Tag Archive for: dredging

Update on Floodgates, Dredging, Sand Traps from Martin, Costello

At Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s final town hall meeting last night, he and Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello gave an update on the status of new, higher capacity floodgates for the Lake Houston Dam. Their talks also addressed dredging and sand traps.

City of Houston Chief Recovery Office Stephen Costello (l) and Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin at Martin’s final town hall meeting on 10/17/2023. Term limits bar Martin from running again for Council, though he is running for City Controller.

According to the latest estimate, construction of the gates now looks like it could begin in mid-2026, barring unforeseen setbacks.

The City has scheduled more dredging for the San Jacinto West Fork south of where the mouth bar used to be. Also, Costello says the City has completed opening up ditches and tributaries north of the railroad bridge and is now starting on those south of it.

Finally, Costello revealed that Lake Houston has lost almost 20% of its capacity due to sedimentation. To receive future dredging grants, the City must take steps to reduce the rate of sediment inflow. Costello revealed plans for a pilot sand-trap project in a point bar outside the Hallett mine far upstream. He said that the mine had agreed to remove trapped sediment there for free. Otherwise, he did not explain why a possibly more effective location closer to the problem area was not chosen for the pilot project.

For more details on each, see below.

Gates Details/Timeline

The purpose of adding more floodgates to the Lake Houston Dam: to lower the lake faster in advance of a flood.

  • The City must now start to lower the lake so far in advance of a storm that storms can veer away before they arrive. This wastes water.
  • The existing gates have 1/15th of the release capacity of the gates on Lake Conroe. This makes a joint pre-release strategy virtually impossible in extreme storms.

After examining and discarding the notion of adding crest gates to the spillway portion of the dam, the City is now focusing on adding 11 tainter gates to the earthen portion of the dam (east of the existing gates).

Proposed location for 11 new tainter gates.

With Mayor Sylvester Turner’s help, the City secured enough funding for construction during the regular session of this year’s legislature.

Next steps include:

  • 3/24 – New environmental and historic preservation assessments, Army Corps permitting
  • 12/24 – Construction plans completed
  • 1/25 – Bidding
  • 6/25 – Award Contract
  • 5/26 – Begin Construction

The success of this plan will require the election of a new Mayor and City Council Representative who are committed to the project. Early voting begins next week.

Dredging Volumes, Costs

Dredging at various locations around Lake Houston will likely be a continuous effort for years to come. Sedimentation has already reduced the capacity of Lake Houston an estimated 18%. The City estimates future yearly losses in the range of 360-460 acre feet per year.

Historic and projected capacity loss in Lake Houston due to sedimentation.

One acre roughly equals the size of a football field. So imagine 400 football fields covered with sludge a foot deep. Each year!

To keep this problem in check, the City is already looking at doing additional dredging on the East and West Forks. It and the Army Corps finished major projects in both areas less than four years ago.

East of Atascocita and south of the convergence of the East and West Forks, the City plans to spend another $34 million to remove almost 900,000 cubic yards of sediment.

To date, Costello estimates that dredging nearly 4 million cubic yards of material has cost $186 million.

Summary of dredging costs and volumes in Lake Houston since Harvey

The City hopes to recoup some of these costs by reselling sand that it recovers from “hilltops” in the lake. Costello showed the heat map below. Notice the heavy sediment concentrations in the lake’s headwaters. This is because sediment drops out of suspension where rivers slow down as they meet standing bodies of water.

In addition to reducing the volume of Lake Houston, the sediment also poses a flood threat. It reduces conveyance of the rivers and lake forcing water up and out. Sediment blockages, such as the mouth bar, can also form dams that back water up.

Costello also addressed the ongoing dredging of 17 canals around Lake Houston. He said the focus is now shifting to the southern part of the lake.

Sand Traps to Reduce Inflow

In addition to dredging sediment from the lake, Costello also emphasized the need to reduce sediment coming downstream via sand traps. This last effort may be a condition of future grants for dredging.

Costello described two pilot types of pilot projects that the City is working on with the SJRA and sand-mining industry. The first is “sand traps” dug in point bars outside sand mines. The second: in-channel traps.

The idea behind the traps: dig holes in the river or its sand bars where migrating sand can settle out of the flow before it reaches the lake.

The first project may be near the Hallett Mine on the West Fork. According to Costello, the mine has agreed to remove the sand for free, thus reducing long term maintenance costs.

During Q&A after Costello’s presentation, however, he admitted that the City has no plans to try to get sand mines to reduce illegal emissions. In one notable instance, the TCEQ documented 56 million gallons of sludge discharged into the West Fork by the LMI mine.

Controlling sediment is crucial in reducing flooding. Accumulated sediment reduces storage capacity and conveyance for stormwater. The smaller capacity means lakes and rivers will flood faster and higher.

