Tag Archive for: enforcement

Big Stories to Watch in 2020

As we enter 2020, keep your eyes on these stories.

Elm Grove Lawsuits and Mitigation

In 2019, Elm Grove flooded twice with runoff from the Perry Homes/Woodridge Village development in Montgomery County. Hundreds of homeowners sued Perry Homes’ subsidiaries (PSWA and Figure Four Partners) and their contractors.

On 12/17/19, attorney’s for the plaintiffs filed a fourth amended petition. Since the original filing, plaintiffs have named Double Oak Construction and Texasite LLC as additional defendants.

The judge set a jury trial date for July 13, 2020. To date, Perry Homes has done nothing to reduce the threat of flooding from their job site.

The 268-acres clear-cut acres that contributed to Elm Grove Flooding.

That brings us to the subject of mitigation.

What can be done to restore the safety of residents?

Perry Homes has demonstrated no interest in reducing the threat to downstream flood victims.

Protecting homeowners will require massive intervention from an outside source. But who? And how?

Harris County Bond Fund Mitigation Projects

In 2019, Harris County Flood Control began work on 146 of 239 of the projects identified in their $2.5 billion flood bond.

Many of those projects required studies and partners. Three affecting the Lake Houston Area are:

Many projects could actually enter the construction phase next year.

Recommendations from each study should come out in 2020. Then many more projects will get underway.

Upstream Development

In 2019, we saw what upstream development did to homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest bordering Taylor Gully.

I recently learned of two new developments in the Ben’s Branch watershed.

  • A developer intends to build 18 acres of apartments where the woods adjacent to the new St. Martha Church now stand.
  • Another developer intends to build hundreds of homes on tiny lots on an 80-acre site just north of St. Martha’s.

These two projects represent dozens of others gobbling up farm and forest land in southeast Montgomery County.

This drainage ditch feeds into Ben’s Branch at Northpark Drive. The 18 acres of trees on the other side of the ditch could soon become apartments.

Businesses such as the St. Martha School and Kids in Action already flooded twice this year. So did dozens of homes along Ben’s Branch.

Additional upstream development has the potential to make flooding even worse. This is like death by a thousand cuts. Residents just don’t have the time or energy to monitor each development to ensure that owners follow rules and regulations for wetlands, floodplains, drainage, etc. Neither evidently does Montgomery County. Which brings us to…

Montgomery County Standards and Enforcement

Montgomery County competes for development by touting its lack of regulations. That’s a huge problem for downstream residents.

  • Montgomery County still bases flood maps on data from the 1980s.
  • Large parts of the county remain unmapped for flood hazards.
  • The County last updated its Drainage Criteria Manual in 1989.
  • Developers ignore many provisions within it.
  • County Commissioners voted to leave loopholes open that allow developers to avoid building detention ponds.
  • The County even paid an engineering company to investigate itself for its role in the Elm Grove Disaster.

You get the idea. If you thought some benign government entity watched over new developments to protect downstream residents, think again. Below you can see the 80-acre site I mentioned above.

Source: USGS National Wetlands Inventory.

Note how it was covered in wetlands. Developers did not ask permission from the Corps to remove them. They just decided on their own that they didn’t need to ask.

Below, you can see how virtually half the site is in a flood zone or floodway.

Source: FEMA’s national flood hazard layer viewer. Brown = 500 year flood plain, aqua = 100 year, cross-hatched equals floodway.

Here’s how it looks in Google Earth. Developers have already cleared the site.

Developers intend to build high-density homes in the floodplains. They will also build their detention pond in the floodway. Those hazard areas will likely expand when and if the County incorporates new Atlas-14 data into their flood maps.

Layout for Brooklyn Trails development in Montgomery County

None of this seems to bother the leadership of Montgomery County. And that’s a bigger problem than any one development.

In 2020, expect more focus on the decision-making process and decision makers who have created a permissive culture of indifference to flooding problems.

Sand Mines

Sand mines operate so closely to the San Jacinto that their walls frequently break and pour polluted process water into the drinking water for 2 million people. If they get caught, they pay a small fine and continue operating with impunity.

