Tag Archive for: Clean Water Act

At Least Seven Investigations Launched into Colony Ridge

Today, Harris County joined the growing list of governmental agencies looking into Colony Ridge.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have already concluded their investigations and filed Federal lawsuits against the troubled developer.

On December 29, 2023, the New York Post reported that the Internal Revenue Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have all launched their own Colony Ridge investigations. Word on the street has it that even more investigations by other Federal agencies are underway.

Then on January 5, 2024, the Daily Wire reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has opened an investigation into Colony Ridge.

Finally, just today (1/9/24), Harris County Commissioners Court discussed investigating the flooding, housing and environmental impacts of Colony Ridge on Harris County. The County Administrators Office and Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey agreed to discuss forming a task force. They would then return to Commissioners Court for final approval of their task force recommendations.

Thrust of Many Investigations Still Uncertain

However, with the exception of the DOJ and CFPB, the direction of many of these investigations remains unknown.

For instance, the EPA could be investigating any of several different allegations, including wetlands, endangered species, and pollution violations.

Colony Ridge, which has grown at least 50% larger than Manhattan in a decade, has filled in ponds and wetlands. While the Army Corps bears initial responsibility for investigating wetlands violations, ultimately the EPA reviews permit applications under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Recently, the developer has been pushing into wetlands near Tarkington Bayou. I took the three photos below during in October 2023 while flying over the bayou. Despite a punishing drought, you can still see evidence of ponding.

A University of Waterloo (Ontario) study found that small isolated wetlands that are full for only part of the year are often the first to be removed for development. They enjoy fewer legal protections due to their apparent isolation from jurisdictional waters.

However, the study found that they can be twice as effective in protecting downstream lake or river ecosystems than those directly connected to them. The study labeled them “pollution-catching powerhouses.” Their disconnectedness makes them more effective pollution traps.

Previously, I reported that the TCEQ found raw sewage leaking from a lift station and sewers in Colony Ridge. TCEQ estimated that 48,000 gallons escaped into the Lake Houston watershed, which supplies drinking water for two million people.

To report environmental violations to the EPA, see this page.

Another possibility: EPA may also be looking into whether Colony Ridge displaced any threatened or endangered species. Texas Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say twelve threatened and endangered species live in Liberty County. Some reportedly live in the Colony Ridge Area.

For More Information

Since 2020, I have created more than 75 posts about different aspects of Colony Ridge – from missing drainage studies to sewage spills, rivers of mud, and more. To see links to all the posts, visit this page.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/9/2024

2324 Days since Hurricane Harvey

How a Controversial, Little Understood Definition Affects Flooding

The definition of “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) is changing again thanks to a new ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. It could put half of the nation’s wetlands in peril and that could significantly affect flooding.

The Ping-Pong Match over Wetland Protection

I first started covering the definition of WOTUS in January of this year in a story about Biden’s changes to Trump’s changes to Obama’s changes.

The WOTUS definition defines the areas subject to EPA clean water regulations. At issue: How far up in the branching structure of a river may the government enforce regulations? As far as it’s navigable? One level up from that? Two? Three? Infinitely?

Clarity is a good thing. But the last time I looked up WOTUS, the definition stretched for more than 100-pages. It has changed numerous times since 2015. And different government agencies follow different definitions. Complexity, change, ambiguity and conflict now give bureaucrats and developers almost unlimited power to interpret definitions as they see fit.

Local Example of Damage

For instance, when the developers of Woodridge Village clearcut their property, filled in wetlands and sent tons of sludge down Taylor Gully into Lake Houston, the question became “Were they acting legally?” The developer found no wetlands on their property even though wetlands were clearly indicated on the USGS National Wetlands Inventory.

Complaints piled into the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps found that, even though the property contained wetlands, the wetlands lay outside the jurisdiction of the Corps to regulate.

Resident examines massive erosion on Woodridge Village flowing down Taylor Gully into Lake Houston in 2019.

Bureaucratic Overreach?

The Trump-era definition, finalized in 2020, was long sought by developers who complained about federal overreach. They said the WOTUS definition stretched into gullies, creeks and wetlands on private property.

But Biden reversed the Trump definition and now the US Supreme Court has reversed the Biden definition. That makes the fourth time the rules have been reversed since 2015. Worse, the EPA and Corps use overlapping, but different rules.

And as far as I can tell, the limit of regulation does not vary with the magnitude of violation, a serious flaw in my opinion.

