Tag Archive for: Creighton

Support Creation of Dredging District to Reduce Floods, Improve Lake Capacity

In the 2021 Legislation session, State Rep. Dan Huberty introduced HB2525, a bill to create a Dredging and Maintenance District for Lake Houston. Senator Brandon Creighton introduced an identical companion bill in the senate, SB1892. It deserves the support of everyone in the Houston region who depends on the lake for water as well as those whose homes and businesses flooded during Harvey.

Why We Need Perpetual Maintenance Dredging

For those who may not remember, during Harvey enough sand and silt came down the San Jacinto West Fork to block the river by 90% according to the US Army Corps of Engineers.

South of the Kingwood Country Club’s Island Course, Hurricane Harvey deposited several feet of sand that reduced the carrying capacity of the West Fork by 90%, according to the Army Corps.

Massive sediment and tree deposits dammed the river at the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge, south of the Kingwood County Club, West Lake Houston Parkway and Kings Point. The blockages contributed to the flooding of 16,000 homes and 3,300 businesses.

Union Pacific Railroad Bridge over West Fork after Harvey had turned into a “beaver dam” because of deadfall washed downstream and caught in the supports.
After Harvey, sand deposits at the West Lake Houston Parkway bridge reached the tree tops.
West Fork Mouth Bar immediately after Harvey virtually blocked the river between Kings Point and Atascocita Point (top right).

Two years later, Tropical Storm Imelda made similar deposits on the East Fork where thousands of additional homes flooded.

Wherever moving bodies of water meet standing bodies, the current decelerates and sediment tends to drop out of suspension. You can see the same phenomenon where smaller streams and channels enter the lake.

Brown & Root Report, 2000
Rogers Gully mouth bar in Atascocita

History of Disputes with FEMA, Corps Over Deferred Maintenance

After Harvey, leaders in the Humble/Kingwood Area fought with the Corps to remove the biggest of the blockages – the West Fork Mouth Bar. The Corps fought back.

The Corps and FEMA believed the massive mouth bar had been growing for years and that it resulted from deferred maintenance.

There was some truth to that. That reach of the West Fork had never been dredged at least in the previous 40 years. The ensuing debate lasted more than a year.

That’s why, shortly after the Corps started its Emergency Dredging program in 2018, it emphasized the need for maintenance dredging to a) avoid such disputes and b) keep problems at a subacute level.

Two Years Later, FEMA/Corps Agreed to Partial Mouth Bar Dredging

Then, in 2019, the City of Houston commissioned Tetra Tech to harvest core samples from the bar. The samples showed that most sand and silt was recently deposited. FEMA later relented and agreed to have the Corps dredge 500,000 cubic yards from a six hundred acre area south of the mouth bar. The Corps finished that dredging in late 2019. The City continued the program with mechanical dredges in January of 2020. They’re still at it. And people are still at risk from the next big flood.

Lake Houston Has Lost 22,000 Acre Feet of Capacity

Meanwhile, Lake Houston, which supplies water to millions of people has been steadily losing capacity. In 2018, the Texas Water Development Board found the lake had lost more than 22,000 acre feet of capacity. The problems are most apparent around the edges of the lake and in its upstream reaches. Both natural streams and man-made channels have become silted in. Mouth bars on both the East and West Forks have reduced the depth of the San Jacinto to approximately 3 feet (from 25 to 30 feet), except where it has already been dredged.

Atascocita resident walking across the river in 2019 without getting his shirt wet.

This cannot continue indefinitely. Nor can we expect the federal government to pay for deferred maintenance in the future; we have been warned. If we expect help again in the future after disasters, we must be able to show what bottom depths were before the storms. And those kinds of surveys are regular parts of maintenance dredging programs.

Safety and Future at Stake

In the three and a half years since Harvey, according to boaters and residents, we have not yet been able to restore the area between Kings Point and Atascocita Point to its pre-storm depth. We haven’t even removed all of the mouth bar.

Three mechanical dredges are still trying to reduce the West Fork Mouth bar more than 15 months after they started. Photo taken 3/19/21.

We need to figure how much sediment comes downriver every year and remove at least that much with a maintenance dredging program to:

  • Stop or reduce the loss of reservoir capacity
  • Reduce the risk of flooding
  • Show good faith to FEMA, eliminate contentious arguments with regular river bottom surveys, and demonstrate how much build-up resulted from a particular disaster.

We also need to be able to quickly accelerate the program after major storms such as Harvey and Imelda.

Dredging needs to be a continuous activity because one major flood can deposit more sediment than humans can remove in years.

How You Can Help

I urge you to support HB2525. Write as many local leaders on the City, County and State levels as possible. Pay particular attention to the House Natural Resources Committee where the bill is pending hearings right now. State Senator Brandon Creighton has filed an identical companion bill, SB1892, which has been referred to the Local Government Committee.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/28/2021

1307 Days after Hurricane Harvey

City Applies for TWDB Grants to Turn Woodridge Village Into Detention Basin and More

Correction on 7/4/2020: The article below was based on a City of Houston District E newsletter. It inferred that the City “applied for” five grants (in bullet points below). Other entities, such as the SJRA, applied for those. Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin personally supports them.

