Tag Archive for: huberty

Dredgers Reach Rogers Gully Mouth Bar

When last I reported on Lake Houston dredging, the focus of operations had shifted from the East Fork to Rogers Gully. However, the dredgers were still stationed hundreds of feet offshore. According to State Representative Dan Huberty, shallow water forced them to dredge their way into the Gully. (See below.)

Location of dredge on March 1, 2022. Mouth bars, like the one in the foreground are deposited where water slows down as it reaches the lake.

Compare Photos Taken Today

Now, 2.5 months later, the dredgers have reached the Rogers Gully mouth bar and have completed dredging most of it.

Looking east toward Lake Houston. Compare photo above.
Looking west toward the Walden Country Club, upper right.

Aerial photos taken this afternoon show that all but a small portion has already been removed. The operation could be completed in the next week or two, weather permitting.

Pontoons ferry the spoils to a converted marina across the lake now used as a temporary placement area. From there, trucks take the spoils to a fill-dirt company on FM1960 near SH99 east.

Before Dredging Began

To appreciate the progress, compare the photo below taken two years ago.

Rogers Gully Mouth Bar
Rogers Gully Mouth Bar on June 16, 2020 before dredging started.

Harris County Flood Control District had just finished dredging the area behind the cart bridge about a month before I took the shot above. But the City owns the part of the gully near the lake.

Where Next?

It’s not clear yet where the dredges will go next. They’re on a mission, with money that Huberty helped obtain from the legislature, to open up more ditches and streams that empty into Lake Houston. Blockages like the one at Rogers Gully can reduce the conveyance of streams. They create sediment dams that back water up. And that contributes to flooding homes and businesses behind them.

The City of Houston issued a request for proposals to create a long-range dredging plan for the lake. However, no plan has yet been published. News to follow when it becomes available.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/20/22

1725 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Huberty Secures Another $50 Million for Lake Houston Dredging

State Representative Dan Huberty announced on Wednesday this week that he secured another $50 Million for dredging Lake Houston through a rider he attached to SB 1 – a 972 page appropriations bill – earlier this year.

Rider to SB 1 Added During Last Conference Committee

The rider actually stipulates the money will go to the Texas Water Development Board but earmarks it. The text says in part, “Water Development Board shall allocate $50,000,000 for the state fiscal biennium beginning September 1, 2021, for the purpose of providing financial assistance for removing accumulated siltation and sediment deposits throughout the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston.”

The bill became effective on 9/1 after a final conference committee, vote and the Governor’s signature. Huberty credits Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Greg Bonnen, Representative Armando Walle, also on the House Appropriations Committee. Huberty said, Bonnen helped it go in and Walle made sure it stayed in.

Huberty said the money will be used to keep dredging continuously as long as it lasts. The City will actually be doing the dredging (see photos below). Huberty also credits Mayor Sylvester Turner and Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin for working to make the appropriation happen.

Where Money Will Be Used

In addition to East Fork dredging, Huberty sees the money being used to clear accumulated siltation from the mouths of inlets around the lake, such as those in Huffman, Atascocita and Walden.

Update on Status of East Fork Dredging

Shortly before sundown today, I put a drone up from Kingwood over the East Fork and captured the images below.

Looking SE toward Luce Bayou entrance to East Fork and one of two mechanical dredges currently on station.
Closer shot of same dredge. Note: all photos were taken just before sunset on Saturday night, 11/20/21.
Looking south toward Lake Houston, West Fork confluence (upper right) and FM1960 bridge in distance.
Looking North. Kingwood on left; Huffman on right.

The shot above shows you just how big this task will be. I first photographed these dredges in the East Fork on October 12. So it’s taken them roughly five weeks to excavate the sandbar between the two pontoons.

Below, you can see what the same area looked like almost a year before dredging started. The photo gives you some idea of the immensity of the task. The sand bars you see grew 4000 feet in length during Harvey and Imelda.

East Fork Mouth Bar after Imelda. Taken in December 2020, ten months before start of East Fork dredging about five weeks ago.

