Tag Archive for: drone

Buzzing The Mouth Bar: Low Altitude Flyover at 30 MPH Takes 1 Minute 9 Seconds

It’s hard to get a feeling for the enormity of the West Fork mouth bar in a still photo. Something more than half a mile long is reduced to 1200 pixels. That fundamentally alters the scale between nature and humans. Instead of being a thousand times bigger, it’s a hundred times smaller. That does not produce the same emotional impact. It’s like looking at a picture of a mountain instead of standing at the base of one and feeling dwarfed as you look up.

Video Comes Closer to Capturing Imensity

However, tonight, at sunset, I flew a drone over mouth bar and captured the entire flight on video. At 30 miles per hour, it took 1 minute and 9 seconds to get from one end to the other.

The rapidly vanishing San Jacinto West Fork mouth bar. Mechanical dredging reduces the size a little more every day.
Looking south from Scenic Shores in King’s Point across mouth bar toward FM1960 Causeway downriver.
Looking west toward West Lake Houston Parkway.
Excavators working western tip of mouth bar. They shaver one row after another off, as if they are nibbling an ear of corn.
From the upstream to downstream tip measures more than half a mile.
At the eastern end, it almost look as if a bored dredging is carving his initials in the bar so that they can be seen from outer space.
Looking south across the eastern edge toward the FM1960 bridge again.

Tonight, as we watch Tropical Storm Cristobal dump torrential rains on Mexico, it’s hard to escape thinking of Hurricane Harvey. It dumped torrential rains on Houston and formed this monster mouth bar almost overnight. Remember, like an ice berg, the part you see above water is only a tiny percentage of what you can’t see below water.

Thinking of Cristobal, Remembering Harvey

As I look at the cloudless skies and soft sunset, I can’t help but wonder. Will Cristobal miss us. Or is this just the calm before the storm?

Cristobal has produced life-threatening flash flooding in Mexico and Central America. The National Hurricane Center forecasts it to move northward across the Gulf of Mexico on Friday. Risks include storm surge, rainfall and wind impacts this coming weekend across the US Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida. NHC reiterates that it’s too soon predict the exact location, timing and magnitude of these impacts.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/3/2020

1009 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Weekly Mouth Bar Dredging Update with Images from Carolyn Daniel, Kendall Taft, Franz Willette of BCAeronautics, and the Army Corps

We learned a little bit more this week about the next phase of dredging. Several graphics (below) released by the Corps summarize modifications to the Emergency West Fork Debris Removal Project.

What We Confirmed and Learned

We confirmed that:

  • Great Lakes, the prime contractor on the original job, will be the only contractor on the Corps portion of the contract extension
  • Great Lakes will pump sediment all the way upstream to Placement Area 2
  • The Corps intends to dredge 500,000 cubic yards in the area of the mouth bar.

We learned that:

  • The original contract contingency allotment of approximately $3.5 million was used up, most likely by additional sediment washed downstream during floods in December, January, February, May and June.
  • Callan, the subcontractor for phase one, has approximately 83,000 cubic yards to dredge due to modification of the original contract.
  • Dredging an additional 500,000 cubic yards will cost another $17,085,861
  • The FEMA/Corps portion of the dredging should finish by December 6, 2019
  • Demobilization and cleanup will take until Jan. 22, 2020
  • This is FEMA mission assignment SWD-30
  • Great Lakes started dredging the mouth bar on June 25th
  • Great Lakes will dredge a wide area but not go all the way to the FM1960 bridge.

Corps Releases Summary of Project and Extension(s)

I compiled the information above from a PDF developed by The Army Corps. They released it on July 9.

First page of a 2-page PDF released by the Corps on July 9.
Second page of a 2-page PDF. Army Corps summary of Emergency West Fork Dredging project. For a high-resolution PDF, click here.

To calculate the depth of dredging in that blue area to the right, I simulated the outline in Google Earth and found that it roughly equals 500,000 square yards. That means if they dredge this whole area, they will reduce the river bed by approximately 3 feet. The area already averages 2-3 feet deep. That means the river will be roughly 6 feet deep through this reach when the Corps finishes its portion of the job.