The City of Houston has submitted several applications to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for Flood Infrastructure Fund dollars. Among the projects was one for Taylor Gully Flood Damage Reduction. It consists of evaluating flood reduction alternatives plus design, permitting, and construction of a detention basin located on a 278 acre site to the north of the Elm Grove subdivision.

Looking SW at Woodridge Village as of 6/16/2020

Woodridge Project One of Six Apps

Other applications include:

  • San Jacinto River Sand Trap Development
  • Spring Creek Watershed Flood Control Dams Conceptual Engineering
  • Upper San Jacinto River Basin Regional Sedimentation Study
  • Lake Conroe-Lake Houston Joint Reservoir Operations Study
  • Harris County MUD #153 Siltation Reduction

“All of these projects submitted for funding promote regional resiliency and future sustainability in an effort to protect life and property from future flooding,” said Mayor Pro Tem and District E City Council Member Dave Martin. “The ability to submit these projects to the TWDB for funding would not be possible without State Senator Brandon Creighton’s writing of Senate Bill 7. We continue to applaud the Senator for his forward thinking and hope to receive funding for these projects. State Representative Dan Huberty has also been a vocal proponent for resiliency within our area and just beyond the City boundary. We are thankful to have him as a local engaged leader.”

Looking NW from US59 (foreground) over San Jacinto West Fork at the confluence of Spring Creek (left) and the West Fork (right). Spring Creek splits off to left. Its watershed contains several natural areas that might make candidates for flood control dams.

Neither Martin, nor his office, provided additional details on any of the grant applications.

However, from the wording of the release, it sounds as though state leaders are fully aligned and engaged to support the projects.

Woodridge Village Project Has Long History

The grants, if approved, could help reduce flooding throughout the Lake Houston Area.

The Taylor Gully/Woodridge Village project is the most urgent. Homes around the troubled development flooded twice last year. At a Kingwood Townhall meeting in February, Martin said the County should pay for 100% of that project. But then the County demanded that the City should pay for half of the purchase price of the land. And at the next Commissioners’ Court meeting, Commissioner Ellis changed the deal again. He demanded that the City pay for half of the construction costs also.

Both the City and County have been silent on any deal since then. The County refused a Freedom of Information Act request to release the text of the motion, which was approved in a public meeting. They even protested release of the information to the State Attorney General.

Putting Application in Historical Context

The following is speculation, but speculation based on the historical context. It appears that when County Commissioners voted to demand that the City come up with half the the purchase AND construction costs, the City found it hard. The grant application, if successful, is a way for the City to help the people of Elm Grove, who flooded twice last year after Perry Homes cleared 268 acres of adjacent land.

At the time of the floods, less than 25% of the planned detention pond capacity was in place. Perry has since developed additional detention ponds that provide the other 75%.

However, even that probably won’t be enough to absorb a 100-year rain. That’s because Perry Homes rushed to have the project approved before NOAA’s new Atlas-14 precipitation frequency tables went into effect. The new Atlas-14 standard would require about 40% more detention capacity. And that’s what the purchase is all about.

Rumor has it that political forces are aligned to accelerate this particular request.

Observations on Other Grant Applications

Of the other applications, two surprise me.

A joint reservoir operations study seems necessary. Currently, FEMA is funding a preliminary engineering study to add additional gates to the Lake Houston Spillway. If FEMA also approved the money for construction of the gates, they will be a game changer.

The Spring Creek Watershed flood control dams would provide additional upstream detention. Community leaders identified that as a high priority after Harvey. They would reduce the amount of water coming downstream during a flood.

Harris County MUD #153 contains Lake Houston shoreline where silt from Rogers Gully has accumulated. Earlier this year, Harris County Flood Control cleared a large part of the Gully, but the part owned by the City remains clogged with a mouth bar.

Sand bar blocking mouth of Rogers Gully has backed up water and contributed to flooding. Photo taken 6/16/2020.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/3/2020

1039 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Passage of SB 7 and SB 500 Should Speed Up Flood Mitigation Projects

Six hundred and thirty-seven days after Hurricane Harvey, the Texas Legislature finally passed and funded a massive flood-relief bill, Senate Bill #7 (SB 7), sponsored by State Senator Brandon Creighton. The lengthy delay between Harvey and the bill’s passage underscores the need for Creighton’s bill. 

Need for Faster Mitigation

Few government entities, it seems, budget for emergencies. So when a tragedy like Harvey happens, cities and counties scurry around looking for small grants. They use those to hire consultants to apply for other small grants that provide matching funds for even bigger grants from FEMA. 

There’s even a two-step process to get on the list for grant consideration at the Federal level. You don’t just apply to FEMA or HUD. First, you have to file an application with the TDEM (Texas Division of Emergency Management, a part of DPS) before you can file an application with FEMA.