For high res versions of all the slides shown in the Town Hall, see this PDF.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/17/23

2241 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Damn the Downstream Consequences, Colony Ridge Expansion Continues Relentlessly

Damn the downstream consequences, including sediment pollution, increased flood risk and monstrous dredging costs. Colony Ridge, the controversial 30+ square-mile, Liberty County development that markets to Hispanics – while flaunting drainage, environmental and fire regulations – is clearing and paving thousands of additional acres.

Not even Google Earth can keep up with the developer’s relentless expansion. On 8/12/23, I flew over Colony Ridge in a helicopter and found huge areas where 3-week-old satellite imagery was already hopelessly out of date.

Google Earth image from 7/18/23. Red/yellow highlighted areas changed radically within three weeks.

With the exception of areas protected by the Houston-Conroe and Tarkington Bayou Mitigation Banks, the highlighted areas above have largely been cleared and/or paved.

The RED area now has paving not visible in the satellite image. The YELLOW area was being cleared and paving was just starting even though the image shows none of that. So what do these areas look like from a few hundred feet?

Pictures Taken 8/12/23 over Red Area

I shot the four pictures below on 8/12/23. They represent dozens of others. The red area already has most streets, but no fire hydrants.

Pictures Taken over Yellow Area

The two pictures below show some of the development activity taking pace in the yellow area.

Looking west across newly cleared area.
Looking N at part of Colony Ridge expansion.

What kind of homes will go here? To predict the future, look to the past.

Homes on Parade

Colony Ridge is the world’s largest trailer park. One Plum Grove resident who lives near a northern entrance to Colony Ridge says she routinely sees up to seven mobile homes per day going into the development – seven days per week.

It’s hard to know exactly how many new homes arrive each day, because there are other entrances. But if you assume the max for this one entrance, 50 homes a week times 52 weeks makes up to 2600 homes per year.

Colony Ridge Expansion
Manufactured home making its way through the main commercial area of Colony Ridge.
Room with a viewof severe erosion.

Note the erosion in photos above and below. It will make its way downstream into the East Fork San Jacinto. These ditches are typical of Colony Ridge. The eroded sediment will reduce conveyance of the river and contribute to flooding.

Poverty: The Mother of Pollution

Ghandi once said, “Poverty is the mother of pollution.” That’s certainly the case here. But I would modify the saying. While poverty may be the mother of pollution; greed is the father.

The poverty of the residents doesn’t cause sediment pollution. But a business plan built on high-interest-rate, owner financing that targets impoverished people with few options does.

The developer seems to have found a target market that is less concerned with their environment than survival.

It’s a market ripe for exploitation where corners can be cut. Residents have few options and can’t complain.

And the developer shows little interest in changing a business model that fuels relentless expansion and growth. Damn the downstream consequences.

In virtually every area I have photographed, he has not planted vegetation on the banks of the channels. Nor has he used silt fences or installed backslope interceptor swales to reduce erosion as Liberty County regulations require.

Instead of the developer bearing those costs, downstream residents in the Lake Houston Area do. Since Harvey, the Army Corps, Harris County and City of Houston have spent more than $220 million of your tax dollars to dredge excess sediment shed from rivers of mud like this.

Colony Ridge drainage ditch.
Working drainage is a luxury.

The poverty in Colony Ridge is crushing. I’ve seen people sleeping in tents trying to save enough money to buy a camper to live in.

No bathroom in sight. Do Liberty County health codes really allow this?
Christmas dinner. Enlargement of this photo from Christmas 2020 shows food on the table in the foreground.
One small part of Colony Ridge. The market for a piece of the American dream stretches endlessly in Liberty County.

The estimated population of Colony Ridge is now greater than the three largest cities in Liberty County (Cleveland, Dayton, and Liberty) put together. No one knows what the population is with certainty because of the large number of undocumented aliens who did not participate in the last census.

And the Colony Ridge developer is expanding into Harris and Montgomery Counties. ReduceFlooding will monitor progress of those areas to see if they, too, contribute to sediment accumulation, dredging costs, and flooding.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/9/23

Posted by Bob Rehak 2202 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.

Houston City Council Approves $29 Million More For Dredging, Sand Trap Tests

Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin has announced that Houston City Council unanimously accepted an additional $29,000,000 in state grant funds to continue dredging around the canals and channels of Lake Houston. The money will also help start a pilot program to trap sediment upstream before it reaches the lake, thereby hopefully reducing dredging costs in the long run.

East Side of Lake

The additional funding will allow dredging activities to start on the east side of Lake Houston in the various canals/channels. Martin emphasized, however, that they have some touch up work to do on Rogers Gully on the west side of the lake before they move to the east side.

Once on the east side, dredging will start near FM1960 and work its way south. The City has not yet established a firm timeline.

DRC will handle the dredging. That is the same company that has handled the dredging since the Corps finished its Emergency West Fork Dredging program several years ago.

The company will deposit the spoils at the same marina it has used for the last year.

