Tag Archive for: HB 909

New Google Earth Image Shows Multiple West Fork Sand Mines Mixing Their Wastewater with Your Drinking Water

On its way to Lake Houston, your drinking water runs through a gauntlet of sand mines – some old, some new. Many discharge industrial process water directly into the San Jacinto River and its tributaries. The latest Google Earth LandSat images show a total of 11 between I-45 and US 59 on the West Fork doing just that. In addition, photos taken from a boat show another breach in a sand mine dike that happened more recently on Caney Creek, a tributary of the East Fork. Together, these images make a powerful case for moving mines out of the floodway and establishing best management practices for sand mines. The industry has fought both measures.

Dangers of Mining in Floodways

For miners in the Houston area, locating mines in floodways is a dangerous, but lucrative practice. Lucrative because there is less overburden for miners to move. Dangerous because rivers frequently sweep through mines during floods. The floods can then carry sediment downstream, which creates blockages that contribute to flooding.

Floods can also flush chloride-laden process water out of the mines and into your drinking water. That makes City of Houston water treatment costs more expensive. A former high level manager in the City’s water treatment department told me that he saw huge spikes in chlorides after every flood and tracked it to sand mines.

Pictures Aren’t Pretty

Massive breach in Triple-P mine on Caney Creek allows process water to mix with water in tributary for Lake Houston, source of drinking water for two million people.

After discovering the breach above, Josh Alberson whose boat we were in, spent an evening pouring over satellite images. Last week, he sent me a list of GPS coordinates to review additional suspected breaches or discharges. See the images below, all from the West Fork.

First mine north of confluence with Spring Creek. A local canoeist found three breaches in this mine last December.
Breach on right open since 2015. Breach on top left was closed after 2015. Harvey swept through all these mines in 2017.
Note the stream at about two o’clock that is carrying sediment and process water to the river.
Small pit in middle drains into West Fork.
Overflow from mine contaminating West Fork.
This pit has remained open for years at a time. Sometimes the water flows in, other times it flows out.
Follow the stream from the pit on the right to the river on the left.
It looks like someone actually installed two culverts and built a road over this breach.
Note several small breaches in the bottom of this image and how the river is about to invade the major pit in the upper right,
See the line of sediment in the clearcut area between the large green pond and the river. Discharges date back to 2006.
West Fork San Jacinto just east of I-45.

Rule Rather than Exception

I could go on. But you get the idea. The TCEQ has said 15 sand mines are currently active on the West Fork between I-45 and US59. You just looked at a dozen breaches. Historical images in Google Earth show dozens of additional breaches in this same area. This is the rule rather than the exception.

Legislative Session Ends Hope for Improvement

Meanwhile, TACA, the Texas Aggregate and Concrete association, lobbied against establishing and publishing best practices for the industry including setbacks from rivers that could prevent this type of danger.

As we went into this Texas legislative session, I had high hopes. Representative Dan Huberty introduced HB 909, a bill that would have required the TCEQ to adopt and publish a set of best management practices for sand mines.

I drove up to Austin to speak for the bill. Rob Van Til, a sand miner representing TACA, spoke against it. Watch the testimony online at this link for the Committee Broadcast Archives. Make sure you scroll down to 5/1/19 and click on the link for Environmental Regulation. It lasts about 20 minutes. Here’s a guide for those short on time. At:

  • 4:30 Huberty introduces the legislation to the committee.
  • 6:45 Adrian Shelley, representing an environmental group, speaks for the bill.
  • 8:45 Rob Van Til, representing TACA speaks against.
  • 10:45 Representative Erin Zwiener questions Van Til
  • 16.25 Bob Rehak speaks for HB 909
  • 20:00 Huberty asks for committee support

The images above show why we need to move mines out of the floodway. But sadly, HB 909 never made it out of committee. The 86th Legislature ends this week. It’s time to start gearing up for 2021.

The thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on May 27, 2019 with help from Josh Alberson

636 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Bayou Land Conservancy Supports HB 909, Publishing Best Practices for Sand Mining

The Bayou Land Conservancy sent this letter today to the Committee Clerk of the House Environmental Regulation Committee. The Conservancy has allowed me to publish it:

On behalf of Bayou Land Conservancy, I urge you to vote FOR HB 909 when the Environmental Regulation Committee meets to consider this bill. Bayou Land Conservancy is a non-profit, community-supported land conservation organization that preserves land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife. We preserve 14,000 acres in the Houston region, focused on the Lake Houston watershed. This includes the San Jacinto River, cited in 2006 as one of America’s most endangered rivers due to a number of threats, including the high intensity of local aggregate mining. 

HB 909 would require the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to adopt and make accessible best management practices for aggregate producers to comply with applicable environmental laws and rules. 

This adoption of best management practices would be an important, and needed, step to ensure that aggregate production in Texas is done with sensitivity to the environment and to community standards. As the population of Texas continues to grow, with the corresponding increase in construction of buildings, roads, and bridges, there is greater risk to the quality of life and safety for many communities located near mining operations. 

As one of the nation’s leading aggregate producing states, we know Texas can lead in developing higher standards. We recommend best management practices that consider community values, such as: 

  • Employ public notice and stakeholder process guidelines to ensure mining operations are in step with local priorities and concerns 
  • Maintain setbacks or standards for siting operations away from sensitive areas or those with the highest likelihood to cause impacts 
  • Develop environmental impact statements for proposed mining operations 
  • Enact mitigation standards to reclaim the project area after facility closure 
  • Utilize progressive reclamation with a step-be-step restoration of the site over time rather than waiting for final closure 
  • Require the submission of an approved reclamation plan prior to permit approval 
  • Require the certification of financial security to perform reclamation activities before permit approval 
  • Require post-use conservation easements to ensure that the floodplain is left undeveloped and can provide a community amenity opportunity. 

There is urgency for Texas to lead by enacting commonsense solutions that protect the community. 

Without development and implementation of best management practices, such as those outlined above that would keep sediment in place through floodplain preservation and mine reclamation, downstream communities will continue to be at risk of water quality degradation and flooding. 

Please vote YES on HB 909. 

(Signed) Jill Boullion 
Executive Director 

Please Support HB 909; Here’s How

Call. Write. Or testify in person TODAY. The committee meets to consider this bill tomorrow. The following representatives comprise the Environmental Regulation committee.

  • Rep. J. M. Lozano (512) 463-0463 
  • Rep. Ed Thompson (512) 463-0707
  • Rep. César Blanco (512) 463-0622
  • Rep. Kyle J. Kacal (512) 463-0412
  • Rep. John Kuempel (512) 463-0602
  • Rep. Geanie W. Morrison (512) 463-0456
  • Rep. Ron Reynolds (512) 463-0494
  • Rep. John Turner (512) 463-0576
  • Rep. Erin Zwiener (512) 463-0647
  • Committee Clerk: Scott Crownover. (512) 463-0776

If you can come to Austin to testify, please do. The meeting will be held Wednesday, May 1, in room  E1.026 of the Capitol Building. Most likely hearing time is in the evening around 8 p.m., but get I plan to get there early. Hope to see you there.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 30, 2019

609 Days since Hurricane Harvey

House Environmental Regulation Committee to Hear Testimony on Sand Mining Best Practices

Wednesday, May 1, 2019, the Texas House of Representatives Environmental Affairs Committee will hear testimony on HB 909. It would require the TCEQ to establish and publish best management practices for sand mining.

Why We Need HB 909

After Harvey, I discovered bright white trails of sand leading from sand mines upstream to massive sediment buildups in the Humble/Kingwood area. The Army Corps later acknowledged that some of our flooding was likely attributable to these massive sediment dams. No doubt some of the sand came from channel erosion, too. But we can’t do much to control that. We can, however, help reduce sediment from man-made sources with sensible regulations found in many other states, including those growing faster than Texas.