Josh Alberson who boats this area regularly with a shallow draft jet boat found that the depth of the river through his reach had been reduced from 17 feet before Harvey to about 3 feet after Imelda. That’s a major loss of conveyance that backed water up and contributed to flooding on both sides of the river.

Smaller tributaries exhibit similar problems, for instance Rogers Gully.

Rogers Gully mouth bar in Atascocita

Thank You Dan and God Speed

Everyone in the Lake Houston Area owes Dan Huberty a huge “thank you” for this one. Huberty, who has served in the House for 10 years, has announced his intention not to run again. Throughout his tenure, Huberty helped reform state education funding. He also passed regulation that forced sand mines to register with the TCEQ during his freshman year in 2011. God speed on the next leg of your journey, Dan.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/20/21

1544 days after Hurricane Harvey

How to Support House Bill 2525 and Additional Dredging for Lake Houston Area

State Representative Dan Huberty has introduced House Bill 2525. It would create a Lake Houston Dredging and Maintenance District within Harris County. That would include the headwaters of the lake on the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto. The District would have the power to remove sediment and debris on an ongoing basis in perpetuity.

Rogers Gully Mouth Bar
Rogers Gully Mouth Bar. Many ditches and streams around the lake are blocked like this one.

The District would NOT have the power to levy taxes or condemn land, but it COULD enter into interlocal agreements with political subdivisions and corporate entities to help cover expenses and repayment of bonds. The Mayor of Houston and the Harris County Judge would appoint a board to govern the District.

House Bill 2525 would take effect immediately if receives a two-thirds vote of both houses. Otherwise, it would take effect on September 1, 2021 if signed into law by the governor.

Brandon Creighton has filed an identical companion bill in the Senate, SB 1892. Neither bill has passed through committees yet.

Public Hearing Scheduled for Tomorrow Morning

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold public hearings on HB 2525 Tuesday morning, 4/13/2021. You can support the bill three ways at this point:

  • Testify in person
  • Testify via Zoom.
  • Submit a public comment via the House website.

For in-person witness registration, see: https://mytxlegis.capitol.texas.gov/HWRSPublic/About.aspx. Instructions related to public access to the meeting location, and health and safety protocols for attending this meeting are available at: https://house.texas.gov/committees/public-access-house-committee-meetings/

A live video broadcast of this hearing will be available at: https://house.texas.gov/video-audio/

Texas residents who wish to electronically submit comments related to agenda items on this notice without testifying in person can do so until the hearing is adjourned. See: https://comments.house.texas.gov/home?c=c390

Huberty’s office is not sure what order the committee will call the bills up. But the hearing will begin at 8 AM. https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/schedules/html/C3902021041308001.htm

The House convenes at 10 AM and the committee will reconvene upon adjournment. “If we do not get to the bill in those first two hours,” said Casey Christman, Huberty’s assistant, “it may be last afternoon before it gets heard. It could end up being a very lengthy day.”

Key Points to Make

All things considered, I chose to register my support via the house website. It could not have been easier and only took a couple minutes. The site is extremely well organized. The key points I made included:

  • Maintenance on the lake has been deferred for decades.
  • The removal of accumulated sediment will reduce flooding and increase lake capacity.
  • This will support the economic vitality of the region.
Even though most of the above-water portion of the West Fork Mouth Bar have been removed by now, this chart of depth soundings shows that an underwater plateau still exists that can force flood waters up and out of the channel.

Please support House Bill 2525. To learn more about sediment and debris buildups around the lake, see these posts:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/12/2021

1322 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.

Support Creation of Dredging District to Reduce Floods, Improve Lake Capacity

In the 2021 Legislation session, State Rep. Dan Huberty introduced HB2525, a bill to create a Dredging and Maintenance District for Lake Houston. Senator Brandon Creighton introduced an identical companion bill in the senate, SB1892. It deserves the support of everyone in the Houston region who depends on the lake for water as well as those whose homes and businesses flooded during Harvey.

Why We Need Perpetual Maintenance Dredging

For those who may not remember, during Harvey enough sand and silt came down the San Jacinto West Fork to block the river by 90% according to the US Army Corps of Engineers.