DRC will reportedly use mechanical, not hydraulic dredging. That means, they’ll be working with long-armed excavators and scooping dirt onto pontoons. See second picture below.

Pilot Sand-Trap Program

Part of the $29 million will also go towards implementing a pilot program testing sand traps upstream of Lake Houston. The goal: capture silt and sediment coming down the San Jacinto West Fork before it ever reaches Lake Houston.

If successful, this could reduce long-term dredging costs. The pilot program will rely on sand miners to excavate sand from point bars outside their mines. But there are few, if any, mines upstream on Cypress and Spring Creeks, where the miners claim most of the sediment is coming from. So that could limit the replicability of the test, even if successful on the West Fork.

More than 4 Million Cubic Yards Dredged to Date

“Tremendous progress has been made since Hurricane Harvey through the completion of FEMA, Texas Water Development Board, Harris County, and City of Houston projects,” said Martin. “Since 2018, the total combined efforts of these entities have resulted in approximately 4,004,008 cubic yards of silt and sediment dredged from Lake Houston and its tributaries at a total cost of $222 million.” That money has come from federal, state, and local funding sources.

Rogers Gully Before Dredging
Example of canal dredging. Rogers Gully mouth bar in Atascocita before it was removed.
rogers gully mouth bar
This picture shows mechanical dredgers at work. This blockage was eventually removed, but some touch up work elsewhere reportedly remains.

Blockages like those above can back water up during storms, and flood homes and businesses.


Martin passed out kudos to those who supported the $29 million appropriation. Martin thanked former State Representative Dan Huberty and Senator Brandon Creighton for their commitment to seeing this project through and their dedication to the long-term maintenance dredging on Lake Houston.

“Harris County Commissioner Precinct 3, Tom Ramsey, and Harris County Flood Control District have also been terrific partners,” said Martin. “I also want to thank my colleagues on City Council, Mayor Sylvester Turner for his unwavering support for Lake Houston, and Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello for his continued diligence on flood mitigation efforts.”

Status of Dredging District Legislation

State Representative Charles Cunningham introduced HB 5341 this year. The bill would have created a Lake Houston Dredging and Maintenance District to handle sediment issues like these in perpetuity. The bill received a public hearing on 4/11/23, but unfortunately, it has stalled in the Natural Resources Committee since then. So has HB 1093, a bill which would have assured cleanup of abandoned sand mines.

With time running out in this session, we will likely need to recycle those bills for the next session.

More news to follow when the dredging starts.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/11/2023 based on information from the Houston District E office and Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin

2081 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Placement Area #1 Gets New Life

After Hurricane Harvey, when the Army Corps established its San Jacinto West Fork dredging program, the Corps used an old sand pit off Hamblen Blvd. East in Humble to store the spoils.

Before, During, After, Now Photos

“Before” satellite photo from 2015. Note middle, greenish pond on right where road curves.
File photo from February 2020 showing same pond, mostly filled. Townsend curve in foreground.
After dredging in 2021, the pond was completely filled.

A regular reader emailed me about a large volume of truck activity in the area recently. So I went there today to see what I could see. The pond was half empty again. The mystery deepened. Were they taking dirt out or putting it in?

Half empty pit photographed on 4/26/23.

Trucks Filling Pond Again, Not Emptying It

Closer inspection showed that dozens of dump trucks were depositing dirt. That deepened the mystery even more. How did the pond get half empty with trucks dumping more dirt into it?

Also photographed 4/26/23. Trucks offloading dirt and bulldozer spreading it into remainder of pond.

A gentleman drove up and engaged me in conversation as I was landing my drone. He introduced himself as the owner of the property and said that a private contractor bought the dirt left by the Corps, thus emptying the pit again.

No Intent to Build Here

I asked if he intended to build on the newly filled area and he said “no.” I also pumped him for information about where the dirt was coming from, but didn’t get anything definitive.

When I took these photos, it was the end of the workday. Trucks were scattering in all directions. The City did not immediately return calls or emails about next steps in its dredging program, if that’s where the dirt came from.

The good news for now: it appears we won’t have more building in the floodplain in this area. More news to follow when I get it.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/26/23 with thanks for the heads up from Eric Hayes

2066 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Urgent Request: Support HB1093 to Improve Water Quality, Reduce Flooding, Save Tax Dollars

State Representative Charles Cunningham has introduced HB1093. The bill would ensure cleanup of abandoned sand mines in the San Jacinto watershed. It requires miners to post a bond that covers cleanup costs. So, if an irresponsible miner walks away from a mine before reclamation, the public doesn’t have to pay the deadbeat’s costs.

A bond is like an insurance policy that guarantees the performance of obligations.

Without a bond, miners who profited for years from a mine can simply walk away when they are done mining, foisting cleanup costs onto the public or leaving blight behind.

How Bad Is the Problem?

Right now, there are at least six mines on the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto that were left a mess. Such abandoned sand mines are increasingly becoming a blight that imperils water quality in Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for 2 million people.