Improving Sand-Mining Best Management Practices

Texas sand mines do not follow many best management practices (BMPs) common in other parts of the country and the world. If practiced, they could help increase margins of safety, reduce risks associated with future flooding, and reduce the costs associated with cleanup. Below: the biggest opportunities for improvement.


Locate mines outside of floodways

Texas is the only state that does not mandate minimum setbacks from rivers for sand mines. As a result, virtually all mines in this area are built inside floodways of major rivers where floods can wash sediment downstream.

Establish performance bonds to cover the cost of cleanup

Giant sand dunes deposited during Harvey exacerbate flooding by constraining the conveyance of downstream drainage ditches and the San Jacinto river. Mining exposes downstream populations to heightened flood risk and reduces their property values. Performance bonds could ensure cleanup and repairs after floods in a timely way and force those who caused damage to bear the cost of remediation. 

Increase the width of dikes

Texas has no minimum setbacks from rivers and does not recognize erosion hazard zones. Some mines operate so close to the river that floodwaters breach their dikes repeatedly. Wider dikes:

  • Make stronger dikes that are less likely to fail and that improve safety.  
  • If forested, can slow currents as they enter and leave mines.
  • Reduce the amount of sediment picked up and carried downstream. 
  • Reduce the danger of river capture due to river migration.
River is migrating toward pit in background at the rate of 12 feet per year, in part, due to lack of vegetation protecting banks.
Decrease the slope of dikes

Other states and countries recommend gently sloping dikes to help grow vegetation, which reduces erosion. The near-vertical slope of many dikes on the San Jacinto can’t sustain vegetation.

Steep, loose dikes with no vegetation breach easily during floods.
Reduce erosion with vegetation

Planting dikes and unmined surfaces with grass and/or native trees can bind the soil, slow floodwater, reduce erosion, trap sand, and help retain sand within mine boundaries. 

Virtually all states and countries recommend planting native grasses and trees to help bind soil. Revegetating after plants have been removed can take years. Therefore, the best, cheapest and simplest practice is to leave native vegetation in place when constructing mines.

Replant areas not actively being mined 

Loose sand, exposed to floodwaters, exposes downstream communities to unnecessary risk. Replanting with native grasses and trees can bind soil, reduce water velocity during floods and reduce erosion. TCEQ reports that native grasses are 98% effective in reducing erosion. Keeping soil in place is the best way to keep it out of rivers.

Avoid clearing areas that will not soon be mined.

Delay clearing land until the last possible moment to reduce erosion risk from floodwaters. A large part of a sand mine on the East Fork was cleared, then went through three so-called “500-year storms” in the next three years – before any mining took place

This land was cleared just before consecutive 500-year floods in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Downstream communities like Kingwood paid the price. It still has not been mined.
30 acres of wetlands downstream from the mine above were covered by sand dunes up to 10 feet tall.

Protect stockpiles from flooding.

Loose sand in stockpiles is especially vulnerable during floods. During Harvey, sand mines adjacent to Kingwood lost four of six stockpiles completely. Another eroded severely. Only one escaped with little loss, the one on the highest ground, protected by a large swath of trees. 

Before Harvey, this stockpile covered 34 acres and was up to 100 feet tall. It is located at the confluence of not one, but two floodways, just upstream from the wetlands shown above.
Establish performance bonds to guarantee remediation of breaches and repurposing of mined areas once mining is complete.

Satellite images show dike breaches that have remained open 3 to 6 years. Even worse, obtaining a permit to mine in Texas requires a remediation plan, but it does not obligate mines to act on that plan when mining is complete. That creates safety hazards, eyesores, and economic development headaches for communities. 

Gaping Holes in Regs Exposed by Harvey

Harvey exposed gaping holes in Texas regulations. It underscored the importance of adopting better practices to help improve public safety, reduce damage to infrastructure, and avoid widespread flood damage to homes and businesses. Consequences of ignoring these recommendations potentially include:

  • Destruction of downstream communities through increased flooding
  • Illegal “taking” of private property
  • More loss of life
  • Unfair imposition of remediation costs on taxpayers
  • Hidden “subsidies” that distort the true cost of cement and its usage
  • Loss of faith in the ethical standards of businesses and the free enterprise system
  • Loss of faith in government institutions to protect people and property
  • Loss of home and business values
  • Reduction of property tax income to city and county governments
  • Making Texas a less desirable place to live.