South of the Kingwood Country Club’s Island Course, Hurricane Harvey deposited several feet of sand that reduced the carrying capacity of the West Fork by 90%, according to the Army Corps.

Massive sediment and tree deposits dammed the river at the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge, south of the Kingwood County Club, West Lake Houston Parkway and Kings Point. The blockages contributed to the flooding of 16,000 homes and 3,300 businesses.

Union Pacific Railroad Bridge over West Fork after Harvey had turned into a “beaver dam” because of deadfall washed downstream and caught in the supports.
After Harvey, sand deposits at the West Lake Houston Parkway bridge reached the tree tops.
West Fork Mouth Bar immediately after Harvey virtually blocked the river between Kings Point and Atascocita Point (top right).

Two years later, Tropical Storm Imelda made similar deposits on the East Fork where thousands of additional homes flooded.

Wherever moving bodies of water meet standing bodies, the current decelerates and sediment tends to drop out of suspension. You can see the same phenomenon where smaller streams and channels enter the lake.

Brown & Root Report, 2000
Rogers Gully mouth bar in Atascocita

History of Disputes with FEMA, Corps Over Deferred Maintenance

After Harvey, leaders in the Humble/Kingwood Area fought with the Corps to remove the biggest of the blockages – the West Fork Mouth Bar. The Corps fought back.

The Corps and FEMA believed the massive mouth bar had been growing for years and that it resulted from deferred maintenance.

There was some truth to that. That reach of the West Fork had never been dredged at least in the previous 40 years. The ensuing debate lasted more than a year.

That’s why, shortly after the Corps started its Emergency Dredging program in 2018, it emphasized the need for maintenance dredging to a) avoid such disputes and b) keep problems at a subacute level.

Two Years Later, FEMA/Corps Agreed to Partial Mouth Bar Dredging

Then, in 2019, the City of Houston commissioned Tetra Tech to harvest core samples from the bar. The samples showed that most sand and silt was recently deposited. FEMA later relented and agreed to have the Corps dredge 500,000 cubic yards from a six hundred acre area south of the mouth bar. The Corps finished that dredging in late 2019. The City continued the program with mechanical dredges in January of 2020. They’re still at it. And people are still at risk from the next big flood.

Lake Houston Has Lost 22,000 Acre Feet of Capacity

Meanwhile, Lake Houston, which supplies water to millions of people has been steadily losing capacity. In 2018, the Texas Water Development Board found the lake had lost more than 22,000 acre feet of capacity. The problems are most apparent around the edges of the lake and in its upstream reaches. Both natural streams and man-made channels have become silted in. Mouth bars on both the East and West Forks have reduced the depth of the San Jacinto to approximately 3 feet (from 25 to 30 feet), except where it has already been dredged.

Atascocita resident walking across the river in 2019 without getting his shirt wet.

This cannot continue indefinitely. Nor can we expect the federal government to pay for deferred maintenance in the future; we have been warned. If we expect help again in the future after disasters, we must be able to show what bottom depths were before the storms. And those kinds of surveys are regular parts of maintenance dredging programs.

Safety and Future at Stake

In the three and a half years since Harvey, according to boaters and residents, we have not yet been able to restore the area between Kings Point and Atascocita Point to its pre-storm depth. We haven’t even removed all of the mouth bar.

Three mechanical dredges are still trying to reduce the West Fork Mouth bar more than 15 months after they started. Photo taken 3/19/21.

We need to figure how much sediment comes downriver every year and remove at least that much with a maintenance dredging program to:

  • Stop or reduce the loss of reservoir capacity
  • Reduce the risk of flooding
  • Show good faith to FEMA, eliminate contentious arguments with regular river bottom surveys, and demonstrate how much build-up resulted from a particular disaster.

We also need to be able to quickly accelerate the program after major storms such as Harvey and Imelda.

Dredging needs to be a continuous activity because one major flood can deposit more sediment than humans can remove in years.