  • Rusting equipment leaks poisons and poses safety problems.
  • Un-stabilized soil increases rates of erosion and contributes to flooding.
  • Steep banks in pits slump away in slabs threatening neighboring properties and businesses.
  • Blight reduces surrounding property values and business activity

Miners are supposed to remove equipment and structures before they abandon a mine. But not all do. See the pictures below.

Leaking equipment near Riverview Drive in Porter on West Fork. Google Earth images show this in same location since 2008.
abandoned dredge
Dredge abandoned in Humble mine in 2017.
Abandoned excavator in Porter mine on West Fork
Abandoned dredge in Plum Grove mine.
Abandoned processing equipment in Humble mine.
Abandoned processing equipment and vehicle in Humble mine since 2017.

Miners are also obligated to grade and stabilize soil before they leave a mine, then replant vegetation similar to the surrounding area to reduce sediment pollution. But not all do.

Ungraded, un-stabilized soil in East Fork Plum Grove Mine.
Ungraded soil and abandoned equipment in East Fork Mine
A flood later swept through the mine above, sending sediment down the East Fork.
Defunct sand pit in Humble. Steep slopes – ungraded and unvegetated – erode and threaten neighboring business.

Community Consequences

Most sand moves during storms. This island appeared after Hurricane Harvey between Humble and Kingwood. It blocked the West Fork by 90%, according to the Army Corps and contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses.
Confluence of the San Jacinto West Fork with Spring Creek. Images taken on different days from different angles, but in each case the dirty water comes from the West Fork, where we have 20 square miles of mines on a 20 mile stretch of the river between I-45 and I-69.

Most responsible miners will clean up on their own. But experience shows, a few bad apples will not. And when they walk away, the cost to the public can be enormous. Dredging costs alone have exceeded $226 million in the Lake Houston area since Harvey.

How You Can Help

Please help reduce this and related cleanup costs in the future. Ensure that sand miners don’t pass their remediation costs on to taxpayers.

Make sure HB1093 at least gets to the House floor for a vote this year.

In the last session, a similar bill by former Representative Dan Huberty, HB4478, never made it out of the Natural Resources committee.

HB1093 deserves a hearing. Please write the chair and vice chair of Natural Resources asking them to consider it.

The committee will likely recommend King’s HB10. It will fund the creation of 7-million acre-feet of new water supplies for rural areas.

Let’s do something that won’t cost taxpayers a penny to protect a water supply we already have. Support HB1093. And please forward this link to all your friends, family and neighbors.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/18/23

2027 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.

Harvey: A 5-Year Flood-Mitigation Report Card

Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. Many in the Lake Houston Area have asked, “Are we safer now?” The answer is yes, but we have a long way to go to achieve all our goals. Here’s a five-year flood-mitigation report card. It describes what we have and haven’t accomplished in 29 areas. So get ready for a roller coaster ride. I’ll leave the letter grades to you.

Lake Houston Area Mitigation

1) Dredging

The most visible accomplishment in the Lake Houston Area since Harvey is dredging. The City and Army Corps removed approximately 4 million cubic yards of sediment blocking the West and East Forks. Before dredging, River Grove Park flooded six times in two months. Since dredging, it hasn’t flooded once to my knowledge.

west fork mouth bar before dredging
West Fork mouth bar after Harvey and before dredging. Now gone, but not forgotten.

State Representative Dan Huberty secured additional funding during the last legislature to continue maintenance dredging. That includes clearing drainage canal outfalls into the lake, such as the entrance to Rogers Gully. The dredging operation is now moving around the lake, according to the City’s District E office.

2) Adding Floodgates

Engineers keep looking for a cost-effective alternative. They first identified 11 options in a preliminary review. They then studied the most promising – spillway crest gates – in more detail. Now they’re looking at tainter gates in the earthen portion of the dam. In case the Benefit/Cost Ratio still doesn’t meet FEMA requirements for moving forward with construction, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin is also exploring additional funding sources. But so far, no construction has started on additional gates. Martin hopes to reveal a recommendation in September.

Lake Houston Dam, area for new gates
Potential location for new tainter gates east of the spillway portion of the dam (out of frame to the right.
3) Upstream Detention

To reduce the amount of water coming inbound during storms, the San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Study identified 16 potential areas for building large stormwater detention basins. Unfortunately, they had a combined cost of $3.3 billion and would only reduce damages by about a quarter of that.

So, the SJRA recommended additional study on the two with the highest Benefit/Cost Ratio. Their hope: to reduce costs further. The two are on Birch and Walnut Creeks, two tributaries of Spring Creek near Waller County. Expect a draft report in February next year.

Funding these would likely require State assistance. But the Texas Water Development Board’s San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group has just recently submitted its first draft report. The draft also recommended looking at detention basin projects on West Fork/Lake Creek, East Fork/Winters Bayou, and East Fork/Peach Creek.