The area outlined by Corps is approximately 500,000 square yards.
Where Callan will finish dredging near Kings Harbor, the depth will be approximately 22.5 feet.

However, upstream, Callan is dredging to a depth of 22.5 feet. Thus, creating a continuous gradient along the river bottom would require dredging approximately another 16 feet deeper in the same area…and that wouldn’t even get you to the FM1960 bridge. Also, note the gap in the graphic between where Callan will finish its portion of Phase One and Great Lakes will start mouth bar dredging.


It is unclear at this point who will dredge the rest of the material that needs to be removed to restore conveyance of the West Fork. Neither the City, County, nor State have yet announced their plans. We don’t know:

  • Where they will dredge
  • How deep they will go
  • Where they will place the material
  • How much it will all cost, or
  • When they plan to do it.

In the meantime, here are two dramatic sequences of photos plus a video submitted by readers this week. They show what the start of mouth bar dredging looked like from the air and water.

Carolyn Daniel Mouth Bar Shots from Airplane Landing at IAH

Carolyn Daniel submitted these shots of the mouth bar and dredging activity taken from her airplane window while on a landing approach to Bush Intercontinental Airport.

On approach to IAH. FM 1960 at bottom of frame. East Fork of San Jacinto upper right and West Fork on the left. Kings Point and Royal Shores between them. Image courtesy of Carolyn Daniel.
Can you spot East End Park? Kingwood Drive? Town Center? All are visible in this shot by Carolyn Daniel.
Mouth bar of west fork with dredge. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Daniel. Note the large Triple-P sand mine near the top of the frame in Porter.
Mouth bar of San Jacinto West Fork with Great Lakes Dredge. Image courtesy of Carolyn Daniel.
Mouth bar of West Fork with dredge. Atascocita Point on left in foreground. Fosters Mill and Kings Point in background. Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Daniel.
Through the clouds. While landing at Bush Intercontinental Airport. Mouth bar of San Jacinto West Fork with Great Lakes Dredge. Image courtesy of Carolyn Daniel.

Franz Willett Drone Shots Courtesy of BCAeronautics

Franz Willette runs a company called BCAeronautics that uses drones in mapping, inspections, roofing analyses, site surveys, and 3D modeling. He did not have clouds to contend with and could shoot safely from a much lower elevation. Willette is FAA certified.

West Fork Mouth Bar with Great Lakes Dredge. Drone image courtesy of Franz Willette, BCAeronautics.
West Fork Mouth Bar with Great Lakes Dredge. Drone image courtesy of Franz Willette, BCAeronautics. Great Lakes should dredge those two small islands in the background.
West Fork Mouth Bar with Great Lakes Dredge. Looking south toward the FM1960 Bridge. Drone image courtesy of Franz Willette, BCAeronautics.
West Fork Mouth Bar with Great Lakes Dredge. Drone image courtesy of Franz Willette, BCAeronautics.

Kendall Taft Video

Video courtesy of Kendall Taft. Shot from south of mouth bar looking north.
Shows how shallow the water is and how vast the expanse is.

I hope to post updates weekly on this project. So readers, please help. Submit your images through the submissions page of this web site. My thanks to Carolyn Daniel, Franz Willette, BCAeronautics and Kendall Taft.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/13/2019 with help from Carolyn Daniel, Franz Willette, BCAeronautics and Kendall Taft.

683 Days since Hurricane Harvey

New Drone Video Shows Areas for Proposed High-Rise Development

Jim Zura, owner of Zura Productions, flew his drones again on January 8 after the most recent flood went down. This time, he’s sharing two videos. The first, shot from River Grove Park, shows the area south of Barrington. The second, shot from Woodland Hills Drive at Deer Springs, shows the area north of the Barrington. Together, they show you the areas for most of the proposed new Romerica high-rise development and marina.

Drone pans approximately 120 degrees across the Romerica property from Barrington to the West Fork of the San Jacinto. End of shot zooms into the narrow area between Barrington and small lake where high rises would be built.
This video starts on Woodland Hills at Deer Springs. It pans up to reveal the northern part of the proposed high-rise development, then pans south toward Barrington.

