We need an investigation of the TCEQ investigation

By Bob Rehak

In February 2018, I wrote the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) to request an investigation of all the sand blocking Kingwood’s drainage ditches, bayous and the San Jacinto River itself.  Yesterday, I received their “final report.” Unfortunately for Kingwood residents, the final report had nothing to do with the request I made.  This leads me to believe that we need an investigation of the investigation.

Here is the text of my request:

I urge you to investigate the discharge of sand from mining operations along the San Jacinto River (east AND west forks) in Montgomery County, just upstream from Kingwood in Harris County.

Dunes up to 15 feet high now block our drainage ditches and the river itself. The attached PowerPoint presentation shows significant blockages at:
1) River Grove Park where a dune now blocks a drainage ditch that empties the western third of Kingwood.
2) About a half mile downstream from River Grove Park, another dune has formed blocking navigation on the river itself for boats that draw 18 or more inches of water.
3) At West Lake Houston Parkway, sand now virtually reaches the height of the bridge itself, blocking approximately half of the river.
4) Where the East and West Forks join, new dunes now separate the river from Lake Houston.

In addition to these major blockages, I have 450 photos showing partial blockages at other locations near Kingwood, Porter, Huiffman, Atascocita and Humble. Combined with satellite and ground photos, they clearly show that floodwater:
• Broke the dikes surrounding the mines
• Scooped up sand
• Deposited the sand downstream in locations that…
• Reduced the drainage capacity of ditches, bayous and the river
• Contributed to flooding

The photos also show that:
• No attempt has been made to restore ground cover after miners work over an area
• The location of dikes (close to the river) leaves no room for the river’s expansion during floods, virtually guaranteeing disaster

During Hurricane Harvey, discharged sand contributed to the flooding of more than 17,000 homes and 3,300 businesses. Houston City Council Member Dave Martin estimates the flood eroded the area’s tax base by an estimated 20-30%.

Hydrologists and engineers tell me that as a result of all this man-made sedimentation, we can expect bigger floods in the future based on smaller rains. Please help us.

Feel free to call with questions. And let me know if you would like me to send you all 450 aerial photos.

I included this presentation, Harvey Flood Condensed 7, with the request.

Within a few days, I received a call from  one of the TCEQ investigators.  Strangely, she did not want to see the photographs (which you can now see in the gallery section of this site). However, she did grill me intensely about who else I had sent the presentation to.

Then yesterday, I received a large envelope from the TCEQ. It contained 44 pages of material labeled as their final report. Read the TCEQ Response here.  They found a broken discharge pipe at the Hallett mine in Porter in February, however there is no mention made of any sand discharged during Harvey. In other words, the answer has nothing to do with the question.

When I contacted the State Attorney General’s office to request an investigation of the investigation, I was informed that the AG had no staff to conduct such an investigation.

Texas has a reputation as a business-friendly state. At some point, it’s going to get a reputation as a resident-hostile state.

Posted 198 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Report on Townhall with Mayor on March 6, 2018

March 6 Town Hall Addresses Flood Concerns

By Bill Fowler, Co-Chair, Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative

City of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner recently provided Kingwood and other Lake Houston Area residents encouragement future flooding concerns triggered by buildup of sand and sediment on the West and East Forks of the San Jacinto River as well as adding 10 gates to allow for more rapid releases at the Lake Houston Dam were to be addressed in the near term, rather than over a period of several years.

Turner’s comments were delivered at a Town Hall meeting hosted by Councilman Dave Martin and attended by several hundred local residents on March 6 at the Kingwood Community Center.

Turner offered he had on that same day spoken to Governor Greg Abbott about the urgent need to remove sediment from the San Jacinto River.

He cited the recent low-level rains that brought the San Jacinto out of its banks and re-flooded parts of River Grove Park were examples of the urgent need for river dredging as well as additional gates at the Lake Houston Dam.

Turner also observed the sand mining along both Forks of the San Jacinto was a huge problem in need of regulation and pointed out dredging would be pointless in the long-term if the source of the sedimentation was not addressed.

The Mayor stated potential sources of the funds included the recently approved $90 billion flood relief associated with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria as well as the $1billion from the Hazard Development Fund recently announced by the Governor. Additionally, he suggested the City could borrow the funds from the Texas Water Development Fund in order to expedite remediation efforts.

Additional local officials addressing the gathering were Mark Micheletti, Kingwood resident and SJRA Board Member; Stephen Costello, City of Houston Chief Resiliency Officer; Carol Haddock, City of Houston Director Public Works; Matt Zeve, Harris County Flood Control; and Stan Sarman, Chairman, TIRZ 10.

Micheletti gave an update regarding his initial impressions of the SJRA following his recent appointment to the Board. He stressed he is committed to obtaining a full understanding of SJRA procedures and protocols and working to obtain any modifications that will lessen the potential of future flooding in the Lake Houston Area.

Costello offered comments related to the City’s efforts to address the Lake Houston Area’s flooding issues—including ongoing and proposed studies focusing on flood avoidance and mitigation.

Zeve introduced HCFCD’s flood website and pointed out the portion of the site dedicated to Kingwood. He also mentioned HCFCD is focusing determining the ownership and maintenance responsibilities for all 29 miles of open channels in the Kingwood area including determining immediate projects needed to provide positive drainage as soon as possible.

Haddock spoke on the City’s proposed changes to flood regulation regarding expanding regulation beyond the 100-year flood plain to include the 500-year flood plain. She stressed these changes would only effect new construction—not existing homes and businesses.

Sarman gave an update on the Northpark Drive expansion project.

Martin closed with a warning that without investment in major flood-protection measures, “Kingwood as it exists today is gone forever, and with it that tax base is gone forever.”

Posted 189 days after hurricane Harvey

How This Site Started

By Bob Rehak

After Harvey, I explored the damage caused by the storm. I was astounded to see sand dunes more than ten feet tall blocking the boat ramp at River Grove Park, covering trials in East End Park, and stretching into treetops near the West Lake Houston Parkway bridge. If the sand was that high onshore, I wondered what happened to the river itself, where did the sand come from, and did it play a role in the flooding?

To find answers, I started by exploring Google Earth satellite photos and noted the presence of several sand mines on the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto river. Then I rented a helicopter to tour the mines and the river. I went from the 59 bridge up to the Riverwalk community off FM1314 in Porter on the West Fork. Then I circled the sand mines, headed back toward Costco, and followed the West Fork all the way to Kings Point where it joins the East Fork at the head of Lake Houston. From there, I went up the East Fork and circled the sand mine on Caney Creek and returned to Hobby Airport.

What I saw horrified me. Trails of sand leading from the mines to blockages of bayous, drainage ditches and the river itself.

I believe this is a matter of public interest. According to the SBA, 17,000 homes and 3,300 businesses in Lake Houston communities suffered flood damage. According to our city council member Dave Martin, damage could stretch into the billions and the areas tax base could be affected by 20-30%.

Although Harvey was a record storm, record rainfall was not the sole cause of all the damage. Much coverage in the media pointed to the release of water from the Lake Conroe Dam as a complicating factor. But I believe that siltation played a role also. If I am correct and if we ignore the reduced carrying capacity of the river, we are inviting future disaster.

‘This web site is a record of my exploration. I do not claim to be an expert, though I have consulted with many.