Building them all could hold back a foot of stormwater falling across 337 square miles. But funds would still need to be approved over several years. We’re still a long way off. Results – on the ground – could take years if not decades.

4) “Benching”

The Regional Flood Planning Group also recommended something called “benching” in two places along 5 miles of the West Fork. In flood mitigation, benching entails shaving down a floodplain to create extra floodwater storage capacity. Like the detention basins, benching is still a long way off…if it happens at all.

5) West Fork Channel Widening

Finally, the Regional Flood Planning Group recommended widening 5.7 miles of the West Fork to create more conveyance. But again, at this point it’s just a recommendation in a draft plan.

San Jacinto River Authority

6) SJRA Board Composition

After Harvey, many downstream residents accused SJRA of flooding downstream areas to save homes around Lake Conroe. At the time, SJRA’s board had no residents from the Humble/Kingwood Area. So Governor Abbott appointed two: Kaaren Cambio and Mark Micheletti. Cambio later resigned due to a potential conflict of interest when she took a job with Congressman Dan Crenshaw. That leaves Micheletti as the lone Humble/Kingwood Area resident on a seven-person board. However, the SJRA points out that the Board’s current president, Ronnie Anderson, represents Chambers County, which is also downstream.

State Representative Will Metcalf, who represents the Lake Conroe area, introduced a bill to limit SJRA board membership to upstream residents. Luckily for downstream residents, it failed.

7) Lake Conroe Lowering

SJRA identified temporary, seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe as a strategy to reduce downstream flood risk until completion of dredging and gates projects in the Lake Houston Area. The lowering creates extra storage in the lake during peak rainy seasons. After SJRA implemented the plan, Lake Conroe residents objected to the inconvenience. They sued SJRA and the City, but lost. After discussion with all stakeholders, the SJRA quietly modified its plan. It still lowers the lake, but not as much.

8) Lowering Lake Houston

Houston also started lowering Lake Houston, not seasonally, but in advance of major storms. The City has lowered the lake more than 20 times since beginning the program. That has helped to avoid much potential flooding to date.

9) Lake Conroe Dam Management

SJRA applied for and received several TWDB grants to enhance flood mitigation and communications in the San Jacinto River Basin. One involves developing a Lake Conroe Reservoir Forecasting Tool. SJRA has also worked with San Jacinto County to develop a Flood Early Warning System.

Finally, SJRA’s Lake Conroe/Lake Houston Joint Reservoir Operations Plan is on hold pending completion of the City’s plan to add more gates to the Lake Houston dam. Such projects may help reduce the risk of releasing unnecessarily large volumes of water in the future.

Coordination between Lake Conroe and Lake Houston has already improved. You can see it in the SJRA’s new dashboard. It shows releases requested by the City of Houston to lower Lake Conroe.

10) Sediment Reduction

Huge sediment buildups in the West and East Forks of the San Jacinto clearly contributed to flooding. The Army Corps stated that the West Fork was 90% blocked near River Grove Park. To reduce future dredging costs, SJRA also studied the use of sediment traps. SJRA may implement a pilot study soon on the West Fork near the Hallett mine.

However, the location is controversial. Geologists say it wouldn’t reduce sediment in the area of greatest damage. Environmentalists worry that it could increase sedimentation through a “hungry-water” effect and open the door to river mining. And I worry that, even if successful, the pilot study would not be extendable. That’s because it relies on partnerships with sand miners. And other tributaries to Lake Houston do not have sand mines or as many sand mines.

Sand bar blocking West Fork after Harvey. The Corps has since removed it.

Federal Funding

It’s hard to get good grades on your flood mitigation report card without funding.

11-18) Appropriations

In March this year, Congressman Dan Crenshaw secured appropriations that should help advance projects in the San Jacinto Basin. They included:

  • $1.6 million for HCFCD for Taylor Gully  stormwater channel improvement. 
  • $1.6 million for HCFCD for Kingwood  Diversion Channel improvement. 
  • $1.67 million for Harris County for the Forest Manor drainage  improvement project in Huffman.
  • $8.2 million from FEMA the Westador Basin stormwater detention project on Cypress Creek.  
  • $9.9 million from FEMA for the TC Jester storm water detention basin on Cypress Creek.

Crenshaw also has backed community requests for more funding in Fiscal 23. They include:

  • $8 million for the Lake Houston Dam Spillway (Gates).
  • $10 million for the Woodridge Stormwater Detention Basin (see below).
  • $10 million for a Cedar Bayou Stormwater Detention Basin.

Harris County Flood Control

19) Channel Maintenance and Repair

Harris County Flood Control has already completed several maintenance projects in the Lake Houston Area. In Kingwood, those projects include Taylor Gully, Ben’s Branch, parts of the Diversion Ditch and other unnamed ditches. In Atascocita, HCFCD also completed a project on Rogers Gully. Upstream, HCFCD is working on the third round of repairs to Cypress Creek. Batch 3 includes work at 12 sites on 11 channel sections. I’m sure the District has maintenance projects in other areas, too. I just can’t name them all.