Left: Liberty Materials Mine in Conroe that undercut five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids. Center: Triple PG mine in Porter where erosion during Imelda exposed one natural gas line and threatens 5 more HVL pipelines. Right: Another Liberty Materials mine that allegedly dumped 56 million gallons of white goop into the West Fork.

Upstream Detention

During Harvey, the release of 80,000 cubic feet per second from Lake Conroe added to downstream flooding. The goal: to find enough upstream detention capacity to help offset future releases. The San Jacinto River Basin Study will examine that possibility. It’s unlikely that one reservoir will provide enough capacity. However, multiple smaller reservoirs may.

Peak flow map during Harvey.

The study partners will release their results in the second half of 2020. Land acquisition and construction could take several additional years.


Dredging is another essential element of flood mitigation on the West Fork of the San Jacinto. Sand buildup near the mouth of the river has created a giant sediment dam. The Army Corps removed three feet in a dredging effort that ended on Labor Day. But much remains.

Luckily, State Representative Dan Huberty sponsored legislation that allocated another $30 million. The Harris County Flood Bond allocated $10 million. The City of Houston allocated $6 million. Plus two more grant requests are still pending that could increase the total even more. And a disposal site for the material has already been permitted.

Mouth Bar of the West Fork. Photo taken 12/3/2019.

Last week, Harris County commissioners voted to proceed with additional dredging. Project managers are studying the most cost effective ways to proceed. We should see more dredging soon.

This money could also be used on the growing mouth bar of the East Fork.

State Highway 99 Extension

The extension of the Grand Parkway (State Highway 99) east and south to I-10 will open up vast new expanses of forest and farmland to high density development. The biggest threat will be to the East Fork watershed as construction moves through southeast Montgomery County and the northeast tip of Harris County into Liberty County.

Eastward clearing for SH99 has reached Caney Creek near Lake Houston Park.

Those are my predictions for the biggest stories of 2020. There’s a lot of good news in the forecast and much to remain vigilant about. Life seems to be a constant struggle between those who would increase and decrease our margin of safety when it comes to flooding.

Posted on 12/21/2019 by Bob Rehak

844 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.

Montgomery County Floodplain Management Regulations Affecting Sand Mines: Are They Being Enforced?

A friend called my attention to Montgomery County Floodplain Management Regulations.  These regulations govern permitting of sand mines in the county. The thoughts are great. But are the regulations being enforced? Are they actually protecting the people of Montgomery County and residents downstream? You be the judge.

Findings of Fact

The regulations start out with “Findings of Fact.” They state on page 4:

“The flood hazard areas of Montgomery County are subject to periodic inundation, which results in loss of life and property, health and safety hazards, disruption of commerce and governmental services, and extraordinary public expenditures for flood protection and relief, all of which adversely affect the public health, safety and general welfare.” Also…

“These flood losses are created by the cumulative effect of obstructions in flood plains which cause an increase in flood heights and velocities, and by the occupancy of flood hazard areas by uses vulnerable to floods and hazardous to other lands because they are inadequately elevated, flood-proofed or otherwise protected from flood damage.”

When they wrote that last statement, they may not have anticipated the specific problem of the giant sandbar at the mouth of the San Jacinto River, but it certainly applies. The bar is backing water up throughout Humble, Kingwood and Atascocita,  and it was created – in part – with sand that came from mines built in the West Fork floodway.

The second part of that last statement about “inadequately elevated, flood-proofed or otherwise protected from flood damage” also applies.  Common-sense best management practices required in other states could have helped protect us. Those include moving mines out of the floodway, not mining below the thalweg, greater setbacks from the river, wider dikes with more gradual slopes, replanting areas already mined, and more. If only those BMPs were practiced here!