How You Can Help

I urge you to support HB2525. Write as many local leaders on the City, County and State levels as possible. Pay particular attention to the House Natural Resources Committee where the bill is pending hearings right now. State Senator Brandon Creighton has filed an identical companion bill, SB1892, which has been referred to the Local Government Committee.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/28/2021

1307 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Huberty Files HB2525 to Create Lake Houston Dredging and Maintenance District

State Representative Dan Huberty filed HB2525 on March 1, 2021 to create a dredging district to perform ongoing maintenance dredging on Lake Houston. However, the boundaries of the District will be the boundaries of Harris County. As of March 2, Huberty’s bill does not yet have a senate sponsor, nor has it yet been referred to a committee.

Back in 2018, before the Army Corps finished its emergency dredging program, the Corps recommended a maintenance dredging program. Since then, the City has continued dredging with financial assistance from FEMA and a TWDB grant stemming from Huberty’s amendment to SB500, a senate appropriations bill in the 2019 legislative session. That amendment provided $30 million for additional dredging. The Harris County Flood Bond also provided money for additional dredging.

Need for Maintenance Dredging Recognized Decades Ago

Back in 2000, the Brown & Root Report, which came out of the 1994 flood, recommending maintenance dredging to prevent the kind of sediment buildups that contributed to Harvey flooding. But nothing was ever done until after thousands of homes and businesses flooded during Harvey.

Meanwhile, more sediment comes downstream with each flood. And that 2019 money won’t last forever. So ever since the last legislative session, Huberty has sought a permanent solution.

City of Houston has had three mechanical dredges working in the vicinity of the West Fork Mouth Bar for a year.

What HB2525 Does and Doesn’t Do

Here are the details of HB2525. The bill will:

  • Create a special purpose dredging and maintenance district whose operations are limited to Harris County and Lake Houston (including East Fork, West Fork and mouths of tributaries such as Rogers Gully, Luce Bayou and Ben’s Branch.
  • Maintenance will consist of the removal of floating debris, such as trees that clogged the waterways after Harvey.
  • The district will be governed by a board of seven.
  • Harris County Commissioners will appoint three directors.
  • Houston City Council will appoint three.
  • The County Judge and Mayor will jointly name the board’s presiding officer.
The District may:
  • Form interlocal agreements with other political subdivisions and corporate entities or persons to perform the work.
  • Seek grants of money, equipment or other resources to assist in its operations.
It may not:
  • Finance, develop or maintain a recreational facility.
  • Exercise eminent domain.
  • Perform the same functions as an overlapping conservation or reclamation district.

Financial Provisions

In addition to raising money from grants, HB2525 gives the District power to issue revenue bonds, but it may NOT levy a tax.

In formulating this bill, financing District operations received considerable discussion. Casey Christman, Huberty’s assistant, said, “We will have a committee substitute on this bill that makes several changes. But this bill would let the Lake Houston Dredging and Maintenance District (LHDMD) create individual interlocal agreements with each entity that purchases water, which at last count was about 68 organizations.”

“The terms of each agreement may differ (i.e. commercial vs. residential) but will outline how and where the fees are assessed. Also, LHDMD would be eligible to apply for grants or funds from other governmental entities, like FEMA or TWDB. Lastly, the new language will permit LHDMD to sell any materials collected. All options could help pay down bonds,” said Christman.

For the full text of the bill, amendments to it, and to track its progress through the legislature, see this page at Texas Legislature Online.

Thanks to Representative Dan Huberty for his persistence and leadership on this issue.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/2/2021

1281 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Above-Water Portion of Mouth Bar Could Be Gone by Christmas

At the current rate that crews are removing sand from the West Fork San Jacinto Mouth Bar, the remainder of the above-water portion of this once-behemoth sand bar could be gone by Christmas. See the two pictures below. The first taken after Harvey and the second taken today.

These two shots show the West Fork mouth bar two weeks after Harvey and todaymore than three years later.

Much Yet to Dredge

Of course, even when the above water portion of the Mouth Bar is removed, that will still leave a huge portion below the surface. However, all progress is welcome.

Like an iceberg, most of a sand bar exists below the waterline. Photo taken 10/26/2020. I can’t say with certainty that this is submerged sand, or water stirred up by dredging. It seems too uniform to be the latter. Compare the picture below looking toward the WLHP bridge from a slightly different position and note how irregular the stirred-up sediment looks. Also note that the picture above was taken upstream from the current dredging.

