Tag Archive for: Hallett

All River Levels Falling, Flood Danger Over, But…

May 21, 2024 – After a second round of May floods (and the third this year), all river levels are falling today. The East Fork, West Fork and main stem of the San Jacinto River are finally falling this morning. So are the water levels in Lake Conroe and Lake Houston.

But sedimentation will likely be a problem when floodwaters totally recede.

Gage Readings For Lake Conroe

The gates at Lake Conroe are still open, but only releasing 1,599 Cubic Feet per Second (CFS). That’s about a twelfth of what the San Jacinto River Authority released at the peak of this second wave of May floods.

The graph below shows that the lake level is slowly approaching its normal conservation pool of 201 feet.

Note distances to flowage easement and top of dam. Homes around lake should be built above flowage easement.

All Gage Readings on West Fork Falling

In response, the West Fork at US59 fell below flood stage yesterday evening and continues to fall.

River Grove Park is draining, but the soccer fields are not yet playable.

River Grove Park draining on 5/20/24 at 5PM after flood peak passed

At West Lake Houston Parkway, the West Fork is well within its banks and falling.

Readings on East Fork

Upstream on the East Fork at SH105, the East Fork crest has passed and the river continues to fall.

At FM2090, the East Fork is 4 feet below flood stage and falling.

The East Fork fell below flood stage yesterday afternoon at FM1485 and continues to fall.

Lake Houston and Below

At the FM1960 bridge over Lake Houston, the level continues to fall well below flood stage, but is still about a foot above normal.

At the Lake Houston dam, water levels are also falling, but the lake is also about a foot above the spillway.

Floodwaters are still being released from the lake via both the gates and spillway.

The gates can release 10,000 CFS. That means about another 7,500 CFS are going over the spillway.

Downstream, on the main stem of the San Jacinto at Highway 90, the river is well below flood stage and continuing to fall.

West Fork Still Flowing Through Abandoned Sand Pit

That’s all great news. But the West Fork is still flowing through an abandoned sand pit near the Hallett Mine. You can see the impact at the confluence of the West Fork and Spring Creek.

Confluence of Spring Creek (left) and West Fork San Jacinto (Right) on 5/20/24 at 5 PM.

Can Water Moving at 5 MPH Transport Sand?

I measured debris coming out of the pit. It was moving at approximately 5 miles per hour (MPH).

Despite what some miners claim, 5 MPH should be more than enough to carry sand downriver.

Below is an industry-standard graph that shows the speed necessary to erode, transport and deposit sand/sediment of different particle sizes. Hydrologists and geologists call it a Hjulström curve, named after Filip Hjulström (1902–1982), the man who developed it.

After converting centimeters per second to miles per hour, I superimposed the speed of the river as a blue line over the graph.

The scientific Unified Soil Classification System defines sand as particles with a diameter of 0.074 to 4.75 millimeters. I rendered that range in red at the bottom of the chart.

Blue indicates speed of water. Red indicates range of sand sizes.

Floodwater moving at 5 MPH can transport the entire range of sand sizes according to the Hjulström curve. You can see it in the photo above.

The abandoned pit captured by the river is about a mile long and a half-mile wide.

The river will need to recede before we can see exactly how much moved down to the West Fork between Humble and Kingwood, or settled at the mouth of the river near Lake Houston.

In fairness, some of the sediment deposited downstream came from natural erosion from riverbanks. But there was also unnatural erosion from development and (I have heard) other mines. It is impossible to apportion responsibility precisely.

What we can safely say is that sand mining practices have increased sedimentation downstream and few people seem eager to fight the industry … even as we get ready to launch another round of dredging that will cost taxpayers $34 million.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/21/24

2457 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.

West and East Forks of San Jacinto Flooding Again

May 19, 2024 – For the second time this month, the West and East Forks of the San Jacinto River are flooding. The East Fork crested last night about 1.5 feet below the prediction. However, the West Fork is still rising at US59. Parts of River Grove Park and the turnaround under US59 are already flooded. And the National Weather Service predicts floodwaters will go even higher.

Meanwhile, the West Fork continues to run through an old Hallett sand pit that was sold in January.

Here’s what you can expect if you live near the rivers.

East Fork Crest Moving Toward Lake Houston

Low-lying areas along the East Fork began flooding yesterday at FM1485. Earlier, the East Fork flooded near Cleveland and Plum Grove. As the crest moves downriver, it is affecting communities differently. Exactly how depends on many factors, such as the conveyance of the river at different points, sediment accumulations, proximity of homes to the river and more.

Yesterday, water was coming across part of FM1485 where it crosses the East Fork and parallels SH99. Today, the entire east bound section of FM1485 was blocked by floodwaters.

East Fork San Jacinto at approximately 4:30 PM on 5.16.24
East Fork San Jacinto at approximately 4:30 PM on 5.16.24

As of 6 PM, May 19, floodwaters are declining in this reach of the river. The crest has moved downstream toward Lake Houston.

Harris County’s Flood Warning System shows the river crested last night but was still well above flood stage as of noon today.