Most of the begging goes on behind the scenes, out of sight to the average citizen. The fact that the City or County has applied for a grant falls below the threshold of newsworthiness in most cases and so remains invisible to all but insiders. Once someone approves the grants, lengthy permitting processes further delay construction. It take years for a mitigation project to get to the construction phase. That’s when a project becomes newsworthy again.

Changing a Frustrating Process

This is why, to the average citizen, the pace of flood mitigation appears maddeningly and frighteningly slow. Important projects, such as additional dredging, gates for Lake Houston, and upstream detention, seem perpetually mired in government red tape.

The passage of Senate Bill (SB) 7 and SB 500 could help change that. The Senate and House have passed both bills, which are on their way to Governor Abbott’s desk. State Representative Dan Huberty says the governor supports both bills and that his signature is certain.

Here’s what they do:

  • SB 7 sets up several different funds that will make it easier to launch flood mitigation projects.
  • SB 500 appropriates the money for the funds in SB 7.

Provisions in SB 7

SB 7 relates to flood planning, mitigation and infrastructure projects.

  • Article 1 in SB 7 provides money for: flood control planning;  preparation of applications for regulatory approvals; and development of engineering plans/specifications for flood mitigation and drainage projects. 
  • Article 2 establishes a special flood infrastructure fund to make loans (at or below market interest rates) for flood projects. It can also provide grants that provide matching funds to poorer political subdivisions that make them eligible to participate in federal programs.
  • Article 3 amends the state Water Code relating to the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund by establishing special accounts for Floodplain Management, Hurricane Harvey, Federal Matching projects, and Flood Plan Implementation.

Provisions in SB 7 encourage cooperative planning and financing of projects across political boundaries. Those provisions support regional flood mitigation projects through the Flood Infrastructure Fund. That should be especially helpful in the Lake Houston area where mitigation projects affect multiple counties and cities.

SB 500 Provides the Funding

SB 500 is an appropriations bill. It provides funding SB 7 and other items. It appropriates out of the state’s economic stabilization (rainy day) fund:

  • $273 million to provide matching funds for Hazard Mitigations Grants administered by FEMA.
  • $365 million to provide matching funds for Public Assistance Grants administered by FEMA.

Out of those two sums, it also appropriates $30 million that may only be used to provide a grant to Harris County to remove accumulated silt and sediment at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston, i.e., The Mouth Bar! That came from an amendment to SB 7 proposed by State Representative Dan Huberty when the House considered the Senate Bill.

It also provides, among many other things:

  • $47 million for community assistance
  • $793 million for flood infrastructure projects (drainage, flood mitigation and flood control projects)
  • $857 million for the Texas infrastructure resiliency fund
  • $13 million to the Lone Star College system for expenses related to Hurricane Harvey.

Rep. Dan Huberty says that since SB 500 is a supplemental appropriations bill, money from it should be available immediately, as soon as the Governor signs it.

A Big Thank You to Creighton and Huberty

The 85th legislature adjourned less than three months before Harvey inundated South Texas. That delayed legislative action two years. As a result, ever since Harvey, local officials have scrambled to organize and fund flood mitigation projects. The passage of these two bills should speed that process up by providing seed money for planning, grant writing, and matching funds. Thanks go to Senator Brandon Creighton and his staff for responding to the need and pushing these bills through the legislature. Thanks also go to Representative Dan Huberty for earmarking money for mouth bar dredging.

SB 500, a supplemental appropriations bill approved last weekend contains $30 million to help dredge the mouth bar on the West Fork of the San Jacinto.

With West Fork Phase One dredging rapidly winding down, hopefully the addition of $30 million to any money contributed by the City and FEMA will enable dredgers to restore conveyance of the West Fork.

Finally, we should give a big thank you to all of you who wrote letters in support of these two important pieces of legislation.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/28/2019

637 days since Hurricane Harvey

Senator Creighton Responds to Concerns About SB 2126

Note: I have created several posts about SB 2126, a bill proposed by Senator Brandon Creighton. While I support the Senator’s efforts and objectives, I feel the bill’s language could open the door to river mining. Senator Creighton disagrees and offers following.

After Harvey, fresh sand deposits several feet thick lined both shores of the west fork of the San Jacinto. The issue: What’s the best way to keep sand from migrating downriver where it can accumulate and contribute to flooding?

To the Editor

First off, I would like to thank Mr. Rehak and ReduceFlooding.com for being a leader in our communities on all aspects of flooding. Your efforts represent the sort of grassroots organizations that impact government and the community.  Reduceflooding.com also serves as a useful resource for residents to educate themselves on flooding, policy initiatives and upcoming events. 


Since Harvey made landfall, we have worked tirelessly with one another to do what is best for the Lake Houston area. We have been on tours together with statewide officials and we have been in dozens of roundtables in Austin and in Kingwood. These meetings included state agencies such as the GLO and TCEQ, local representatives like Council Member Dave Martin, myself and Representative Dan Huberty, Commissioner Cagle, Congressional members such as Ted Poe and Dan Crenshaw, and most importantly, members of the community. Our meetings resulted in helpful policy recommendations on what needed to be done back then, and a vision for the long-term. And now, the long-term is here and we must act this session. 