At the start of October, the above-water (sub-aerial) extent of the mouth bar was down to the width of one excavator. Two excavators are now working toward the middle from each end. See below.

Looking WNW toward the West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge and Kings Harbor. Taken 10/26/2020.
From the wet mark on this excavator’s arm, it looks as though they are excavating up to 10 feet below the waterline. The 10-foot estimate closely agrees with the profile chart below. Taken 10/26/2020.

Like an Iceberg, Most of a Sand Bar Exists Below Water

That’s significant progress given what we started with. But much sand remains below the surface.

Tim Garfield and RD Kissling, two leading geologists now retired from one of the world’s largest oil companies, mapped the depth of the river using sonar and depth poles. They found an underwater plateau exists in this region of the river. See chart below.

The blue line represents the water surface. The gold line indicates the deepest part of the channel as you move downstream from the WLHP bridge to the FM1960 bridge. Numbers on the left scale indicate water depth. Numbers on the bottom scale indicate distance in feet downstream from the WLHP bridge.

Plans for Next Phase Still Not Revealed

FEMA has approved dredging another million cubic yards. And Dan Huberty’s amendment to SB500 in the last legislature dedicated $30 million for dredging the West Fork Mouth Bar. The City is drawing up plans, but they have not been announced yet. The last time I talked to Stephen Costello about this, he said the City was leaning toward dredging a channel somewhere south of the mouth bar. But many details remained to be worked out, such as:

  • Method of dredging (hydraulic vs. mechanical)
  • Exact location
  • Channel width
  • Finding qualified contractors
  • Bidding
  • Determining a suitable placement area, etc.

More news when its available.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/26/2020

1154 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.

West Fork Mouth Bar Now Down to Width of One Excavator For Most of Its Length

Aerial photos of the West Fork Mouth Bar show that the above-water portion on this once-massive sand bar is now down to the width of one excavator for most of its length. A mouth bar is a sand bar where the mouth of a river or stream meets a standing body of water, such as Lake Houston. As water slows when it reaches the standing water, sediment carried downstream drops out of suspension.

The Before Shot

The first photo below shows the West Fork Mouth Bar immediately after Harvey and before any remediation work took place.

Looking south toward Lake Houston and the FM1960 Bridge from Kingwood. Photo of West Fork Mouth Bar taken on 9/15/2017, about two weeks after Harvey.

At that point in time, the mouth bar extended five feet above water in places. It was 3/4 of a mile wide and a half mile from the northernmost part to the small island in the channel south of the bar. But the part you can’t see, below water, is even bigger.

This massive blockage backed water up throughout the Humble/Kingwood/Atascocita area, and contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses.


I took the shot below on Sunday night, 10/4/2020. While the camera position and lens perspective are slightly different, they are close enough to show the progress made in removing the blockage, or at least the portion above water.

Photo of West Fork Mouth Bar taken on 10/4/2020. The white dots appear to be ducks.

Close comparison of these two photos shows several smaller islands beyond the mouth bar that the Army Corps removed a year ago. At the completion of the Emergency West Fork Dredging Program (2018/19), FEMA agreed to dredge 500,000 cubic yards (CY) of sediment in a 600-acre area between the mouth bar and Atascocita Point in the upper right of the photos. After dredging the 500,000 CY, the Corps increased the average depth of that area to 5.5 feet. However, within weeks, Imelda filled much of that back in.

This year, the City of Houston started excavating the above-water portion of the mouth bar. The bar is now down to width of the excavators used for mechanical dredging. To fund this effort, the City used money left over from Hurricane Harvey cleanup.

This low-level shot facing west shows just how narrow the mouth bar now is.

Biggest Part Remains Below Water

But like icebergs, most of the sediment in sand bars lies below the surface. So even when there’s nothing left for me to photograph from the air, most of the blockage will remain. Two local geologists recently measured several cross sections of the river. The river’s profile looks like this.

Compiled by RD Kissling and Tim Garfield using sonic depth finders and measurement poles.