Both videos offer panoramic views of the areas that Romerica proposes to raise by 12 feet. Raising these two areas would destroy trees and wetlands, increase the rate of runoff, and alter drainage patterns. It would also likely worsen flooding problems upstream and around the proposed development.

Not Only Human Residents Worry

Clark McCollough, a resident of Kingwood Lakes, reported that two bald eagles live near the property being permitted. He supplied this spectacular photo which I am reprinting with his permission. The developer wants to fill in wetlands near the nests and mitigate the loss of wetlands by purchasing credits somewhere else.

Register Comments on Permit Application with Army Corps

For complete details of the permit application, see this post. If no comments are received by January 31, the Corps will assume there are no objections. Do not assume that this permit will be denied just because FaceBook has a lot of negative buzz about it. The Corps does not read FaceBook. The best way to ensure this development does not happen is to write. We need every resident in Kingwood to respond. Important: In your letter, state that you want a public hearing.

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

  • Evaluation Branch, North Unit 
  • Regulatory Division, CESWG-RD-E 
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 
  • P.O. Box 1229 
  • Galveston, Texas 77553-1229 
  • 409-766-3869 Phone 
  • 409-766-6301 Fax 
  • swg_public_notice@usace.army.mil 

Posted by Bob Rehak on January 10, 2019

499 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Drone Video Underscores Dangers of Development without Remediation

Yesterday, the area where a developer proposes a new high-rise development flooded for the fifth time this year. This underscores the need for remediation before any permitting.

It wasn’t an especially heavy rain last week. Kingwood received about 2.5 inches. Areas upstream averaged 3 to 4 inches. Yet the West Fork came out of its banks and flooded River Grove Park for the fifth time this year (February 26, March 28/29, July 4, December 7/8, December 27). The USGS Gage at US59 showed that the flood crested at about midnight. The crest reached almost 50 feet at US59.

The West Fork at US 59 crested at almost 50 feet from the most recent rains. In the days preceding, SJRA released 5-7,000 cfs from Lake Conroe.

Jim Zura of Zura Productions took his drone to River Grove during the last light before the overnight crest. The video shows that although the road was still useable, many of the park’s popular amenities were not. The playground, soccer fields, boat ramp and boardwalk all flooded.

Earlier this year, the US Army Corps of Engineers found that excessive sedimentation in the river contributed to excessive flooding. The frequency of these floods supports that conclusion. The Corps began dredging in late September to remove sediment, but has completed only about 20% of the project so far. Downstream blockages remain. And the biggest – at the mouth of the West Fork – is not even within the scope of the current dredging project.

The end of Zura’s video shows the soccer fields and adjoining property, including a small lake in the floodway. This flood gives us a glimpse of how a minor rain would affect the proposed high-rise development there.

Watch all the way to the end!

The frequency of these floods underscores the need to consider the implications of permitting such a major development – especially when officials know the engineering is based on obsolete data and flood maps that in no way reflect current realities.

Until remediation efforts are complete, officials should postpone consideration of the permit. Remediation efforts include:

  • Dredging the West Fork all the way from US59 to Lake Houston
  • Creating additional upstream detention
  • Adding flood gates to Lake Houston
  • Restoring the conveyance of local drainage ditches and streams.

Rainfalls of the magnitude that caused these five floods should happen about once every 2 years according to Harris County Flood Control. This year they happened five times: 10X greater than expected. A review of peak crest data since 1929 roughly confirms these expectations. In the 80 year since then, the river crested over 50 feet only 40 times.

A review of the same data shows that the river has crested over 57 feet 9 times in the last 80 years and six times since 1994.

I believe excessive sedimentation played a role in this frequency increase. Instead of flooding every other year like this, we’re flooding almost every other month. That’s significant enough to put the brakes on development in the floodway, at least until we understand the extent of the problems and can fix them.

These are my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statutes of the Great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on December 31, 2018

489 Days since Hurricane Harvey