Bens Branch
Bens Branch near Kingwood High School after sediment removal.
20) Woodridge Stormwater Detention Basin Expansion

In 2019, uncontrolled stormwater from the Woodridge Village development twice flooded approximately 600 homes in Elm Grove Village and North Kingwood Forest. HCFCD and the City purchased Woodridge from Perry Homes last year. HCFCD soon thereafter started removing sediment from the site to create a sixth stormwater detention basin that would more than double capacity on the site. At the end of last month, contractors had removed approximately 50,000 cubic yards out of 500,000 in the contract. This gives HCFCD a head start on excavation while engineers complete the basin’s final design.

21) Local Drainage Study Implementation

HCFCD authorized four studies of the drainage needs in the Lake Houston Area. They completed the Huffman and Kingwood studies. Atascocita and East Lake Houston/Crosby started earlier this year and are still underway.

The Kingwood study measured levels of service in all channels and outlined strategies to improve them to the 100-year level. The first two projects recommended: Taylor Gully and the Kingwood Diversion Ditch. Neither has started construction yet. But see the notes under funding above.

The Huffman Study recommended improvements to FM2100, which TxDOT will handle. It also recommended dredging in the East Fork near Luce Bayou which the City has completed. Finally, it recommended a bypass channel for Luce. However, pushback from residents forced cancellation of that project.

22) Buyouts

HCFCD completed buyouts of 80+ townhomes on Timberline and Marina Drives in Forest Cove last month. Contractors demolished the final run-down complex in August. That should improve property values in Forest Cove.

forest cove townhome demolition
Completion of demolition of one of the last Forest Cove Townhome Complexes in July 2022.
23) Regulation Harmonization

Harris County Flood Control and Engineering have been working to get municipalities and other counties throughout the region to adopt certain minimum drainage regulations. I discussed the importance of uniformly high standards in last night’s post. So far, about a third of the governments have upgraded their regs. A third are still deciding whether to act. And the remainder have taken no action. There has been little movement in the last six months.

City of Houston

As mentioned above, the City has taken a lead role in dredging, adding gates to Lake Houston, and proactive lake lowering. In addition, the City has helped with:

24) Bridge Underpass Clean-Out

The City of Houston successfully cleaned out ditches under Kingwood Drive and North Park Drive in at least six places. Bridges represent a major choke point during floods. So eliminating sediment buildups helps reduce flood risk in areas that previously flooded.

City excavation crews working to remove sediment on Bens Branch under Kingwood Drive
Excavation of Bens Branch under Kingwood Drive by City crews.
25) Storm Sewer Inspections, Clean-Out, Repairs

The City has inspected storm sewers throughout Kingwood and cleaned those that had become clogged. It also repaired sinkholes and outfalls that had become damaged.

Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District

The lowest score on the flood-mitigation report card probably goes to LSGCD.

26) Subsidence

The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District has started pumping groundwater again at an alarming rate. Projected subsidence near the Montgomery County Border equals 3.25 feet, but only 1 foot at the Lake Houston dam. That could eventually tilt the lake back toward the Humble/Kingwood/Huffman area and reduce the margin of safety in flooding. That’s bad news.

Sand Mining Regulations

Twenty square miles of West Fork sand mines immediately upstream from I-69 have exposed a swath of floodplain once covered by trees to heavy erosion during floods. Mathematically, the potential for erosion increased 33X compared to the normal width of the river. Sand mines were also frequently observed releasing sediment into the river. And the dikes around the mines often wash out.

So in 2019, the Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative (LHAGFPI) began meeting with legislators, regulators and the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association (TACA). The goal: to establish comprehensive Best Management Practices (BMPs) for the sand mining industry in the San Jacinto River Basin. 

27) Mine Plan/Stabilization Reports Now Required

TCEQ adopted new regulations, effective January 6, 2022.  They required miners to file a ‘Mine Plan’ by July 6, 2022 and also a ‘Final Stabilization Report’ when a mine is played out.

28) Vegetated Buffer Zones (Setbacks)

The new regs also stipulate undisturbed vegetative buffer zones around new mines. Buffer zones aid in sediment filtration and removal by slowing surface water. They also strengthen dikes.

The new regs require a minimum 100-foot vegetated buffer zone adjacent to perennial streams greater than 20 feet in width. However, for streams less than 20 feet wide, the buffer zone is only 50 feet for perennial streams, and 35 feet for intermittent streams.

29) Reclamation Bonds

Unfortunately, the Flood Prevention Initiative could not convince TCEQ to require ‘reclamation bonds.’ Other states use such bonds to prevent miners from abandoning mines without taking steps to reduce future erosion, such as planting vegetation.  