Farther upstream, at FM2090, the river has already returned to its banks.

All this is the result of another 3-5″ of rain falling earlier in the week upstream in the watershed on grounds that were already saturated from torrential rains and flooding earlier this month.

NWS Issues Flood Warning for West Fork until Tuesday Morning

While the East Fork is falling at this hour, the West Fork is still rising. At 1:34 PM Sunday, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for the West Fork near Humble affecting Harris and Montgomery Counties.

Communities affected include: Porter, Sendera Ranch Road, Conroe, Kingwood, Humble, Sheldon.

Only minor flooding is forecast.

National Weather Service Flood Warning

NWS will issue its next statement Monday morning at 7:45 AM CDT.

The FLOOD WARNING WILL REMAIN IN EFFECT UNTIL LATE TUESDAY MORNING.

IMPACTS: At 49.3 feet, minor lowland flooding begins in the vicinity of the gauge at US59. The north side turnaround at US 59 begins to flood. Low points in surrounding areas also begin to flood.

At 12:45 PM CDT Sunday, the river had risen to 49.2 feet.

 Bankfull stage is 45.3 feet.

The river will crest at 49.7 feet just after midnight tonight. It will then fall below flood stage late tomorrow evening.

Flood stage is 49.3 feet.

This afternoon, the turnaround under US59 was just beginning to flood. The parking lots and part of the roadway were already underwater.

Far side of sandbar in middle is normally the river bank.

At 5 PM, the soccer fields, picnic area and boat launch at River Grove Park were also partially underwater. And water was rising quickly.

Picnic area and boat docks at River Grove underwater and going deeper tonight.
Soccer fields, also at around 5PM
River still rising. Minor flooding expected through Tuesday.
Sand Mine Area Upstream

Farther upstream, the West Fork was still ripping a hole through an abandoned Hallett sand pit that the company sold to a real estate developer in January.

River is now flowing through the abandoned pit (right) instead of following the normal arc of the river (left) around the pit. Note trail of foam. It moved at around 5 mph.

This breach appears to have widened significantly in recent days. If it remains open and this pit becomes the new course of the river, it’s possible that the entire pit could become public property, just like the river is now.

On the other side of the river, Hallett filled in the trench that was releasing sludge from its settling pond last Friday afternoon.

Trench on perimeter of Hallett Mine that was releasing sludge into river on Friday afternoon has been filled in.

Lake Report

As of 7 PM, the SJRA is releasing 5,325 Cubic Feet per Second (CFS) from Lake Conroe. The lake is almost back to its normal level – within .67 feet of 201. And no rain is in sight. That’s good news. Releases should continue to go down.

Screen capture from SJRA website at 7:15PM.

Throughout this event, SJRA has balanced inflows and outflows to the degree that it can. The rate they show above is about half of what they released earlier in the weekend.

Lake Houston, however, is getting more, not less water. It is still about two feet above normal and discharging water via its gates and spillway. Total discharge is 34,015 CFS. Of that, the gates can release only 10,000 CFS. The other 24,000 CFS goes over the spillway.

Screen capture from Coastal Water Authority as of 7:15 PM.

Comparing the two numbers on the right, shows us that the flood risk is shifting to the Lake Houston Area now.

Of the 11 watersheds that send water into Lake Houston, SJRA controls only Lake Conroe. The East Fork has no flood control. But that’s a story for another time.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/19/24 at 8PM

2455 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.

West Fork Sand Mine Sending Sediment Downstream from Settling Pond

5/17/2024 – The Hallett sand mine on the San Jacinto West Fork appears to have dug a trench across the maintenance road of its settling pond to lower the pond’s level. Murky wastewater is draining into the West Fork while the SJRA is currently releasing 10,875 cubic feet per second (CFS) from Lake Conroe in the wake of yesterday’s heavy rains.

Sediment released from the mine is being picked up by the Lake Conroe water and carried downstream. Note below how sediment has discolored the West Fork.

Picture taken 5/17/24, at the confluence of the West Fork, Spring Creek and Cypress Creek. Cypress joins Spring slightly upstream on the left. The branch on the right is immediately downstream from 20 square miles of sand mines between US59 and I-45.

Where The Sludge is Coming From

In the last few weeks I’ve posted extensively about how the West Fork has breached the dikes of a pit formerly owned by Hallett. As of this afternoon, the river continues to run through that pit. No attempt has been made by the new owner to re-establish the dikes. And that certainly contributes to downstream sedimentation.

But this afternoon, I discovered an additional source of sedimentation thanks to a tip from a nearby fishermen who stumbled across a breach in Hallett’s settling pond. See video below.

Video supplied by fishermen.

It’s hard to get a sense of the location from the close up, so here’s the location of the breach in a satellite image from Google Earth.

General location of breach and path to river in red oval.

And here’s a more detailed look at the path the water took on its way to the river.

Looking N. Silty water leaves Hallett’s settling pond through a trench dug in the tree-line. From there it flows through an abandoned sand mine and then through another breach into the West Fork.
Reverse angle shows silty water flowing out of Hallett settling pond into abandoned neighboring mine.
Detail cropped from shot above shows how heavy equipment worked the area.
Looking S downstream. Abandoned mine on left, West Fork in middle and breach through another pit on right.