Statement of Purpose

Also on page 4, the next section, “Statement of Purpose,” says, “It is the purpose of these regulations to promote the public health, safety and general welfare and to minimize public and private losses due to flood conditions in specific areas by provisions designed to: 

  1. Protect human life and health; 
  2. Minimize expenditure of public money for costly flood control projects; 
  3. Minimize the need for rescue and relief efforts associated with flooding and generally undertaken at the expense of the general public; 
  4. Minimize prolonged business interruptions; 
  5. Minimize damage to public facilities and utilities such as water and gas mains, electric, telephone and sewer lines, streets and bridges located in flood plains

Just downstream from River Grove Park in Kingwood, a new sandbar has formed on the west fork of the San Jacinto. Boats that draw 18 inches of water can no longer navigate upstream (foreground) past this sandbar.

Primary Threat of Sand Mining

The primary threat from sand mines is sand and sediment that washes out of the mines during floods and accelerates the natural rate of sedimentation. Sand mine pits probably lower floods within THEIR local area by a small amount. No argument there.

However, when the West Fork of the San Jacinto River captures the pits (as it has done repeatedly), large volumes of sediment can be swept downstream and contribute to flooding elsewhere. The professional engineer that certified the development plans of these sand mines should have anticipated this, especially downstream of the Lake Conroe Dam.

Google Earth shows many instances of river capture and not just in Harvey. Much smaller floods have captured pits, too. These repeated captures are caused by building mines in floodways, excavating too close to the river, and using dikes/levees that are insufficient to withstand the volume of floodwaters – especially when the San Jacinto River Authority releases water from the Lake Conroe Dam. Additionally, mines sometimes increase the height of their levees by piling up sand in a way that constricts the floodway.

As You Review these Regulations…

I reviewed these regulations as I thought about the thousands of homes and businesses flooded downstream from the mines, partially as a result of massive sand bars that that blocked drainage ditches and the river itself (see photo above).

Clearly, not all of that sand came from mines, but some did. I flashed on the City Sewage Facility that was inundated, the loss of six buildings at Kingwood College that were contaminated by that sewage, and the $70 million taxpayers will spend on a dredging project…that doesn’t even address the biggest sand blockage on the river.

The most obvious areas to explore for permit violations include:

Article IV

  • Sec (B)(2) Ensure that the proposed … site … will be reasonably safe from flooding (page 15)
  • Sec (C)(2)(c)  Consider the danger that materials may be swept onto other lands to the injury of others. (Page 17)
  • Sec (C)(2)(f) Consider the costs of providing governmental services during and after flood conditions including maintenance and repair of streets and bridges, and public utilities and facilities such as sewer, gas, electrical and water systems. (Page 17)
  • Sec (C)(2)(g) Consider the expected heights, velocity, duration, rate of rise and sediment transport of the floodwaters and the effects of wave action, if applicable, expected at the site. (Page 17)
  • Sec (C)(2)(c) Permits should be denied if there’s a danger that materials could be swept onto other lands to the injury of others. (Page 17)
  • Sec (D)(2)(b) Variances shall not result in increased flood heights, threats to public safety, extraordinary public expense, create a nuisance or victimize the public. (Page 18)
  • Sec (D)(10) Any person or persons aggrieved by the decision of the Commissioners Court may appeal such decision in a court of competent jurisdiction. (Page 19)

Article V

  • Sec (A)(2) All improvements shall be constructed by methods and practices that minimize flood damage. (Page 21)
  • Sec (A)(8) An engineer must certify that the proposed excavation will have no adverse impact to the drainage on, from or through adjacent properties. (Page 21)

Article VI

  • Sec (E)(1) Permits can be revoked in cases where there has been a false statement or misrepresentation. (Page 27)
  • Sec (E)(5) Violators can be fined $100 per day for each violation. (One of those dikes remained open for 3 years and another for 8!) (Page 28)
  • Sec (E)(7) A permit holder in violation may be forced to restore property to pre-existing conditions. (Page 28)
To read the complete regulations, click here. As stated on pg 26,  SECTION F. EXEMPTIONS (5)  Commercial mining and dredging are not exempt and must have a professional engineer certify the development plans of sand mines. Therefore, one would expect that the engineer would have evaluated sediment transport from the mines and the potentially increased risk of downstream flooding – especially downstream of the Lake Conroe Dam.
As always, these are my opinions on matters of public policy, protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statutes of the great State of Texas.
Posted August 6, 2018 by Bob Rehak
342 Days since Hurricane Harvey