NYT Article Puts Most Recent Changes in Perspective

A New York Times essay by Jim Murphy of the National Wildlife Federation summarized the most recent changes. Says Murphy, “The Environmental Protection Agency has long interpreted the Clean Water Act as protecting most of the nation’s wetlands from pollution. But now the court has significantly limited the reach of the law…”

The Court’s new definition hinges on the wetlands having “a continuous surface connection” to bodies of water such as streams, rivers, lakes and oceans. At least half of the nation’s wetlands could lose protection under this ruling, which provides an even narrower definition of “protected waters” than the Trump administration had sought, according to Murphy.

Congress has long failed to clarify language in the Clean Water Act that caused confusion among judges and put the law in the Supreme Court’s cross hairs.

Wetlands are nature’s sponges. They act as natural detention basins that hold back stormwaters and that has a direct impact on flooding.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who filed a concurring opinion in the judgment, acknowledged its impact, writing that it would have “significant repercussions for water quality and flood control throughout the United States.”

How Revised Definition Could Affect Local Development

Need an example. Look no further than the Colony Ridge development in Liberty County, where the developer is filling in and paving over wetlands…some immediately adjacent to wetland mitigation banks.

Colony Ridge Wetlands
Colony Ridge Wetlands
Colony Ridge wetlands being drained for development.

Many residents in adjoining communities such as Plum Grove and Huffman have complained bitterly about worsening flooding in their areas, which they attribute to such development practices.

I hope Congress can finally find a workable definition of WOTUS that protects public safety while allowing responsible development. The constantly changing definitions of WOTUS help no one.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/31/23

2101 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.

Biden Changes Trump’s Changes to Water Regulations

The Associated Press reported on December 30, 2021, that the Biden administration had reversed Trump-era changes to water regulations, which themselves were changes to Obama regulations and other previous administrations. This is getting to be like a tennis match. “Advantage Downstream.”

The EPA regulations have changed numerous times over the years. Enforcement changes, too.

The problem: Changes affect both water quality downstream and land development upstream. That’s why the rules change so often. Competing interests! Public health and safety vs. economic expansion.

Rivers Before the EPA and Clean Water Act

About two thirds of Americans alive today had not yet been born when Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969. So they have no memory of the event that helped give birth to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970.

The Cuyahoga River caught fire a total of 13 times dating back to 1868. It is still rated one of the most polluted rivers in America by almost every group that compiles lists. Photo: Cleveland State University Library.

Shortly after its founding, the EPA dispatched photographers all around the country to document environmental abuses.

The photographers took about 81,000 images, more than 20,000 of which were archived. At least 15,000 have been digitized by the National Archives. They form a time capsule showing the way things were.

Warning: These images are disturbing…for people on both sides of the political net.

Why the Changes This Time?

The AP article by Jim Salter and Michael Phillis says, “The Trump-era rule, finalized in 2020, was long sought by builders, oil and gas developers, farmers and others who complained about federal overreach that they said stretched into gullies, creeks and ravines on farmland and other private property.”

However, the writers continued, “…the Trump rule allowed businesses to dump pollutants into unprotected waterways and fill in some wetlands, threatening public water supplies downstream and harming wildlife and habitat.”

They quoted Kelly Moser, Senior Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Clean Water Defense Initiative. She said, “Today, the Biden administration restored needed clean water protections so that our nation’s waters are guarded against pollution for fishing, swimming, and as sources of drinking water.”

At Issue: Definition of “Waters of the U.S.”

Meanwhile, courts at various levels are still pondering the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” At issue: How far up in the branching structure of a river may the government enforce regulations? As far as it’s navigable? One level up from that? Two? Three? Infinitely? And do the rules apply to desert areas the same way they do to subtropical areas like SE Texas?

The Biden administration decision is a setback for various industries. It broadens which wetlands, streams and rivers can be regulated under the Clean Water Act.

But given the impacts to public health and the immense economic interests at stake, this won’t be the last time we see the rules change. An army of lobbyists is likely mobilizing right now.

Local Impact

Several developments in the Lake Houston Area contained wetlands affected regulation changes. Consider, for instance, the case of Woodridge Village. The Army Corps ruled that it contained wetlands, but that the wetlands didn’t fall under their jurisdiction because of rules in effect at the time. So there was no violation of the Clean Water Act. Hundreds of homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest flooded, partially as a result of the environmental destruction.