The Bigger Picture

One of the biggest actions taken thus far was the Senate’s passage of hurricane preparedness and response packages, S.B. 6, S.B. 7, and S.B. 8. My bill, Senate Bill 7, creates the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund, a new fund that will provide unprecedented state funding to cover the nonfederal, local match resulting from Hurricane Harvey as well as provide funding for future mitigation projects that will include upgrading the water gates on the Lake Houston Dam. The state playing the nonfederal role will bring billions of your tax dollars back to Texas from D.C. and will finally result in the feds helping Texas as we have stepped up to assist other states time and again.  

Aggregate Related Proposals

We also filed bills to increase the enforcement of sand mining along the San Jacinto River basin. Senate Bills 2123, 2124, and 2125 were discussed in our roundtable meetings and were generally supported. These bills increase penalties, direct funds to enforce penalties for illegal sand mining, increase the frequency of mandatory sand inspections from every three years to every two, and creates a best practices guide for aggregate producers to follow. 

Where SB 2126 Fits In

Senate Bill 2126 was the next step. This bill passed the entire Senate this week and heads to the House of Representatives. This approach was one of the many discussed at these roundtables and I appreciate you acknowledging the good intentions of this bill. I hear your concerns, and I respect your point of view, however I believe this program will yield many benefits for the community.   

How Safeguards Would Be Implemented

I want it to be clear, this bill will not open up unbridled sand mining in the San Jacinto River basin, and there are many precautions in place to ensure the river basin is protected.   Rather than prescribing arbitrary guidelines in the bill, we will depend on the San Jacinto River Authority and Harris County flood control district expertise to formally and publicly adopt rules, controls, best practices and other safeguards. 

Alternative to Repetitive Dredging

This solution is an outside-the-box approach to a problem identified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While we have worked hard to expedite and fund the current dredging project underway in the River, it is inefficient and impractical to come back every 10 years to dredge in the River. There must be a long-term solution, and I think this legislation can play a role.

Oversight Authority

SB 2126 will allow the San Jacinto River Authority and the Harris County Flood Control District to place traps in the River. These are stationary traps that will capture sand that naturally deposits in undesirable locations. This does not allow for sand mining to continuously occur in the River or on the banks. We are delegating this authority to these public entities because they are accountable to you. They are entrusted with carrying out many other important duties to protect the resources of all Texans and this is one more way for them to play that role. 

Offsetting Costs Through Sale of Sand

Kaaren Cambio, a newly appointed SJRA board member from Kingwood recently said, “A long term maintenance plan for the San Jacinto River is key to protecting the adjacent communities. We must have many options available to make this plan effective and financially feasible. Public-private partnerships are critical to achieving this goal. SB 2126 gives the SJRA the opportunity to have specific areas dredged and the cost of the dredging is offset by the sale of the sand.”

Council Member Martin’s Endorsement 

Houston City Council Member Dave Martin, who has been an invaluable voice as we address flood mitigation expressed the following sentiment, “Senate Bill 2126 is a key legislation item that will allow aggregate production operators to be part of the sand remediation solution by giving them the ability to introduce sand traps into the West Fork of San Jacinto River. The ability to use sand traps on the West Fork will allow for sediment to fall out of an otherwise sediment rich body of water, thus reducing sediment deposits downstream which can clog up the river and lake. As the Houston Council Member who represents Lake Houston, this bill will help our area avoid additional mouth/sand bars and sediment buildup. I hope this piece of legislation serves as a pilot study the rest of the State can learn from.”

Support of Game Wardens

You noted that Texas Parks and Wildlife testified as a resource for the bill. State agencies remain neutral on legislation because they are agents of the State, but the Texas Game Wardens Peace Officers Association did support the bill at the hearing. They recognize the problem we have and how SB 2126 can be a practical solution. 

Plea to Continue Working Together

Recent floods, and especially Hurricane Harvey exposed serious weaknesses, and I hope that this bill and other components of our legislative flood solution package will serve as effective solutions for Kingwood, Lake Houston and surrounding areas.  If we identify any problems down the road, I hope that you will be a partner and advocate for getting projects back on track.  I know we will continue to work together to ensure the best mitigation efforts are followed.  

Again, I am so appreciative of the work you and all the community leaders have done to make the Lake Houston area a better place to work, live, and raise a family. I look forward to our continued collaboration to achieve that goal. Please feel free to reach out to me and my staff if we can ever be of assistance. We have made some incredible progress – see my newsletter here – and hopefully these policy initiatives will pass during the legislative session and improve our readiness for future storms ahead.  

Senator Brandon Creighton 
State Senator
District 4 

Senator Creighton’s letter posted by Bob Rehak on 5/6/19

616 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Outlook Good for Bill That Would Double Fines for Illegal Sand Mining

On April 17th, the Texas House of Representatives Environmental Regulations committee heard testimony on a bill that would double fines for illegal sand mining, HB907. No illegal sand miners spoke against the bill, so this one has a pretty good chance of passing.