River depth upstream near Kings Harbor and downstream near the 1960 Bridge is more than 22 feet. Between those two points (which lie about three miles apart), the deepest part of the channel is only about 6-7 feet. Not far from the main channel, however, the river gets much shallower. It’s one to three feet in most places.

In other words, at this point in the West Fork, we still have an underwater plateau – extending three miles – that continues to restrict the conveyance of the river.

The continued presence of this plateau will slow water down and trap more sediment, undermining the effectiveness of earlier efforts.

RD Kissling’s knee. Kissling, a kayaker is standing in 1-2 feet of water about three hundred yards south of the mouth bar. The homes in the background are in Atascocita Point across the river. Photo is looking west.

More Dredging Slated

Restoring the conveyance of the river after decades of deferred maintenance will require much more dredging after the above-water mouth bar is gone.

Luckily, FEMA has agreed to dredge another million cubic yards, according to Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin. State Representative Dan Huberty also secured an additional $30 million in funding in the last legislature to continue the effort.

Stephen Costello, the City’s Flood Czar, is currently working on developing a next-phase plan, but has not yet announced it.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/5/2020

1133 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Long-Term Lake Houston Dredging Plan in Development; West Fork Mouth-Bar 60 Percent Completed

In January, the City hired DRC Emergency Services, LLC (DRC) to begin mechanical dredging of the San Jacinto West Fork Mouth Bar. I’ve provided periodic updates on that. According to Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin, DRC has now officially completed 60% of that project.

In the meantime, other related dredging projects, including East Fork dredging and long-term Lake Houston maintenance dredging are reportedly taking shape. Here’s how pieces of the puzzle fit together. But one piece is still missing – long-term funding to pay for the maintenance dredging.

Two-Phase Program

DRC’s scope of work has two distinct phases:

  1. Phase One will remove accumulated materials near and at the mouth bar on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River.
  2. Phase Two will remove accumulated materials in the East Fork of the San Jacinto River AND other locations in Lake Houston.
West Fork Mouth Bar as of late June 2020.

During Phase One, 400,000 cubic yards of material will be removed over twelve months. To date, DRC has removed approximately 240,080 cubic yards of material. (See photo above.) That’s 60% in approximately 60% of the allotted time, so that part of the project is on schedule.

East Fork Mouth Bar as of May 2020. This areas went from 18 to 3 feet deep during Imelda, according to boater Josh Alberson. The above-water portion of this sand bar has grown three quarters of a mile since Harvey.

Phase Two of the project will consist of:

  • Hydrographic surveys of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, the East Fork of the San Jacinto River, and Lake Houston to determine dredge material volumes
  • City of Houston advertising and awarding a dredging contract to the lowest responsive bidder

Phase Two will run simultaneously with Phase One to expedite dredging. 

Dave Martin, Houston Mayor Pro Tem

Mayor Pro Tem Martin did not provide an update on where Phase Two currently stands. But residents have reported seeing survey boats on Lake Houston, and the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto.

Mouth bar forming at Rogers Gully on Lake Houston. Example of kind of projects being considered for Phase 2. Photo late June, 2020.

Long-Term Dredging Plan in Development

Additionally, during Phase Two, City of Houston and its partners will develop a long-term dredging plan for Lake Houston. City of Houston or the Coastal Water Authority will execute the plan.

The intention: to fund dredging operations in perpetuity.

This phased approach will obligate the full grant funding before the 87th legislative session in 2021. This grant funding was made possible thanks to State Representative Dan Huberty (District 127) through the passage of Senate Bill 500.

Mayor Pro Tem Martin credits Huberty for his dedication to the long-term maintenance dredging activities on Lake Houston. “Representative Huberty has been a champion for his residents and a great ally in seeing these additional dredging efforts come to fruition,” said Martin.

$40 Million Project

The total project is valued at $40 million (except for the perpetuity part). Funding for the immediate dredging projects comes through a combination of:

  • City of Houston Harvey Disaster dollars provided by Governor Greg Abbott
  • Grant dollars from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB)
  • Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) Bond Program.

Harris County Engineer, John Blount submitted the grant application for this project to the TWDB. But the City of Houston became a “subrecipient” and is now managing the project.