Timing of Release Should Raise Eyebrows

The timing of this release is suspect: Friday afternoon just before regulators headed home for the weekend.

I’ve documented a history of breaches from this pond dating back to 2019 and the fishermen say they’ve seen breaches before that.

Hallett flushed water from this and other ponds after the January floods in 2024 but via different routes.

Lest you think I’m picking on Hallett, it isn’t the only sand mine emptying its settling pond into the West Fork.

I also documented an instance when the West Fork ran white from a release at the LMI Moorhead Mine upstream from Hallett. TCEQ estimated they released 56 million gallons of sludge into the river. That pond dropped 3-4 feet according to the TCEQ.

Regular Occurrence

The montage below shows the confluence of the West Fork and Spring/Cypress Creeks from different angles on different days. In all cases, the polluted branch was the West Fork. I took these shots while photographing West Fork sand mines from a rented helicopter.

Confluence

A former West Fork mine operator and a former water quality manager for the City of Houston tell me that releasing sediment-laden water under the cover of floods is standard operating procedure for many mines on the West Fork.

Who Will Bear the Cost of Clean Up, Dredging?

Think this doesn’t affect you? It affects your water quality and the cost of cleaning it up. Lake Houston supplies drinking water for more than two million people.

And if you live between the mines and Lake Houston, it probably will affect you another way.

Most sediment moves during floods. During Harvey, the West Fork swept through 20 square miles of sand mines between I-45 and I-69. According to the Army Corps, deposited sediment blocked the West Fork by 90%. That reduced the conveyance of the river and caused water to rise into homes and businesses. Almost 20,000 flooded in the Humble/Kingwood area.

Since then, taxpayers have spent more than $200 million on dredging. And the City is getting ready to launch another $34 million dredging program.

However, that program won’t address the mouth of the Kingwood Diversion Ditch at the River Grove Park boat launch.

KSA has obtained bids north of $800,000 to dredge the blocked area. Spending that kind of money will be necessary to keep the KSA boat launch open. It has become badly blocked by sediment during two floods since the start of the year.

Kingwood Diversion Ditch at River Grove Blocked by sediment
Here’s what that area looked like yesterday afternoon when the SJRA release rate was closer to 1500 CFS. Water level in river was still up about a foot above normal.

Living with sediment is all part of life on the river. But dredging intervals at River Grove have gone from 8 years before Harvey to 4 to 2 years since Harvey.

If this continues, KSA may be forced debate whether it can afford to keep the boat docks open.

Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, PE is trying to work with upstream authorities to reduce sedimentation that can lead to flooding. But it’s an uphill slog. No pun intended.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/17/2024

2053 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.

Video of Mile-Long Sand Pit Leaking Into West Fork

Correction: This sand pit in this post was sold by Hallett to Riverwalk Porter LLC on January 23, 2024.

Last week, the West Fork San Jacinto rerouted itself through a mile-long sand pit at the five-square mile Hallett Mine in Porter. Some people reported problems understanding how all the images in that post related to each other and where the mine was. To help eliminate confusion, I returned to the site this morning show continuous video from one breach to the other. I’ve also included a wider map below.

Location of Mine and Path of Video

The map below shows the relationship of the pit “captured” by the river to the rest of the mine, Porter and Kingwood.

Arrow indicates location and direction of drone video.

Video and Still Shots of Captured Pit

Clouds were low and I was flying near the base of them. So, the video looks a bit hazy.

One-minute video shot morning of 5/3/24 while flying from south to north. First breach is exit from pit, second is entrance. Water flows toward the camera through the pit to the left of the channel.

Note several things as you watch the video.

  • Size of the entry and exit breaches. They’re impossible to measure precisely, but likely greater than 100 feet wide.
  • Depth of the pond that used to be filled with wastewater before the dikes broke. See exposed sides where vegetation did not grow.
  • Sand being washed downstream before the water receded.
  • Dune blocking the West Fork in the upper right near the end of the video.

Here are some still shots with more contrast that show those highlights and other aspects. I’ll arrange these in the reverse order, i.e., flying downriver in the opposite direction starting from the entrance breach..

Giant dune has totally blocked off West Fork and diverted it into pit (upper left). Local residents say dune is 5-8 ft. high. People on either side of it cannot see each other.

Water now takes the path of least resistance, flowing through the giant pond.

Note freshly deposited sand in pit. The island (right center) is reportedly a burial ground for Native Americans.
Note color difference in water and how pond water now flows downstream. Also note height of pond walls.

Have a cool, refreshing glass of Hallett.

This flows straight into Lake Houston.

Downstream Photos Taken on 5/13/23 at US59 Bridge

Looking S across West Fork toward Humble. Note ripples in fresh layers of sand under US59 Bridge.

The City of Houston is launching a new $34 million dredging program to remove another 800,000 cubic yards of sediment accumulating in the West Fork downstream from the bridge.

