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West Fork Mouth Bar Dredging Set to Start As TWDB Considers Grant to Extend Program

On December 30, 2019, the City of Houston issued a Notice To Proceed (NTP) for debris removal services. Specifically, that means the large silt deposit at the confluence of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston. The area is commonly known as the “mouth bar.” See below.

Mouth Bar of the San Jacinto West Fork looking upstream. Picture from 12/3/2019.

Mechanical, Not Hydraulic Dredging

The City hired DRC Emergency Services, LLC (DRC) under an existing contract to begin mechanical dredging of the mouth bar “this week,” according to Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin.

Mechanical dredging differs from hydraulic dredging. With hydraulic dredging, contractors continuously pump sediment from the river to a placement area onshore via long pipelines. With mechanical dredging, they scoop it out of the river and dump it on barges. Then they ferry the barges to the placement area where trucks transport the sediment to its final location.

Hydraulic dredging takes less time once started, but the prep can take months. Mechanical dredging takes longer, but can start immediately.

The City will begin the hydraulic dredging with $6 million of FEMA money left over from Hurricane Harvey debris removal funds. The Texas Division of Emergency Management and Governor Greg Abbott allocated that money specifically for Lake Houston and approved the remaining funds for mouth-bar dredging.

Two-Phase Grant

Next week, another $30 million should become available to extend the program. SB500 earmarked that money for dredging of the San Jacinto East and West Fork Mouth Bars. The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) will consider Harris County’s grant application. Approval is expected.

The grant application proposes removing sediment in two distinct phases:

  1. Near and at the mouth bar on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River
  2. In the East Fork of the San Jacinto River AND other locations in Lake Houston.
Mouth Bar on East Fork San Jacinto grew 4,000 feet since Harvey.

Phase-One Funding and Objectives

To complete Phase 1, Harris County proposed taking $10 million of the $30 million to provide a total $16 million for DRC dredging operations.

Phase 1 should remove a minimum of 400,000 cubic yards (CY) of material in eight to twelve months. The Army Corps of Engineers previously removed 500,000 cubic yards from the West Fork Mouth Bar for $17 million in about three months.

During Phase 1, the County will begin some activities for Phase 2. They include:

  • Hydrographic surveys of the West and East Forks, and Lake Houston
  • Development of plans and specifications
  • Identification and permitting of additional disposal sites
  • Competitive bidding

Since the TWDB grant money can only be used for dredging, Harris County will pay for the activities above out of the 2018 HCFCD Bond Program. The fund allocated $10 million for dredging in Lake Houston.

Phase-2 Funding and Objectives

The remaining $20 million from the $30 million TWDB grant will go toward Phase 2 dredging.

During Phase 2, Harris County, City of Houston (COH), HCFCD, SJRA, and Coastal Water Authority (CWA) will develop and execute a plan for the COH or CWA to assume all long-term dredging operations on Lake Houston.

The County does not intend to assume long-term responsibility for maintenance dredging of a City property, i.e., Lake Houston.

TWDB Meets Next Week to Approve Grant

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) will meet on Thursday, January 16, 2020, to approve the $30 million grant. “We are in the final stages of agency approval to continue dredging the lake and river,” said State Representative Dan Huberty. His amendment to SB500 last year dedicated the money for dredging this area. “By approving this amount, the legislature as a whole made a clear and concise statement that Lake Houston and the San Jacinto River are vital resources for the entire region and must be maintained.”

SB500 was a supplemental appropriations bill. The grant itself will technically come from the new Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund, created last year by SB7. Senator Brandon Creighton authored SB7.

Harris County Engineer John Blount submitted the grant application to TWDB in late December after receiving approval from County Commissioner’s Court.

“Due to the urgency of this issue, multiple entities worked together to craft a plan that could be executed immediately, allowing the first phase to begin as soon as possible,” said Huberty.

Kudos Go To…

“I would like to thank everyone who has worked to create the final grant program under the supplemental funds we received from the Legislature,” said Huberty. “It would have not been possible without Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Dennis Bonnen, former Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, State Senator Brandon Creighton, Chief Nim Kidd, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello, Harris County Commissioner’s Court, Harris County Engineer John Blount, Harris County Flood Control District Executive Director Russell Poppe, Harris County Flood Control District Deputy Director Matt Zeve, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin and many more.”

To View TWDB Board Meeting Live

Tune in to the live TWDB Board Meeting next Thursday, January 16, 2020 at 9:30 AM by visiting: http://texasadmin.com/tx/twdb/.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/8/2019

863 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 111 since Imelda