Click here to view testimony.

Key Points in Huberty’s Testimony

The bill’s author, State Representative Dan Huberty laid out the case for the bill starting at 9:29 into this recording. His main points: this bill does not penalize miners who have registered with the TCEQ, only those who have not. He reminded committee members how bad the problem of illegal sand mining was when his first sand mining bill was passed in 2011. Huberty said that he believes the problem of unregistered sand mining continues to this day. However, he said, the fines set in 2011, no longer make the same deterrent they did then. He said the increased fines would enable the TCEQ to increase oversight efforts.

Why This is Important

Illegal sand mining contributes disproportionately to the problem of sedimentation in the river. That’s because it often takes place in or on the banks of the river. The illegal miners make no attempt to control erosion or sediment. And the scars can last for decades.

Here is a satellite image from 1989 on the West Fork of a mining operation near a point bar. At this point in time, sand miners were not forced to register with the TCEQ.
The same area almost 30 years later still bears the scars. Both photos courtesy of Google Earth.

Supported by Both TACA and Environmental Groups

At about 18 minutes into the recording, Rob Van Til, owner of River Aggregates, a registered sand mining company, spoke in favor of the bill. Speaking for himself as well as TACA, he said it would help deter “bad actors.”

Grant Dean, representing the Texas Environmental Coalition, from Marble Falls, also rose to speak in favor of the bill.

Not a “Christmas Tree”

Given the lack of opposition, Huberty then wrapped up testimony by moving for passage of he bill. He said that he would not allow the bill to become a “Christmas Tree” when it went to the House floor. A Christmas tree bill is a political term referring to a bill that attracts many, often unrelated, floor amendments that provide special benefits to various groups or interests.

The testimony with questions from the committee members took about 15 minutes. In response to one of the questions, Huberty details all of the other flood mitigation legislation moving through the Legislature at this time. It’s definitely worth watching if you want a preview of how the political landscape could change for sand mining in coming years.

Revenue Neutral

While this is certainly not the most important piece of sand mining legislation, it will help in a limited way by plugging a legislative and enforcement gap. And because the extra revenue generated will pay for the enforcement, it is revenue neutral.

Status: Pending in Committee

To read the text of HB907, click here. Senator Brandon Creighton has introduced a companion bill in the Senate, SB2123. Both are still pending in committee.

Creighton’s SB2123 was referred to the Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee on March 21. The committee has not yet held hearings on it.

Reasoning Behind Companion Bills

A companion bill is a bill filed in one chamber that is identical or very similar to a bill filed in the opposite chamber. Companion bills are used to expedite passage as they provide a means for committee consideration of a measure to occur in both houses simultaneously. A companion bill that has passed one house can then be substituted for the companion bill in the second house.

How You Can Help

Both of these bills deserve the support of Lake Houston Area residents. To urge action, call or email the committee members. Here is contact info for:

Said Huberty at the end of the day, “It was quick, but we feel good about this!”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/20/2019

599 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Bill that Could Open Door to River Mining Modified and Heading to Full Senate

Senate Bill 2126, which allows sand mining in rivers – without permits or royalties – was voted out of the Senate Water and Rural Affairs committee last night. The committee left the bill pending during the previous day’s testimony after four of the seven members expressed concerns about it.

Changes in Committee Substitute SB 2126

However, when the bill’s author, Senator Brandon Creighton, created a “committee substitute” bill, four senators voted FOR it.

The substitute bill contains two major changes:

  • It limits the bill’s geographic scope to the San Jacinto River and its tributaries.
  • It gives the Harris County Flood Control District the same powers that it gives the San Jacinto River Authority.

Local bills rarely encounter serious opposition. So this may guarantee the bill’s passage.

Issues with Revisions

Unfortunately, the language is still so sweeping, that I fear it could open the door to abuses.

Someone reading this for the first time, without the benefit of all the senate testimony, could draw the conclusion that the San Jacinto and its tributaries are wide open to sand mining – 24/7/365 – as long you justify it by saying you will improve the river’s conveyance.

Vague Language Opens Door to Abuses

For instance, after reading this bill, unless you watched the testimony, how would you know that it’s supposedly:

  • For the purpose of building sand traps that are maintained once or twice a year?
  • Limited to “strategic locations”?
  • Based on scientific studies?

Several years down the road, when the players change, all the verbal promises made during testimony will be long forgotten. It’s easy to see how people could get the wrong impression of the bill’s original intent.

Nightmare Scenario

At that time, I can see developer’s coming to sand miners and the SJRA (or Harris County Flood Control) saying, “I need more fill to elevate my property. Can you take it out of the river for me?”

The only problem is this. While it may reduce the risk of flooding on the developers’ property, without proper safeguards, it will likely increase flooding for surrounding and downstream properties.

It could even increase sedimentation downstream as many academic studies have shown.

Example 1: Loss of riparian vegetation along the banks increases erosion. So even though you take sand out of the river, you put more back in.

