEQ.

As they say in high school, there’s a learning opportunity here. This is why we should keep sand mines farther back from rivers. It’s a public safety issue. End of lecture.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/9/24

2476 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.

Sand pit capture at Halllett Mine

Another Sand Pit Captured, More Breached by San Jacinto West Fork

6/8/24 – Today, I discovered another sand pit captured by the San Jacinto West Fork. I also discovered two more pits with breached dikes. That makes at least four San Jacinto West Fork sand pits seriously damaged by the last storm.

The West Fork has now captured a pit that Hallett owned until earlier this year and another that it still owns.

Let’s look at each. See the photos below.

Photos Taken on 6/8/24

Pit Capture #1

I discovered the first pit capture in mid-May and photographed it again today.

Looking from over West Fork at blocked channel and former Hallett pit. River now runs through the pit.

Hallett sold this mile-long,, half-mile-wide pit to a real estate company called Riverwalk Porter LLC in January, just days before the first breach at the downstream end. The breach at the northern end, in the foreground above, happened in May.

Pit capture is a phenomenon where the river cuts through one side of a mine and out the other. Watch it happen in this table top experiment.

Pit Capture #2

I discovered a second pit capture today. The river punched through one side of the pit and now flows out the other. It’s taking a shortcut through the pit, rather than going around like it used to.

Note how the river curves way out to the upper left in the photo. The inside of that curve used to be what geologists call a point bar. Such areas usually contain finely sorted sand. And indeed, historical images in Google Earth show trucks pulling sand from river banks before Hallett started mining here.

Hallett pit on another point bar, also captured by West Fork River flows from top to bottom.

Ironically, this area was being considered by the SJRA for its sand trap study. They may have to reconsider that now.

Breach #1

Another pit purchased from Hallett by Riverwalk Porter LLC also drains directly into the West Fork. Nothing holds it back now.

Looking West. Note breach in dike on far side of river. If you look closely, you can see a pipe at the bottom of the breach. The pipe dates back to the days Hallett owned this pit.

The area around the pipe has expanded into a chasm.

Breach #2

Farther north, Heidelberg Materials Southwest Agg LLC owns another pit that now drains into the West Fork.

Looking S from over West Fork (bottom left) toward Heidelberg Property.

Historical satellite images of the Heidelberg property show that they started mining it decades ago. Then they sold the mine to another company and recently repurchased it. While this particular area is recovering, the company appears to be mining other areas around it.

And look what’s happening downstream from the breach above. Could this be a third pit capture in the making?

Downstream at the same pond, the river looks as though it could soon punch through another narrow dike. Photo taken 5/22/24.

If and when this happens, the river could then route itself through the pit above. That would make at least three pits captured on the West Fork.

There may be more breaches and pit captures that I have not yet found.

Geomorphic Processes Accelerated to a Human Time Scale

It’s interesting to watch geomorphic processes at work on a human time scale. It’s also disconcerting to know that without help from miners and the TCEQ – which did not establish setbacks of mines from rivers until 2021 – the West Fork would have much less sediment pollution.

See below.

West Fork sedimentation after upstream rainfall that rivaled Hurricane Harvey
Confluence of Spring Creek (left) and San Jacinto West Fork (right), where all of the sand mine breaches above area.

If you wish to lodge a complaint with the TCEQ, go to this web page. Last time I heard, they only inspect the river once every three years unless citizens file complaints.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/8/24

2475 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.