In this area, sediment pollution is one of our most serious concerns. We’ve seen repeated and almost constant releases into the West Fork from 20-square miles of sand mines immediately upstream from us.

Confluence of Spring Creek and West Fork by 59 Bridge. TCEQ found that Liberty Mines discharged 56 million gallons of white waste water into the West Fork.
Repeated and multiple breaches at Triple PG mine discharged sediment-laden water directly into Caney Creek. This one lasted for months.

Searching on the word “breach” in ReduceFlooding.com pulls up 116 stories, many of which show multiple breaches.

But mining isn’t the only upstream issue at stake. So is sediment pollution from new development.

Drainage ditch in Artavia. March 2020 in West Fork watershed
Eroding ditch in Colony Ridge (East Fork Watershed) due to lack of backslope interceptor systems and grass.

Making Private Expenses a Public Cost

The EPA lists sediment as the most common pollutant in rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs. It has contributed to flooding thousands of homes in the Lake Houston Area.

West Fork mouth bar almost totally blocked the river where it meets Lake Houston.
East Fork Mouth Bar grew 4000 feet in two years between Harvey and Imelda.

Both mouth bars above have since been dredged at great public expense, but abuses continue. I just wish we could all find a way to live together. This should not be a case of health and safety vs. economic development. We need all three for communities to prosper.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/2/23

1952 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.

Colony Ridge Expanding North Into More Wetlands

After months of expanding Colony Ridge to the east, the developer is now pushing north. The new area is outlined in red below.

From Google Earth Pro. Red box shows new expansion area to the north of those currently being developed.

US Fish and Wildlife Shows Area Contains Many Wetlands

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the new area contains numerous wetlands. So did the partially developed area below it.

Here’s the same general area highlighted within the USGS National Wetlands Inventory.

Wetlands are nature’s way of slowing water down after a rain. They also filter runoff before it reaches streams, reducing the amount of sediment pollution.

The photos below, all taken on 5/26/2021, show the same kinds of business practices that just earned Colony Ridge eight complaints from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality during nine investigations.

Looking north from a helicopter. Notice how ditch and roads are beginning to push into woods at top of frame.
As with previous sections recently developed, Colony Ridge is not too picky about piling dirt next to ditches where sediment can wash back in.
Piling dirt next to the ditches seems to be a standard practice. Note how it’s already washing back into the ditch in the lower left of this photo.

If the developer were following best management practices, according to the TCEQ and Stormwater Pollution Protection Plan recommendations, you would expect to see temporary grass, rock gabions, silt fences, and hay bales in these photos. All check the flow of sediment into ditches.

Draining the swamp
Looking SE toward the east part of Sante Fe (Sections 6-11) already cleared. Note swampy areas at bottom left.

Biden Trying to Restore Clean Water Act Protections

Ironically, all this development comes as the EPA under the Biden administration seeks to put teeth back into the Clean Water Act. The administration is trying to restore the definition of “Waters of the United States” that Trump restricted. Yesterday, the Justice Department submitted a legal filing that begins that process.

The EPA and Department of the Army have formally requested repeal of the Trump-era rule. That rule exempted many developments near upstream tributaries such as Luce and Tarkington Bayous from the need to obtain permits under the Clean Water Act. It basically removed large swaths of land from regulation by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

According to this Associated Press article by Matthew Daly on 6/9/2021, environmental groups and public health advocates said Trump’s interpretation of Waters of the US “allowed businesses to dump pollutants into unprotected waterways and fill in some wetlands, threatening public water supplies downstream and harming wildlife and habitat.”

Daly quotes Jaime Pinkham, acting assistant Army secretary for civil works as saying, “The Trump-era rule resulted in a 25% reduction in the number of streams and wetlands that are afforded federal protection.”

It’s unclear at this time whether rollback of Trump regulations will affect Colony Ridge. Even if the changes survive legal and legislative challenges, it could be years before they take affect.

By then, the world’s largest trailer park will have doubled again in size.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/10/2021

1381 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.

Clean Water Act, R.I.P.

Confluence of Spring Creek (left) and San Jacinto West Fork (top) on March 6, 2020. The Montgomery County line cuts left to right through the center of this picture at the tip of that white sand bar.

If the Clean Water Act were still being enforced, we might see scenes like this less often. You’re looking at the confluence of Spring Creek and the San Jacinto West Fork. It has looked like this during random flyovers in four out of the last six months.