Example 2: Imagine a flood moving slowly through a widened area. Now imagine those same floodwaters moving downstream through a narrower area. As the water hits the constriction, it starts churning at and eroding the river banks.

Example 3: Lack of permitting or engineering studies means that developers could put fill anywhere. Even in streams. They could divert flows onto neighboring properties. They could put fill in wetlands and pave it over. This would accelerate flooding downstream.

Proponents of the bill argue that removing deposits like this one near a mine could keep the sand from migrating downriver. Opponents argue that it could destabilize river banks and worsen sedimentation. The vagueness of the language in the bill would also make it easy to widen the river anywhere developers wanted to build in floodplains.

Better Ways to Reduce Sedimentation

Creighton’s original stated intent was to eliminate disincentives for public/private partnerships that could help address excess sedimentation. A noble intention.

But if he really wants to stop sediment from coming downstream, he might be better off partnering with groups like the Bayou Land Conservancy that protect and restore floodplains. Or accelerating bills like his own SB2124, which creates best management practices for sand mining. Texas is the only state that I could find that doesn’t require minimum setbacks from rivers for sand mines. That contributes to repeated flooding of mines. We sure could use some help in that department. Frankly, so could the miners.

This session ends on May 27th. Tick Tock.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/18/2019

597 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 39 days until the end of this legislative session

SB 2126 Stalls in Committee

Senate Bill 2126 could open the door to in-river sand mining, but was left pending in the Water & Rural Affairs Committee late last night.

Senator Brandon Creighton, author of SB 2126 and Senator Charles Perry, Vice Chair and Chair respectively of the Senate Water and Rural Affairs Committee.

Uncontested but Not Unquestioned Testimony

Testimony started at about 8 pm. Chuck Gilman from the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) and David Perkins from Texas Aggregate & Concrete Association (TACA) spoke FOR the bill. Craig Bonds from Texas Parks and Wildlife Division acted as a “resource” for the committee.

Senator Brandon Creighton, the bill’s author is vice chairman of the committee. Senator Charles Perry is chairman. Only Perry and Senators Lois Kolkhorst, Jose Rodriguez, and Carol Alvarado offered questions or comments. Creighton defended the bill vigorously at every turn.

  • Senator Perry questioned whether the SJRA was the appropriate entity, given its history, to tackle a project like this.
  • Senator Kohlkorst raised questions about how this would impact the Lower Colorado River Authority. She also raised concerns brought to her by the Katy Prairie Conservancy about the lack of permitting and possible erosion issues.
  • Senator Alvarado questioned the impact on water quality and increased treatment costs.
  • Senator Rodriquez questioned why the State was giving away a profitable, salable resource.

Bill Left Pending in Committee

After almost half an hour of testimony and discussion, Chairman Perry left the bill pending in committee. No action was taken on it. At several points during the discussion, members talked about amending the language. Unless it changes substantially, Senator Creighton may not have the votes to get it out of the seven-person committee.

I will continue to monitor this bill as will most citizen groups in Texas. It’s not dead until the session is over.

Watch Testimony

You can watch testimony and committee discussion for yourself at this link. Discussion of SB 2126 begins at 49:50 into the meeting and runs 27 minutes. Here are highlights and time codes for people who want to fast forward to certain parts.

49:50 to 53:00 Senator Brandon Creighton lays out the case for the bill.

53:30 to 54:30 Chuck Gilman, Director of Water Resources and Flood Management with the SJRA emphasizes that the bill will use private contractors to remove the sediment rather than paying a public entity like the Army Corps to do it.

55:00 – 55:30 Senator Perry asks whether the SJRA is the appropriate entity to tackle a project like this.

55:30 – 56:00 Gilman responds by talking about “Building places along the lake” (sand traps) where they could capture materials with beneficial market value.

56:00 – 56:35 Perry asks why the bill, which was once limited to the SJRA, now applies to every river authority in the state. “What’s changed?”

56:35 – 57:20. Senator Creighton interjects and asks Gilman to explain his role in flood mitigation.

57:20 – 58:10. Gilman gives his history. Perry’s question about change is never answered.

58:10 – 59:00 David Perkins speaks for the bill. He claims it would improve water quality without creating excessive cost. And says TACA wants to “Participate where we can.”

59:00 – 1:00:00 Senator Creighton asks Perkins to explain how sand miners wanted to be part of the current dredging effort, but were discouraged and why that policy needs to change.

1:00:00 – 1:02:30 Perkins implies that TACA volunteered to help the Army Corps dispose of material, but was rebuffed. Blames Corps for inertia. Implies storage was a major part of the $70 million project cost. Talks about TPWD’s 8% royalty fee for removing sand from river as a disincentive for private companies to take sand out of the river.

1:02:30 – 1:03:00. Senator Kolkhorst expresses concerns about lack of permitting in the bill’s language.

1:03:00- 1:04:34. Senator Creighton volunteers to work with her on wording and exclude other river authorities like the Lower Colorado River Authority, if that makes it more palatable.