My apologies to any projects or parties I omitted. Now it’s your turn. Give grades to those you think have done the best job on YOUR Harvey flood-mitigation report card.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/26/22

1823 Days since Hurricane Harvey and one day from Harvey’s Fifth Anniversary

Controversial Colony Ridge Development Doubles in Size

The Colony Ridge development in Liberty County, aka the world’s largest trailer park, has more than doubled in size in the last 3 years. Measurements in Google Earth show that Colony Ridge, which started clearing land in 2012, has expanded from approximately 8,000 acres in 2019 to almost 20,000 acres today. To put that in perspective, Kingwood comprises approximately 14,000 acres and took more than 40 years to build out.

Colony Ridge started developing on the left (west). It is expanding east and north.

Growing Pains

But the rapid growth of Colony Ridge has not come without pain:

Consequences of Poor Construction Practices

As a result of such drainage issues and exposed soils, more sediment flows downstream than otherwise would. This contributed to sediment buildups on the San Jacinto East Fork (see below). Those, in turn, reduce conveyance and contribute to downstream flooding – unless the public continues to spend millions on dredging.

East Fork Mouth Bar after Imelda but before recent dredging. Average river depth had been reduced to three feet.

Still Not Following Best Practices

Aerial photos taken on 7/22/2022 with Ken Williams and Bill Callegari, two fellow members of the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force, show the current state of the development and construction practices in Colony Ridge. Sadly, not much has improved. For instance, the developer still piles dirt on the edge of ditches without protecting them with silt fences.

Note long drainage ditch cutting diagonally through middle of frame. Developer has piled dirt next to it (middle left of frame) without protecting ditch with silt fencing.
Major ditch cutting through older section is sill not protected with back-slope interceptor swales or vegetation. Erosion is rampant.

Water shooting down the ditch above created a major headache during Harvey. See below.

FM 1010 Still Washed Out

Floodwater from the ditch washed out FM 1010. This major N/S thoroughfare still needs repair…five years later!

Break in FM 1010, aka Plum Grove Road forces residents to detour for miles.

Photos Showing New Development

Area developed last year is starting to fill in with new trailer homes already. Note absence of fire hydrants…still.
Looking east at area still under construction.
Looking E from NE corner of development. Another area semi-cleared but still unpaved.

If there’s good news in these photos, it is that the developer appears to be leaving more natural ground cover in the newest areas. Still, without vegetation on the sides of ditches, without better construction practices, excess sediment could continue washing into the Lake Houston Area for years to come.

Ever Widening Circles

These images support the need to harmonize and enforce higher drainage standards throughout the region. Without change two things will happen:

  • Downstream residents will continue to pay the price for egregious development practices upstream.
  • Someday, the people who buy these lots will also become flood victims of similar new developments even farther upstream.

Will we continue to repeat mistakes of the past in ever widening circles? Will we continue to sow the seeds of future flooding? Or will we wake up to the fact that we are all part of one giant community?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/23/2022

1792 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.

Dredgers Reach Rogers Gully Mouth Bar

When last I reported on Lake Houston dredging, the focus of operations had shifted from the East Fork to Rogers Gully. However, the dredgers were still stationed hundreds of feet offshore. According to State Representative Dan Huberty, shallow water forced them to dredge their way into the Gully. (See below.)

Location of dredge on March 1, 2022. Mouth bars, like the one in the foreground are deposited where water slows down as it reaches the lake.

Compare Photos Taken Today

Now, 2.5 months later, the dredgers have reached the Rogers Gully mouth bar and have completed dredging most of it.

Looking east toward Lake Houston. Compare photo above.
Looking west toward the Walden Country Club, upper right.

Aerial photos taken this afternoon show that all but a small portion has already been removed. The operation could be completed in the next week or two, weather permitting.

Pontoons ferry the spoils to a converted marina across the lake now used as a temporary placement area. From there, trucks take the spoils to a fill-dirt company on FM1960 near SH99 east.

Before Dredging Began

To appreciate the progress, compare the photo below taken two years ago.

Rogers Gully Mouth Bar
Rogers Gully Mouth Bar on June 16, 2020 before dredging started.

Harris County Flood Control District had just finished dredging the area behind the cart bridge about a month before I took the shot above. But the City owns the part of the gully near the lake.

Where Next?

It’s not clear yet where the dredges will go next. They’re on a mission, with money that Huberty helped obtain from the legislature, to open up more ditches and streams that empty into Lake Houston. Blockages like the one at Rogers Gully can reduce the conveyance of streams. They create sediment dams that back water up. And that contributes to flooding homes and businesses behind them.

The City of Houston issued a request for proposals to create a long-range dredging plan for the lake. However, no plan has yet been published. News to follow when it becomes available.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/20/22

1725 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Dredgers Move to Rogers Gully from East Fork

Within the last week, the focus of dredging moved from the East Fork San Jacinto to the mouth of Rogers Gully on the west side of Lake Houston near the Walden Country Club. HCFCD conducted a dredging operation upstream from the Rogers Gully mouth bar in 2020. But the mouth bar itself is in Lake Houston, which is owned by the City of Houston. So this portion is the City’s responsibility.