Clean Water Act Abuses

Only after the infamous and extreme white-water incident in November last year was West Fork pollution reduced briefly. The white-water episode was so egregious that it attracted network television attention and prompted a crackdown by the TCEQ. TCEQ cited Liberty Materials in Conroe for allegedly discharging 56 million gallons of white goop into the West Fork. The discharge had 25 times the normal level of suspended solids in it.

Liberty isn’t the only sand mine on the West Fork. You can find approximately 20 square miles of sand mines in the twenty mile stretch between I-69 and I-45. Spring Creek on the other hand has only one mine – almost 30 miles upstream at SH249.

Most West Fork mines have a tendency to leak waste water from time to time. That’s part of what you see in the photo above. Below are seven NEW breaches spotted this month upstream on the West Fork.

Mine water leaks into wetlands and out past perimeter road at LMI E. River Road mine in Conroe.
Pumping water over dike at same Liberty Materials Mine on River Road.
At same mine, a pipe through the dike discharges water at a fixed height into an adjoining ditch that leads to the West Fork.
Liberty Materials leaks water into backyard of home in Bennett Estates. From here it goes into a storm drain on Calhoun and into the river.
Difficult to see at this resolution, there’s a pump in front of the trees on the left. It’s sending waste water into the wetlands below the mine.
Hallett sprouts another leak into the West Fork (lower right).
Most of these breaches happen out of sight and never get reported.

MoCo Tax Breaks for Polluters

Why such a high concentration of mines on the West Fork? It might have something to do with tax breaks by the Montgomery County Appraiser’s Office which passes out ag and timber exemptions for industrial cesspools. That’s contrary to how the State Controller says MoCo should appraise the mines. But nobody at the state level seems to put much pressure on MoCo.

Construction Practices Muddy Clean Water Act, Too

Another part of the West Fork turbidity problem is upstream construction in Montgomery County. Believe it or not, Montgomery County starts at the tip of that white sand bar at the confluence of Spring Creek and the West Fork.

Sediment control is not a high priority for MoCo developers. Nor is enforcement a high priority for MoCo. In fact, the East Montgomery County Improvement District actively advertises its LACK of rules as a way to lure developers.

That’s how you get construction practices like those in the new 2200 acre Artavia complex going in next to the West Fork sand mines, just south of SH242 by FM1314. Brand new culverts are already clogging. See below.

Artavia drainage ditch and culverts. A river of mud.

More on Artavia in a future post.

The erosion is so bad, even the erosion is eroding in many places.

Decline of Clean Water Act

Then, of course, another part of the problem is the gutting of the Federal Clean Water Act. States, counties and municipalities used to have someone setting standards and looking over their shoulders. The rollback of key provisions, such as the redefinition of “waters of the U.S.”, has been heralded as a boon to developers and the death knell of wetlands.

Just last week, we saw the Army Corps rule that the wetlands on Perry Homes Woodridge Village property did NOT fall under their jurisdiction, so there was no violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Of course, you don’t have to change regulations to kill them. You can just not enforce them. By turning a blind eye. Gutting enforcement staff. Overruling staff. Reinterpreting policy. Ignoring evidence. Or resetting priorities. To name just a few.

Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone

Many of us who grew up before the Clean Water Act (formerly known as Federal Water Pollution Control Act, passed in 1972) remember how bad things were. Like the Cuyahoga River fire in 1969.

The San Jacinto West Fork has already been named one of the most endangered rivers in America. But my biggest fears are not for the river. They’re for the health of the millions of people who depend on water from the river. For the people who will flood when the river becomes clogged with sediment. For the poor and elderly who can’t afford sky high bills to cover the cost of water treatment. And for the long-term health of the economic hub of the region, Houston.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/14/2020

928 Days after 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.

Guide to Lake Houston Area Floodplain Regulations

Guidelines for floodplain development can bewilder even professionals. Overlapping jurisdictions often have different guidelines.  And guidelines often change, as Houston’s just did. Houston now manages the 100-year and 500-year floodplains differently. Cities also have building codes that include more requirements.

Site of the proposed new marina and high rise development. Shot from over the West Fork shortly after Harvey. Note sand deposited by Harvey. 25 and 50-story high-rises would be built on the narrow strip between the lake and the Barrington at the top of frame.