1:04:35 – 1:05:50 Senator Kolkhorst says she will work with Creighton.

1:06:00 – 1:06:45 Senator Carol Avarado worries about decrease in water quality and an increase in treatment costs. Her concerns are never really addressed.

1:06:45 – 1:07:00 Craig Bonds introduces himself as a resource witness from TPWD.

1:07:00 – 1:07:30 Senator Perry asks what should be put in the bill to protect the environment.

1:07:30 – 1:09:00 Bonds replied that he would bypass permitting where dredging was needed but not bypass permitting statewide. He said he wanted to require permitting for the Hill Country but was OK to bypass permitting on the San Jacinto. Said other areas of the state were “highly sensitive.” He also stated that he saw impacts from both regulated and illicit sand mining in the Hill Country. However, he claimed “sideboards” could be put on activities to protect the San Jacinto. He never explains what those are.

1:09:00-1:09:30 Senator Creighton asks Perkins to describe what a sand trap is and where it would be located.

1:09:30 – 1:10:30 Perkins talked about the need to assess the river first. He said sand needs to be removed on a regular basis and that it could be used for construction. He never did explain what “sand traps” were. Instead he suggested they would undertake “Excavation activities once a year or once every six months” depending on the rate of sedimentation.

1:10:30 – 1:11:25. Creighton emphasized “no free reign.” Said all stakeholders would have to agree where problems exist and that removal would be science-based.

1:11:30 – 1:14:12. Senator Rodriguez expresses concern about the fiscal impact of giving away sand which would otherwise be sold. Craig Bonds explains that TPWD charges an 8% royalty for sand taken out of a river. But he also admits that this bill would do away with that royalty, resulting in a fiscal impact on the state.

1:14:12 Creighton explains that 8% is such a disincentive that practically no river mining exists and the state is not receiving much in royalties.

1:17:00. Testimony ends. No one spoke against the bill. Chairman Perry closed testimony and announced that the bill would be left pending.

Questions Still Remain

  1. Why do Hill Country rivers deserve protection but not the San Jacinto?
  2. Who will conduct the scientific studies? An independent entity? If so, how would that affect cost?
  3. Senator Creighton keeps emphasizing that the LAKE needs to be dredged to improve conveyance and capacity. But TACA talks about doing it “where it makes sense.” From separate discussions, I’ve concluded that TACA means “next to their mines, on the RIVER.” Those are FAR upriver. Does this seem like a disconnect?
  4. Creighton and Gilman talk repeatedly about “sand traps”, but when Perkins is probed on that issue, he talks about excavating the river. Is that another disconnect? What do they really have in mind?
  5. They never acknowledge that these activities could increase sedimentation. Why?
  6. What is the basis for Perkin’s claim that this program will “improve water quality and reduce costs”?

So many questions. So little time. In exactly three weeks, final deadlines start kicking in for this legislative session.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/16/2019

595 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Statewide Flood Plan: Another Reason to Support Creighton’s SB7

For several weeks, I have been posting about why Senate Bill 7 (SB7) deserves our support. I focused mainly on the flood mitigation dollars it would provide and how it could accelerate projects that actually reduce flood risk.

Senator Creighton’s office provided this link to an interview that Austin television station KXAN did with him. It focuses heavily on another aspect of the bill: the development of a statewide flood plan.

Follow this link to see the three-minute segment.

SB7 passed the Senate unanimously and was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee on March 28.

The House is currently considering a bill that would do some of the same things: HB13. The Natural Resources Committee reported favorably on it, but the Calendars Committee has not yet scheduled it for debate in the House.

The low numbers on both of these bills indicate that they are high priorities within their respective chambers. I suspect at some point in the near future a conference committee will try to reconcile the best aspects of both bills.

In the meantime, Senator Creighton’s bill is out of the gate faster and farther down the road. It deserves all the support we can give it.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/4/2019

583 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Creighton’s SB7 Passed Unanimously by Senate, Bill Goes to House Today

NOTE: This article has been updated to include the paragraph below entitled Floodplain Implementation Account. I also added a mention of a separate appropriations bill, SB500.

One of the most important pieces of legislation in Austin this session is SB7, sponsored by Senator Brandon Creighton. It relates to flood control planning and the funding of flood planning, mitigation, and infrastructure projects.

Light pole near River Bend in North Shore as Harvey receded. Note the “wet marks” several feet up on pole. Photo by Jim Balcom.

Status of SB7

The Texas Senate passed the bill unanimously yesterday. It is now engrossed and in the House. Engrossed means it has been recorded in its final legal form by the chamber in which it was introduced and passed to the opposite chamber.

SB 7 started life as SB 695, but was renumbered when it became one of the Lieutenant Governor’s top picks for the session. The lower number makes it one of the first bills to be considered, thus increasing its chances of passage during this session.

Last week, the Senate heard testimony on the bill. Yesterday, 31 senators voted by voice FOR the bill. None opposed it.