Hallett contends that sand cannot escape its pits and that this sand comes from river bank erosion on other tributaries such as Spring and Cypress Creeks.

Robin Sedewitz, Kingwood resident contributed the three photos and video below.

Note height of debris in bridge supports.

Trees swept downstream in the May flood are forming a dam on the south side of the old bridge.
Trees caught under the southbound lanes of US59.
30-second video by Robin Sedewitz panning from upstream to down showing accumulations of debris in bridge supports.

During Harvey, debris such as this got caught in supports for the old railroad bridge and dammed the river, backing water up into Humble and Kingwood businesses. The railroad ultimately built a new bridge that would let trees pass through. No trees got hung up on the new bridge supports during this flood.

Where to Report Problems

Harris County Flood Control now surveys the river after floods and removes debris. They just haven’t gotten to this debris yet.

If you see problems that need HCFCD’s attention, you can report them here.

The TCEQ regulates sand mines in the State of Texas. To report sand mine issues, visit: https://www.tceq.texas.gov/compliance/complaints/.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5.13.24

2449 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.

San Jacinto West Fork Reroutes Itself Through Giant Hallett Mine

Correction: This sand pit in this post was sold by Hallett to Riverwalk Porter LLC on January 23, 2024.

The San Jacinto West Fork has become totally blocked by sediment at the Hallett Mine in Porter and rerouted itself through the giant sand mine.

The old river channel has been sealed off by sediment. And the river now enters and exits one of the mine’s largest pits through large breaches in what used to be dikes. See below.

White oval shows location of blockage. Blue line shows old route of river. Red lines show detours through sand pit.

More than Normal Erosion

Rivers always move during floods through erosion. But this represents a far larger than normal amount of movement through a process called pit capture.

The river now runs through the Hallett pit instead of following its normal curving channel.

See photos below.

The loss of the dikes is likely the result of the SJRA releasing 71,000 cubic feet per second from Lake Conroe during the peak of the recent flood. That was the second largest release in the history of the SJRA.

Pictures taken just before the peak of the flood show the river already overtopping the pit’s dike. Dikes like walls that separate the river from the mine’s pits. They keep industrial wastewater out of your drinking water.

Weak Sand Mining Regulations Brought This On

Two other contributing factors are the depth of the pit compared to the river and the width of the dike.

  • The deeper the pit (compared to the river), the less stable the dike.
  • The narrower the dike, the weaker it is.

Until recently, Texas was one of the few states (if not the only one) that had no minimum setbacks of mines from rivers. Bill McCabe of the Lake Houston Area Flood Prevention Initiative was instrumental in lobbying for greater setbacks. The TCEQ adopted them in 2021, but this pit predated the new regulation. And the TCEQ did not enforce the regulation in this case.

In fact, this pit was open on its southern end since January. That breach was already expanding before the recent flood.

Pictures Taken Before and After Flood Show Pit Capture

Pictures taken during and after the flood show the impact.

Pre-peak on West Fork at Hallett Mine
Hallett Mine San Jacinto West Fork on May 3, near peak of recent flood.
Same area photographed on May 11, 2024. Break in dike is circled in red.

Following the river around to the right, you can see how much sand the river laid down. This likely happened when the volume of water moving through the channel decreased as the velocity decreased, allowing suspended sediment to drop out of suspension.

The river which flows right to left, used to flow toward the bottom left. But now it flows into the pit (upper left).
Closer shot showing the river being diverted into pit on the left.

This video shows the height of the sand deposited in the river bed when the river started flowing to the pit instead of following its normal channel.

Video courtesy of a fisherman, Jody Binnion. Listen to his narration.

This shot also gives you some idea of the height of the sand now blocking the river.
Farther upriver but looking downriver, you can see how the river has been diverted. Note how narrow the dike is/was as it approaches the point of failure.
Note the ripples on the water flowing into the pit.
At the far southern end of the pond, the water exits back into the river through this breach that opened up in the January flood.
Between the new entrance and exit from the pond, the Northpark ditch enters the river from Oakhurst and Northpark Woods.

Impacts Associated with Pit Capture

Without a river to remove sand from the confluence with the ditch, more and more sediment will likely build up here.

Academic literature discusses the impact of “pit capture” on:

  • River bed degradation
  • Bank erosion
  • Channel widening
  • Infrastructure damage or destruction
  • Loss of riparian vegetation
  • Habitat damage
  • Degradation of water quality.

In regard to the last point, sand mining also frequently stirs up heavy metals such as lead and cadmium, which have been documented in academic literature. However, I have no evidence that such chemicals are coming from the Hallett Mine.

This river, which now flows through the Hallett pit, flows into Lake Houston. And Lake Houston is the source of drinking water for more than 2 million people.

Posted by Bob Rehak on May 11, 2024

2448 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.

Breach at Hallett Mine Expanding

Correction: This sand pit in this post was sold by Hallett to Riverwalk Porter LLC on January 23, 2024.

A breach at the giant Hallett Mine on the San Jacinto West Fork that began in late January or early February is still open and expanding.

Two Pairs of Pictures, Two Weeks Apart

I first reported the breach on April 10. Below are pictures taken then and today.