People ARE generally allowed to build and place fill in floodplains. However, they must follow local floodplain guidelines and obtain permits that restrict what they can do. They must also submit environmental surveys, mitigate wetlands, and provide hydrologic and hydraulic studies. In Houston, they may move earth from one location to another within a floodplain, but not add to the total volume. The general rule of thumb: zero negative impact on the conveyance of the river.

If a development destroys wetlands, wetland credits must be purchased from a mitigation bank. Mitigation banks place conservation easements on some of our most valuable wetlands. By helping to finance conservation of those areas, destruction of less valuable wetlands elsewhere may be permitted. Generally but not always, the mitigation credits must be within the same watershed. However, this is not always the case. Extenuating circumstances may exist.

KSA once considered placing East End Park in a mitigation bank as a way to help finance its long range parks plan. The conservation easement would ensure that the character of the park never changed. And the money raised would have provided needed improvements to other parks at no cost to residents.

Federal Guidelines and How They Relate to Local

FEMA establishes minimum standards for a community to enroll in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). By enrolling and administering floodplain regulations, it allows their residents the opportunity to purchase Flood Insurance through the NFIP. You must at least build at FEMA’s base flood elevation (BFE). But communities can and do set higher standards. And each may have different guidelines.

Engineers and regulators often talk about “freeboard factors.” Freeboard, a nautical term, means “the height of a ships side between the waterline and the deck.” In a flooding context, freeboard means minimum elevation above the BFE. You often see it described as “BFE + 1 ft.” Or 2 feet. Or X feet. Think of it as a safety margin. Any freeboard above the BFE is considered a local community’s higher standard.

To provide a context, below are links to some of the floodplain management orders/ordinances.

Houston Guidelines

HOW Ordinance is Executed

Note Chapters 9 and 13. They changed on September 1, 2018. Changes address building code issues for FEMA X zones. Zone X includes the 500 year flood plain. Many such areas flooded during Harvey.

Humble Guidelines

Flood Damage Protection Ordinance

Harris County Guidelines for Unincorporated Areas

Main Website


Cheat Sheet: Quick View of Changes Implemented in January

Montgomery County For Unincorporated Areas


Drainage Manual For Commercial Developments Greater than 15,000 SF 

Army Corps

If a development affects a major waterway like the San Jacinto River, its wetlands, its flow, or endangered wildlife, the Army Corps will also review studies submitted as part of the permitting process. They would look at applications from the point of view of the EPA and Clean Water Act, especially Section 404.  Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands. … For most discharges that will have only minimal adverse effects, a general permit may be suitable. This is the major focus of the permitting process now underway for the high-rise development in Kingwood.


The Clean Water Act also contains a section 401.  It specifically focuses on how States and Tribes can use their water quality standards in Section 401 certifications to protect wetlands. States and Tribes can review and approve, condition, or deny any Federal permits or licenses that may result in a discharge to waters of United States within their borders, including wetlands. States and Tribes make their decisions to deny, certify, or condition permits or licenses primarily by ensuring the activity will comply with applicable water quality standards. In addition, States and Tribes look at whether the activity will violate effluent limitations, new source performance standards, toxic pollutants restrictions and other water resource requirements of State or Tribal law.

Jurisdictional Divides

The Houston ordinance only applies to Houston’s jurisdiction. Houston does not influence neighbors and cannot control or force their policies on other jurisdictions. That is important since Kingwood is surrounded by Humble, unincorporated Harris County (Atascocita and Huffman), and unincorporated Montgomery County.

The Key

Understand that if a developer/individual meets the requirements identified in the floodplain ordinance(s), they can develop in the floodplain (including the floodway). Floodplain administrators must follow the law. However, they try to discourage dangerous floodplain development by “working to rule.” By strictly following all rules with no wiggle room, floodplain administrators can drag permitting processes out. A knowledgeable floodplain administrator can find problems with plans, surveys, and engineering reports for years. By requesting revisions, they can make life so difficult for applicants that it affects the economics of their developments. Eventually they may decide that a project falls into that great black box called “too hard to do,” and walk away.

Words of Wisdom

A regulator told me today that the more people who protest a permit, the harder they are to ignore.

If you have concerns about the high rise development in Kingwood, make sure you register them with the Army Corps (which is currently reviewing the permitting from a CWA 404 perspective). The deadline: January 29.