Destruction like we experienced during Harvey is rarely caused by one thing. Multiple failures on multiple levels compounded each other. To the extent that sand mines contributed to the problem, they can help solve it by modifying business practices as described above.

Please Help

Texas has no simple, easy-to-read recommendations like Louisiana and other states. The few references to best management practices currently on the TCEQ web site have to do with a water-quality district on the Brazos. They do not apply to the San Jacinto.

Please support this legislation. Phone members of the House Environmental Regulation Committee.

  • Rep. J. M. Lozano (512) 463-0463
  • Rep. Ed Thompson (512) 463-0707
  • Rep. César Blanco (512) 463-0622
  • Rep. Kyle J. Kacal (512) 463-0412
  • Rep. John Kuempel (512) 463-0602
  • Rep. Geanie W. Morrison (512) 463-0456
  • Rep. Ron Reynolds (512) 463-0494
  • Rep. John Turner (512) 463-0576
  • Rep. Erin Zwiener (512) 463-0647

If you can come to Austin to testify, please do. The meeting will be in room  E1.026 of the Capitol Building. Most likely hearing time is in the evening around 8 p.m., but I plan to get there early. Hope to see you there.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 29, 2019

608 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Earth Week Part 2: Clearing Land for Sand Mining

Best management practices for sand mining in many states say that miners should avoid clearing land until they’re ready to mine it. The roots of trees and grasses help stabilize soil during floods.

Barren land exposed to three 500-year storms. Vegetation not only binds the soil, it reduces the velocity of floodwaters, reducing the potential for erosion. Picture taken on 9/14/2017 two weeks after Hurricane Harvey.

Land Cleared, Then Three 500-Year Storms

However, on Caney Creek in Porter, a sand miner cleared 60 acres right before three 500-year storms in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Except for a tiny pond at the far end of this cleared area, no mining had occurred here when I took this photo shortly after Harvey.

With little vegetation to reduce the velocity of floodwaters, the miner lost sand from this area and a significant portion of his stockpile. Below is a closer shot of the stockpile.

34-acre stockpile suffered severe erosion during Harvey.

Sand Damage Downstream from Mine

Meanwhile, downstream from the mine, when Harvey’s floodwaters subsided, Kingwood residents found 30 acres of East End Park covered with sand, including this area that was once wetlands.

Eagle Point section of Kingwood’s East End Park. After Harvey, sand dunes replaced wetlands.

Extreme events like Harvey reveal the need for regulations that protect both miners and the public.

Restoring the trails in the park cost residents hundreds of thousands of dollars. Several months after the storm, trees covered by sand started dying and continue dying to this day. Eagles, other birds, and residents have lost valuable wetlands.

Bills to Regulate Sitting Idle

State Representative Dan Huberty introduced a bill that would establish best management practices for sand miners and another bill that would require miners in the San Jacinto watershed to follow them.

  • HB 909 calls for the TCEQ to adopt and publish best management practices for sand mines.
  • HB 1671 creates penalties for non-compliance with best practices defined under HB 909.

The legislature has taken no action on either bill since:

  • The Environmental Regulation Committee received HB 909 on 2/25/19.
  • The Natural Resources committee received HB 1671 on 3/4/19.

Time Running Out

With only 37 days left in this legislative session, hopes for both bills are quickly fading. If you would like to see them enacted, please email committee members:

House Environmental Regulation Committee

House Natural Resources Committee

Click here to see my top ten recommendations for sand mining practices that could reduce erosion. Each represents an opportunity for improvement relative to other states.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/23/2019

602 Days since Hurricane Harvey with 37 Days Left in the Legislative Session