Hallett Breach, April 10, 2024
Hallett Breach, April 24, 2024

In the pictures above, note the difference in the river bank on the left. It appears much more eroded. Also note the freestanding tree in the water on the right in the second photo that is not visible in the first.

Comparison of these wider shots shows more differences.

Hallett Breach, April 10, 2024
Hallett Breach, 4/28/2024.

The first shots in each pair were taken when the water was up due to heavy rains upstream. The second shots were taken when the river was at its normal level (57 feet at SH99 as opposed to 66 feet).

In the shot immediately above, note the lack of vegetation on the sidewalls of the pond. That’s one indication that the height of water in this pond was much higher at one time.

Google Earth Image

This image from Google Earth shows water draining out of the pond on February 19.

Hallett Breach
Hallett Breach in satellite image from Google Earth taken on 2/19/2024 shows silty water pouring out of the mine.

Impacts on River

One boater I interviewed for this post last Wednesday when SJRA was releasing 530 cubic feet per second from Lake Conroe said he could normally get all the way to Conroe in his flat bottomed boat at that flow rate. But on that day, he was frequently hitting bottom.

This is consistent with the experience of boaters launching farther downstream in River Grove Park. There, the river depth is now just 1-2 feet in places. And that’s after it was dredged just four years ago.

The Kingwood Service Association is studying ways to keep its boat launch open. But the need for dredging is becoming more expensive and frequent.

I should add in fairness that the river creates a fair amount of erosion on its own and that Hallett isn’t the only mine on the West Fork with breaches in its dikes.

It is, however, the largest mine by far and has a history of dumping its waste into the West Fork. Searching on the keyword “Hallett” in this website reveals 30 posts that include references to the controversial mine.

It has now been approximately three months since the breach.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/28/2024

2434 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.

Sand Mine Leaks Upstream from Blocked Drainage Ditch

Just upstream from the blocked drainage ditch at Northpark Drive and the San Jacinto West Fork, Hallett Materials operates the biggest sand mine between I-69 and I-45. The mine complex sprawls across several square miles and has several leaks. During the last flood in January, those leaks likely contributed to sedimentation in the West Fork and a blocked drainage ditch immediately downriver from the mine.

Blocked Northpark Ditch at West Fork
Contrary to a popular narrative among miners, this sand did not come from Spring Creek. That’s another watershed. Picture taken on 2/5/2024. The Hallett Mine is to the left (upstream) of the channel.
This picture of the blockage above shows the height of the sand relative to the top of the banks. Courtesy of a resident who prefers to remain anonymous.

Location of Mine Relative to Blockage

In late January, the West Fork experienced an estimated five-year flood after several days of nearly constant rains. Waking up after the flood was like a bad hangover. The blocked ditch above was just one of the problems. It is immediately downstream from the giant Hallett mine. See below.

Landsat image from Google Earth. Arrow shows direction of river’s flow. Circle shows location of blockage. Numbers show approximate location of leaks listed below.

Mine Leaks in Multiple Places

Let’s take a closer look at each of those three areas.

  1. One pond was wide open to the river through a large gap in its dike. The gap appears to have remained open since at least July 2023 and enlarged.
  2. A pipe was expelling water from a second pond straight into the river.
  3. A bulldozer appeared to have helped a third pond overflow across a road. Wastewater from the settling pond then flowed through woods and neighboring properties on its way to the river.

Pictures Taken on Feb. 8, 2024

Leak #1

Notice the huge gap in the dike of the pond in the center of the image below. Also notice that pond’s elevation compared to the one on the right.

The dike breach (center of image) first showed up in Google Earth in July 2023. It now appears considerably larger, indicating severe erosion from the recent flood.

The drought last summer and fall certainly didn’t cause the breach to enlarge.

Historical images in Google Earth show that this pond frequently breaches its dikes in different places. Something’s going through there!

Leak #2

A little farther downstream on the west side of the river, a pipe drains another Hallet pond directly into the river.

I photographed Hallett piping water into the river at this same location in 2020.
Leak #3:

Haven’t seen this before! On the east side of the river, in the woods next to Hallett’s main settling pond, a bulldozer apparently created a path for water to escape across a maintenance road. Water then flowed through woods 600-feet wide and onto neighboring properties before entering the river just above the blocked channel. See the series of images below.

Notice bulldozer tracks to left of perimeter road and wet area on road in the middle of the frame.

Flying closer, you can see that the bulldozer had pushed dirt from the road into the pond (see below, right side of frame).

Silty wastewater then escaped from the pond into the woods on the left.
The silty wastewater then migrated south (top of frame) through the woods.
Along the way, it invaded neighboring properties.
Then it drained back across the access road and into an abandoned mine (top of frame).

Hanover Estates now owns that abandoned mine. In the photo above, note the open path to the river in the upper right. It’s shown below in more detail.

Closer shot of wastewater exiting Hanover pond through another breach that leads straight to blockage (circled in red in the distance).

Apportioning the Relative Contribution of Different Sources

The Hallett mine owner told me that sand can’t escape his pits. I remain skeptical.