What SB7 Includes

Key provisions of the final version of SB7 include:

  • Creation of a Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund outside of the General Revenue Fund. Within the Resiliency Fund, it also creates:
  • A Floodplain Management Account to provide financing for: (A) the collection and analysis of flood-related information; (B) flood planning, protection, mitigation, or adaptation; (C) the provision of flood-related information to the public through educational or outreach programs; or (D) evaluating the response to and mitigation of flood incidents affecting residential property, including multifamily units, located in floodplains.
  • A Floodplain Implementation Account to grant, low-interest, or zero-interest loans. Purposes: (A) to provide matching funds that enable local governments to participate in a federal program for a flood project; (B) to provide loans at or below market interest rates for planning or design costs, permitting costs, or other costs associated with state or federal regulatory activities for flooding; or (C) to provide grants that enable local governments to participate in a federal program for the development of a hazard mitigation plan.
  • A Hurricane Harvey account, also within the resiliency fund to grant low-interest or zero-interest loans to eligible political subdivisions. The loans can be used as a local match to enable political subdivisions to qualify for a federal match. The loans will help local governments seeking federal grants for hazard-mitigation and public-assistance plans or the cost of flood-project planning, design, permitting, etc. associated with state or federal regulatory activities.
  • A Federal Matching Fund Account. The board may use the account only to meet matching requirements for projects funded partially by federal money, including projects funded by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
  • Rules regarding the distribution of funds, administration, transparency, etc.

What SB7 Does NOT Include

Not in the engrossed version sent to the House: a specific dollar amount to establish the fund. When introduced, SB 695 called for $3 billion to be transferred from the “rainy day” fund to establish the resiliency fund. That’s no longer in the bill.

In its place, the bill now has some vague language that refers to:

  • Money deposited to the credit of the account under Section 251.004, Insurance Code;
  • Money directly appropriated to the board;
  • Money from gifts or grants from the United States government, local or regional governments, private sources, or other sources.

This bill sets up the accounts. A separate bill, SB500 handles the appropriations for the accounts.

How SB7 Will Help Flood Mitigation

Still, if funded, the Texas Infrastructure Resilience Fund, will provide a wonderful vehicle to help jumpstart critical flood mitigation projects. It provides low- or no-cost LOANS, to help local governments get matching funds to:

  • Study flood problems
  • Design solutions
  • Fund construction.

Why SB7 Is Necessary

These loans can be used to help local governments bypass the begging phase of flood mitigation where they look for grants to fund grant writers or study problems. Example: It took almost 18 months after Harvey for Montgomery County, the City of Houston, Harris County and the SJRA to come up with a local match and get FEMA to cover the rest of a $2 million San Jacinto River Basin Study. That study will that take another 18 months to complete.

SB7 could have saved half that time. SB7 deserves the support of all Texans who would like to see flood mitigation efforts accelerated.

To review the status of other legislation affecting the Lake Houston area, check the Legislation page of this website.

Posted by Bob Rehak on March 21, 2019

569 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Senator Creighton Introduces Bill that Could Speed Up Flood Planning, Mitigation

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, many officials complained bitterly that money from the State’s “rainy day” fund couldn’t be used for flood mitigation projects. Former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett often said, “If Harvey wasn’t a rainy day, I don’t know what is!”

Creighton Introduces Bill That Could Speed Flood Mitigation

Responding to a need that many recognized, in February, Texas State Senator Brandon Creighton introduced SB 695. On March 1, it went to the Senate Water and Rural Affairs Committee. It relates to state policies and programs that affect the funding of flood planning, mitigation, and infrastructure projects.

SB 695 went to the Senate Water and Rural Affairs Committee last Friday.

Creighton’s bill would appropriate $3 billion from the state’s economic stabilization fund to a dedicated flood infrastructure fund. The purpose: to make low- or no-interest loans to cities, counties, and water authorities for:

(1) planning for flood protection;

(2) preparing applications for obtaining regulatory approvals at the local, state, or federal level;

(3) activities associated with administrative or legal proceedings by regulatory agencies; and

(4) preparing engineering plans or specifications to provide structural or nonstructural flood mitigation or drainage.

$3 Billion In Ready Cash Could Streamline Process

The main benefit: the bill provides ready cash in emergencies, such as Harvey, to jumpstart mitigation projects.

Because of the complicated way that grant funding now works, political entities must often apply for grants to raise the money for a local match to then apply for a larger grant. The result: lengthy delays.

Example: it took 18 months to obtain $2 million for a San Jacinto River Basin Study that will take another 12-18 months to execute. By the time people start acting on the findings, it could be another year or two.

Hopefully, Creighton’s SB 695 will reduce the time between problems and solutions so that Texas citizens face less flood risk. Click here, to download and review the full text.

Bill Deserves Bi-Partisan Support

This important bill deserves everyone’s support, Democrats and Republicans alike. It could be one of the most important pieces of legislation taken up this year. My understanding is that former Harris County Judge Emmett, Harris County Flood Control and Houston Stronger all backed the idea.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/4/2019

552 Days after Hurricane Harvey