On December 7, 2020 I flew up and down the East and West Forks of the river and took these photographs over sand mines. The neon water is “naturally” occurring. By that, I mean I did not “Photoshop” the color to create the intense neon hues. What you see is what I saw through the camera lens. Candy-colored, neon water. Just in time for Christmas.
Why the Neon Colors?
Various theories have been advanced to account for the neon water:
- The TCEQ suggested cyanobacteria, which can create cyanotoxins. Cyanotoxins are among the most potent found in nature and have no known cure, according to the CDC.
- In glacial lakes, high concentrations of “rock flour” can refract sunlight in a way that creates intense blues, according to NASA.
- USGS indicates high phosphorous and chloride concentrations can impart these colors to waters.
The cause in one location may differ that in another. A retired water-quality manger for the City of Houston tells me that the more subtle gradations seen in photos #3 and #4 above are usually the result of cyanobacteria. The intense solid blues are likely result from concentrated chemicals found in the sand.
Sand mines “wash” their sand to remove silt and salts from the finished product. They then dump the silt and salts into settling ponds which you see above. The entire Houston area was a sea bed at one time. The salt mixed in the sand, if left there, can rust steel rebar and girders embedded in concrete. That shortens the life of roadways and buildings.
Phosphorus can turn water green by promoting the growth of algae. The green often enters the water through the runoff of fertilizer from farms.
Other things can color water, too. High iron content found in the water of northern Minnesota and Michigan gives it a vivid reddish color.
And, of course, there’s plain old sediment: white, gray, red, brown. The shot below was taken after a sand mine’s dike breached releasing 56 million gallons of whitish silt into the West Fork.
While these pictures may be pretty to look at, be cautious. Some forms of contamination can sicken humans and kill pets.
So be careful when out and about on the rivers over the holidays.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/20/2020
1209 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.