Comments and requests for additional information should reference USACE file number, SWG-2016-00384, and should be submitted to:

  • Evaluation Branch, North Unit
  • Regulatory Division, CESWG-RD-E
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • P.O. Box 1229
  • Galveston, Texas 77553-1229
  • 409-766-3869 Phone
  • 409-766-6301 Fax
  • swg_public_notice@usace.army.mil
Posted By Bob Rehak on January 9, 2019
498 Days Since Hurricane Harvey

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Sand Mines

Section 404 of the U.S. Clean Water Act states that, “Any discharge of dredged or fill material … where the flow or circulation of navigable waters may be impaired or the reach of such waters be reduced, shall be required to have a permit under this section.”

Hmmmm. Impaired flow? Does that sound like what happened to the San Jacinto as a result of sand deposited downstream of mines during Harvey?

Penalties for Violation Under 404

The law also states that, “Any person who violates any condition or limitation in a permit … shall he subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $10,000 per day of such violation.”

Findings of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The executive summary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Value Engineering Study for its West Fork San Jacinto River Emergency Dredging Project states that, “On 25 August 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the Texas Coast as a Category 4 storm. Hurricane Harvey created extensive flooding along the West Fork of the San Jacinto River creating a record high flood of 69.22 feet as recorded by the West Fork San Jacinto River gauge on August 29, 2017. This record flooding increased the amount of deposition of sand and silt within the West Fork of the San Jacinto River from areas further upstream.” Below are two examples.

A giant sandbar almost completely blocks the west fork of the San Jacinto River just downstream from River Grove Park.

Yet another giant sand dune has formed at the mouth of the west fork of the San Jacinto. It is not being addressed by the Army Corps dredging project but should be. Thousands of homes upstream from the blockage flooded during Harvey.

Decreasing Amount of Water that Can Pass Through to Lake Houston

The executive summary continues, “This has now reduced the overall depth of the West Fork waterway and decreased the amount of water that can pass through and into Lake Houston. The epic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey caused 4,139 structures along the West Fork to flood, including 1,621 homes with National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) claims totaling over $407 million. In addition, during Hurricane Harvey a number of hospitals along the West Fork (e.g. Kingwood Medical Center, Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital) were cut-off due to the West Fork flooding which prevented residents from obtaining emergency aid.”

The summary concludes, “Recent heavy rainfall along the West Fork has caused, and may again result in, downstream water levels that present a threat to persons and properties in the Kingwood-Humble-Lake Houston areas due to the inability of the West Fork to carry sufficient water volume. … In the event of another heavy rainfall event there is a near certain likelihood that wide-spread flooding will occur impacting even more homes than before due to the river’s inability to pass heavy volumes of water.”

Cost of Cleanup to Taxpayers

The Corps is currently spending almost $70 million on dredging to restore the carrying capacity of the river in a 2.1 mile section of the West Fork (out of an 8 mile stretch between U.S. Highway 59 and Lake Houston). The cost for cleaning up the rest of the river has yet to be determined. The initial project will not even address the biggest blockage on the river – a sand bar at the mouth of the West Fork that forces water to flow approximately 40 feet uphill before it reaches the main body of the lake.

 Need for Stricter Regulations on Sand Mining

One of the possibilities that the Corps examined to reduce such costs to taxpayers in the future was imposing stricter regulations on sand mining operations using 404 permitting. Although the Corps found this outside of the scope of their project, they address the possibility in section C-9 of their report on page 31.

The exact text reads:

“This comment refers to sand mining operations upstream of the US 59 highway bridge that are within the floodplain. During flood events where the boundaries of the sand pits are overrun, the river carries sediment from these pits downstream.

This is potentially a 404 issue/violation and it may be possible to get the mine operators to incorporate some abatement features to minimize the amount of sediment from their operations they discharge into the river.” [Emphasis Added]

This comment could apply equally to sand mining operations on the East Fork, but the East Fork was not within the scope of the Corps’ study.

Clearly, not all the sand above came from mines, but satellite imagery shows that much of it did.

It seems to me that sand mining operations located in the floodway which flood repeatedly would be eager to incorporate “abatement features,” such as the best management practices found in other states and countries. This just might show good faith effort to reduce pollution, mitigate liability under the Clean Water Act, and avoid a revocation of operating permits.

As always, these are my opinions on a matter of public policy protected under the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great state of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/16/2018

352 Days since Hurricane Harvey