To be fair, some of the sediment in the channel blockage likely came from river-bank erosion and sand bars upstream.

Also, a new development called Northpark South, now in the clearing stage, likely also contributed to the blockage. Silty stormwater flows unchecked from it into a second abandoned mine (also owned by Hanover Estates) and then into the blocked drainage ditch.

Northpark South, which drains into Northpark ditch is being built over wetlands.
Northpark South photo from January 24, 2024, looking south toward abandoned mine, blocked ditch and river in distance.

No one can say that Hallett and Northpark South contributed all of the material in the blockage. But it would be hard to pretend that none of it came from them.

The mine is still leaking two weeks after the flood!

And even before the flood, a giant ravine was sending stormwater from Northpark South into the second abandoned mine on the south side of the ditch.

ravine at Northpark South
Northpark South on December 28, 2023 before flood. Note ravine caused by erosion.

That mine drains into the blocked channel directly above the blockage. (See very first shot in this post.)

The SJRA, which is investigating sedimentation in the river basin, relies on a sediment gauge at I-45 – upstream from the mines and most of the new developments along the river. So they can’t really help sort out this issue.

The Calm After the Storm

Now that the immediate danger has passed, we need to investigate the contribution of mining and floodplain development to sedimentation.

When rivers and ditches fill up with sludge, it reduces conveyance.

Then, when the next flood comes, instead of water staying within the riverbanks, it may back up or overflow into living rooms.

The greatest area of deposition will normally be where floodwater slows down as it reaches a standing body of water like Lake Houston. We’ve seen what that led to.

Corporate waste-disposal practices are matters of public safety and concern. We need to examine them more closely.

If Hallett and/or the Northpark South developer wish to respond to this editorial, I will be happy to post their points of view.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/9/24

2355 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.

Price of Progress?

Some say that mining sand from our rivers and flood plains is the price of progress.

Looking west at part of Hallett Mine Complex bisected by the West Fork of San Jacinto. Photographed 1/1/22. The pond in the middle foreground is part of another abandoned mine adjacent to Hallett.

Pros and Cons

Sand has its benefits. We need it to make concrete. And we need concrete to accommodate a growing population. And a growing population creates income for builders, tradesmen and other businesses.

But mining sand also has several downsides. It alters the environment on a large scale. Wildlife lose habitat. Erosion increases. The sediment can contribute to flooding by forming dams and reducing conveyance downstream. Water quality also suffers. These are global problems.

Out of Sight. Out of Time. Out of Mind.

Sand mining mostly takes place in floodplains along rivers. Because our terrain offers no elevated viewpoints, the only way to see the mines is from the air. So for the vast majority of people, they’re out of sight, out of mind and, as a consequence, we’re out of time. More than 20 square miles of sand mines already border the San Jacinto West Fork between I-45 and I-69.

The Hallett mine complex in Porter and an adjacent abandoned mine now stretch 3 miles north to south and 2 miles east to west. And Hallett is just one of several such complexes on the West Fork.

New Best Management Practices recently adopted by the TCEQ for sand mining will help in the future. But much damage has already been done.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s time to start a conversation about the price of progress. How do we restore this land to another useful purpose in the long run? And who should pay for that?

Looking south from farther west at the end of the pond mentioned above. Note outfall to river, top left. Also note recent repairs to Hallett dike, bottom right.
Looking east across abandoned mine complex to left of river, which flows from bottom to top. New Northpark Woods subdivision is in upper left. Part of Hallett mine is on right.
Satellite photo from 2020 courtesy of Google Earth showing Hallett and adjacent abandoned mines.

The Long-Term Question

What do you do with an area this large when miners finish?

  • Do the ponds turn into recreational amenities and parks? (Not when left like those in the third photo!)
  • Who will plant grass and trees?
  • What do you do with the old equipment?
  • How do you turn these areas into detention ponds?
  • Who maintains them? (Montgomery County doesn’t even have a flood control district.)
  • What happens to bordering neighborhoods if rivers decide to reroute themselves through the pits?

Lots of questions. Little consensus.

When you start out to create a detention pond, it’s easy to plan recreation around it. But when the primary goal is mining, the end result can be dangerous, i.e., banks that cave in after miners walk away or kids playing on abandoned equipment.

Abandoned dredge at abandoned Humble mine on north Houston Avenue has been there since Harvey. Area is unfenced.
Rusting processing equipment left at same abandoned Humble mine near West Fork. This is between a driving range and a paintball park.

The new Best Management Practices do not require miners to post a performance bond that would ensure cleanup and conversion to a suitable post-mining use.

In some areas, city and county governments make arrangements with miners to take over abandoned mines. That seems like a decent idea to me. That may be the price of progress.

We need dialog on this issue – unless we’re willing to let private industry turn our rivers into eyesores.

Posted by Bob Rehak

1591 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.