Where dredging stopped in East Fork in late February. Looking South. Luce Bayou on upper left. FM1960 Bridge in upper right. Picture taken 2/27/22.
Rogers Gully mouth bar has already been partially removed by the dredgers anchored in the distance for the evening. Looking east toward Huffman on far side of lake from over the Walden Country Club. Photo taken 3/1/22.

New Base of Operations Will Shorten Supply Lines

At the same time, the base of operations for dredging appears to be moving from the West Fork to a marina across the lake from Rogers Gully. The new drop off point for spoils is about 2.2 miles from Rogers Gully. Compare that to almost 7 miles to get from the East Fork to Berry Madden’s property south of River Grove Park on the West Fork.

New deposit site for dredging spoils on Fairlake Lane in Huffman. Photo taken 2/27/22.

Over the weekend, I photographed dredgers preparing the site and carting the first loads of sediment to a dirt/mulch company about six miles east on 1960.

Where spoils from Lake Houston are going on FM1960 toward 99.

The dirt company is about 2 miles inside the new Grand Parkway extension.

Looking south. New Grand Parkway extension crossing FM1960. Photo taken 2/27/22.

The new highway will open vast new areas for development and create ready markets for dredging spoils to elevate homes and build roads.

Focus Shifting to Inlets Around Lake

According to State Representative Dan Huberty, about $40 million remains in the dredging fund appropriated by the state legislature last year. He hopes that after inlets around the lake are cleaned out, that dredgers will return to the East Fork in the future to continue the effort there.

Pictures taken this afternoon show that in the last two days, the dredgers have taken a significant bite out of the Rogers Gully mouth bar, which in my opinion, was the worst of many smaller inlets around the lake.

Rogers Gully mouth bar in August of 2020. Compare to photos below to see progress already made.

The photos below tell the story.

Looking west from beyond one of the anchored dredges toward the mouth bar and the Walden Country Club in the top center.
Still looking west at the partially removed mouth bar.
Looking NNW. From here, tugs will ferry the pontoons toward the general vicinity of that white spot on the lake front in the upper right. Note the FM1960 bridge in the background.

Soon, the dredgers will finish with Rogers Gully and move on to the next inlet.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/1/22 with input from Dan Huberty

1645 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Dredgers Still Nibbling Away at East Fork Mouth Bar

Mechanical dredging is sloooooooooow. Two months after my last dredging update, contractors are still working on the same portion of the East Fork Mouth Bar complex just north of the entrance to Luce Bayou. The sand bar is question is one of many in the area that popped up after Harvey and Imelda.

Pictures Taken on 1/28/22

I took the first three images below this morning.

Looking East across the San Jacinto East Fork from Kingwood toward Luce Bayou in upper right. North is to the left. Photo taken on 1/28/22.
Dredgers are now working on a small island just upstream from Luce. But there’s a lot of work yet to do. Photo taken on 1/28/22.

The San Jacinto East Fork Mouth Bar grew more than 4,000 feet in length during Harvey and Imelda. River depth was reduced to 3 feet, according to boaters. That reduced conveyance of the river and contributed to flooding of homes on both sides.

This damage map shows that almost 1300 homes flooded in the East Fork watershed during Harvey. However, it’s not clear how far upstream any backwater effect extended from the East Fork mouth bar.

Looking south, downstream toward Lake Houston and the FM1960 causeway. Photo taken on 1/28/22.

Earlier Images

Compare the photo above taken today to the one below taken two months ago.

Comparable shot taken on 11/30/21, two months ago.

Since November, dredgers have eliminated the remainder of the bar in the distance and reduced the size of the one in the foreground.

See a satellite image of the full bar below before dredging started.

Contractors have removed sediment from the area outlined in red since dredging began in October 2021.

It took three months just for contractors to dredge their way through the Royal Shores channel to get to East Fork (July, August, September 2021). East Fork dredging started in October last year. Removing sediment from the area in red above has taken four months. But it’s only a small portion of the work that needs to be done as you can see in the second image above that looks upstream.

Naturally, residents are asking, “How much more does the City intend to do?” The answer to that question is still unsettled.

Vendor for Long-Range Dredging Plan Still Not Decided

In August of last year, the City of Houston started searching for a consultant to develop a long-range dredging plan for Lake Houston. The timetable in the Request for Qualifications (Page 4) stated that the City hoped to select a vendor by November, approve the contract in December, and start work in January.

The project attracted a lot of attention. Thirteen companies expressed interest. And eleven signed up for a pre-bid conference. However, the purchasing agent for the City, Bridget Cormier, stated that “The City has not yet made a decision, nor a recommendation for award yet.” She explained, “We are still in the evaluation phase and have requested additional information from suppliers that moved forward in the process.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/28/2022

1613 Days since Hurricane Harvey