Giant Leak at Hallett Mine…Again

On December 22, I received an email from a Montgomery County resident named Jody Binnion. He lives near the Hallett sand mine on the San Jacinto West Fork and can see the mine from his home. Binnion said that the level of a 170-acre pond had dropped at least 2-3 feet and maybe more – overnight. He went to investigate and found a giant repair at a corner of the pit near the West Fork. Hallett had already patched the breach, he said.

Photo Courtesy of Jody Binnion, 12/22/2020 at 9:56 am. Looking toward 170 acre Hallett pond that dropped several feet.

Here’s what the patched area looked like from the air ten days later on January 1, 2021.

Looking SE toward the West Fork and US59. The West Fork arcs through the frame on the right.

By the time I shot the scene above from the air, the pond had virtually refilled – either with process water, rainwater, or both.

It’s hard to say with certainty whether this breach was intentional. Binnion arrived after the hole had already been plugged. The TCEQ says it has opened an investigation.

History of Breach

The area had leaked several times before, starting in 2015 according to Google Earth imagery. But the leaks were all relatively minor. The forest between the pond and the river even survived Harvey.

But then, in early February of 2019, Binnion noticed a radical drop in the level of the pond for the first time. Binnion photographed the breach and reported it to TCEQ, but never heard back from the Commission. A Google Earth image taken a little more than 2 weeks later confirms that rapidly rushing water mowed down a 250-foot-wide swath of trees more than 600 feet long. Google Earth also shows fresh repairs in the area. See below.

The trees between the upper pond and the river survived Harvey, but were destroyed sometime the week of February 4, 2019. Note repairs to breach when this photo was taken on 2/23/2019.

The Harris County Flood Warning System shows that the HCFCD gage at US59 and the West Fork recorded only about a quarter inch of rain during that week (February 4, 2019).

A quarter inch of rain in a week makes a storm-induced breach unlikely.

Between 2/2/2019 and 2/8/2019, the gage at 59 and the West Fork registered only about a quarter inch of rain. Only an eighth of an inch fell before the breach.

Ironically, that week I was meeting with TACA, Hallett, other sand miners, the TCEQ, State Rep. Dan Huberty, and Lake Houston Area leaders in Austin that week. It was about greater setbacks from the river for sand mines! But I question whether setback was the issue in this case.

Area Started to Regrow

When I photographed the area on September 2020, vegetation was growing back in.

Photo taken 9/11/2020. Looking toward Hallett’s pit (the white one) with West Fork in foreground.

Aerial Photos of Latest Breach

But then on Jan. 1, 2021, I flew over the area again. This time, I saw – from the air – the blowout that Binnion photographed ten days earlier from the ground. See the pictures below.

Latest breach. Looking SE. Pit on left, West Fork on right. Pond in upper middle is an abandoned mine.
Reverse angle. Looking NW, back toward Hallett Mine on upper level. River is behind helicopter.

It’s unclear whether all of this happened at once. It rained 1.04 inches in the week before Binnion photographed the breach just before Christmas. It rained another 1.44 inches in the two days before January 1. I took the aerial photos above on New Year’s Day, with the exception of the one taken last September.

Excess Sedimentation Can Lead to Flooding

Sedimentation from sand mines, along with natural erosion, has been linked to flooding in the Humble/Kingwood corridor where the West Fork lost much of its conveyance capacity after Harvey. It has cost taxpayers more than $100 million so far to remove the excess sediment. The dredging program continues after more than 3 years.

This sandbar formed on the West Fork of the San Jacinto during Harvey. The Army Corps of Engineers says it blocked the river by 90%. Note how shallow the river was in the areas where water was getting through. This picture was taken two weeks after Harvey. The Corps has since removed the bar as part of a larger effort to restore West Fork conveyance.

If we are ever to reduce the sedimentation problem, we must first get past the fiction that sand mines are not contributing to it. Hallett isn’t the only mine with these issues. The West Fork San Jacinto has 20 square miles of sand mines between I-45 and US59. I have photographed leaks at all but one of them during the last three years, including the New Year’s Day flight.

The photo below shows the confluence of the West Fork and Spring Creek at US59. Guess which way the sand mines are?

West Fork comes from the top of the frame and Spring Creek from the left. Water flows toward the right. Photo 1/1/2021.

This confluence looks this way most months, but not all.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/7/2021

1227 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.

Sand Miners Act Like They Own Our Rivers

Who owns our rivers? In Texas, the state owns navigable streams and rivers. People may not obstruct them, drive through them, dump waste in them, or mine them – at least not without a permit. But sand miners constantly violate those laws with only slap-on-the-wrist fines that amount to another “cost of doing business.” Meanwhile, you are the one who pays the price.

Navigable Streams/Rivers Protected for Public

What does “navigable” mean? This Texas Parks & Wildlife web page describes the concept of navigability “in fact” and “in statute.” There is no precise test for whether a stream is navigable in fact. One court observed that “[w]aters, which in their natural state are useful to the public for a considerable portion of the year are navigable.”

Another link to Texas Parks & Wildlife describes stream navigation law, specifically “Private Uses, Obstructions, Bridges and Dams.”

“Since the days of the civil law of Spain and Mexico, obstructions of navigable streams have been forbidden,” the page begins. “Nowadays the Texas Penal Code, the Texas Water Code, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code contain prohibitions against obstructing navigable streams, and the Texas Natural Resources Code forbids unauthorized private structures.”

The Commissioner of the General Land Office has some authority to grant easements for rights of way across navigable or state-owned stream beds.

No Right to Obstruct Navigation

However, in general, no one has the right to obstruct navigation or interfere with recreation.

Parks & Wildlife Code § 90.008 states regarding Public Access: “Except as otherwise allowed by law, a person may not restrict, obstruct, interfere with, or limit public recreational use of a protected freshwater area.”

The “protected freshwater area” referred to above is defined in § 90.001 to be “the portion of the bed, bottom, or bank of a stream navigable by statute up to the gradient boundary.” That gets complicated, but generally, it means between vegetated river banks. Sand bars in a river are normally considered part of the river bed even if above water.

Prohibition Against Motor Vehicles in Rivers

In addition to the restrictions on obstruction of navigability, landowners (and the public) are generally prohibited from operating a motor vehicle in the bed of a navigable waterway (Tex. Parks & Wild. Code Section 90.002).

Prohibition Against Unauthorized Discharges

Numerous posts on this website have dealt with the legal limitations on discharging wastewater from sand mines. In general, it’s supposed to contain no more suspended solids and be no more turbid than natural levels in water upstream from the mine.

The only problem with that concept: when you have 20 square miles of sand mines in a 20 mile stretch of the river, it’s hard to find unpolluted water. In effect, the procedure/standard continually “lowers the bar” as you move downstream.

Out of Sight Makes Blight

What sparked this inquiry? As I fly up and down the West Fork, I see things normally out of public view. Such as miners’ dredge lines stretched across the river, blocking navigation. Such as trucks crossing rivers. Such as mines flushing wastewater down the river. Such as mining the riverbed, without permits or paying appropriate taxes.

Few people ever see these violations. And that has led to boldness on the part of miners. There’s little chance they will be caught. It’s kind of like speeding through a barren desert.

I have no idea whether any of the miners involved in most of the incidents below bothered to obtain permits. I do know that in many cases they have not.

Here is a small sampling of what I see from the air, month after month.

Dredge Pipelines Blocking River

Dredge lines block river at Hallett truck crossing.
Dredge lines blocking river at Hanson Aggregates on West Fork in Conroe.

Vehicles Driving Through River

Truck crossing water at Hallett Mine.
Vehicle about to cross river toward Hanson Aggregates Mine on West Fork

Breaches Dump Wastewater into Drinking Water

Breach at Triple PG mine into Caney Creek that was left open for months, now subject of a lawsuit by the Attorney General.
Another breach left open for months at same mine.
Breach into West Fork at Hallett Mine. Hallett says this was their stormwater outfall. It was open for years, but is now closed.
Plugged breach at Hanson Aggregates on West Fork
Often mines don’t breach directly into a river where it would be obvious. Here, the LMI River Bend mine drains onto adjacent properties which then drain to the West Fork.
Same area as above but closer to breach.

Abandoned Without Reclamation

Equipment abandoned in floodway at abandoned West Fork mine. Note oily scum on water.
Another abandoned River Aggregates mine perpetually leaks turbid water into West Fork. Even though mine is not active, an adjacent Hallett pit often leaks into this one and causes it to overflow.

Pumping Wastewater to River and Adjoining Properties

Triple PG mine pumped wastewater over its dike onto adjoining properties while operating under an injunction. Note how water is higher outside the mine (strip of trees in middle of image) than inside.
Note pipe in dike at Hanson Aggregates mine at allows water to drain out into ditch that runs to river.
Pumping water over the dike at LMI’s Moorehead mine.
Pumping wastewater into West Fork at Hallett Mine
At site of former breach, note how pipes now carry wastewater to West Fork from Hallett Mine. Water experts say that intense blue color is either cyanobacteria or extremely high chloride content in water.

River Mining Without Permit

River mining without permit at Spring Wet Sand and Gravel on West Fork.

Effect on Water Quality

Looking north at confluence of West Fork (top) and Spring Creek by US59. West Fork usually runs murkier than Spring Creek right. Almost all area sand mines are on West Fork.
Same confluence as above but looking west. 56,000,000 gallons of white goop from Liberty Mine breach turned West Fork (right) white.

Contributing to Blockages and Flooding

Rivers transport sand and sediment naturally. But with 20 square miles of sand mines built in the floodway of the West Fork upstream from the Lake Houston Area, miners have increased the potential for erosion 33x compared to the average width of the river. The pictures below, taken shortly after Harvey, show the results.

A six foot high dune not present before Harvey occluded the West Fork by 90% according to the US Army Corps of Engineers. More than 600 homes and hundreds of businesses flooded upstream from this blockage.
West fork San Jacinto Mouth Bar after Harvey. Thousands of homes upstream from this blockage flooded during Harvey. It’s costing taxpayers more than $100 million to remove such blockages.

Please share this post with friends and family. It’s time to start getting ready for the next legislative session.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/30/2020

1005 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.