Long Term Funding – Still A Missing Piece of Puzzle

Lake Houston, a City of Houston asset, is losing capacity. Everyone has recognized that fact for decades. But as silt filled the rivers, inlets and lake, maintenance was deferred, reportedly for budgetary reasons. In 2017, during Harvey, the problem became so big that no one could ignore it anymore. Flooding was the immediate problem. But loss of water capacity is an even bigger, longer-term problem.

It’s one thing to have a long-term maintenance dredging plan and another to put it into action. But where will the money come from?

A tax on sand mines? Won’t work. Most aren’t in the City. Or even in Harris County.

Some have suggested creating a taxing district for lakefront homeowners. That won’t work either. Not enough of them. And it would create a stampede for the Oklahoma border. Moreover, it hardly seems fair; the lake is part of a City system that provides water to two million people and generates revenue.

The logical solution seems to be increasing the cost of water. Adding just a fraction of a penny per 1000 gallons should do it. Dredging isn’t just about reducing flooding. Or preserving views for lakefront homeowners. It helps preserve the lake’s capacity. And that benefits everyone.

As we develop a long-term dredging plan for the lake, we also need to consider a sustainable source of financing.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/12/2020 based, in part, on a release by Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin

1079 Days after Hurricane Harvey

City Applies for TWDB Grants to Turn Woodridge Village Into Detention Basin and More

Correction on 7/4/2020: The article below was based on a City of Houston District E newsletter. It inferred that the City “applied for” five grants (in bullet points below). Other entities, such as the SJRA, applied for those. Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin personally supports them.

The City of Houston has submitted several applications to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for Flood Infrastructure Fund dollars. Among the projects was one for Taylor Gully Flood Damage Reduction. It consists of evaluating flood reduction alternatives plus design, permitting, and construction of a detention basin located on a 278 acre site to the north of the Elm Grove subdivision.

Looking SW at Woodridge Village as of 6/16/2020

Woodridge Project One of Six Apps

Other applications include:

  • San Jacinto River Sand Trap Development
  • Spring Creek Watershed Flood Control Dams Conceptual Engineering
  • Upper San Jacinto River Basin Regional Sedimentation Study
  • Lake Conroe-Lake Houston Joint Reservoir Operations Study
  • Harris County MUD #153 Siltation Reduction

“All of these projects submitted for funding promote regional resiliency and future sustainability in an effort to protect life and property from future flooding,” said Mayor Pro Tem and District E City Council Member Dave Martin. “The ability to submit these projects to the TWDB for funding would not be possible without State Senator Brandon Creighton’s writing of Senate Bill 7. We continue to applaud the Senator for his forward thinking and hope to receive funding for these projects. State Representative Dan Huberty has also been a vocal proponent for resiliency within our area and just beyond the City boundary. We are thankful to have him as a local engaged leader.”

Looking NW from US59 (foreground) over San Jacinto West Fork at the confluence of Spring Creek (left) and the West Fork (right). Spring Creek splits off to left. Its watershed contains several natural areas that might make candidates for flood control dams.

Neither Martin, nor his office, provided additional details on any of the grant applications.

However, from the wording of the release, it sounds as though state leaders are fully aligned and engaged to support the projects.

Woodridge Village Project Has Long History

The grants, if approved, could help reduce flooding throughout the Lake Houston Area.

The Taylor Gully/Woodridge Village project is the most urgent. Homes around the troubled development flooded twice last year. At a Kingwood Townhall meeting in February, Martin said the County should pay for 100% of that project. But then the County demanded that the City should pay for half of the purchase price of the land. And at the next Commissioners’ Court meeting, Commissioner Ellis changed the deal again. He demanded that the City pay for half of the construction costs also.

Both the City and County have been silent on any deal since then. The County refused a Freedom of Information Act request to release the text of the motion, which was approved in a public meeting. They even protested release of the information to the State Attorney General.

Putting Application in Historical Context

The following is speculation, but speculation based on the historical context. It appears that when County Commissioners voted to demand that the City come up with half the the purchase AND construction costs, the City found it hard. The grant application, if successful, is a way for the City to help the people of Elm Grove, who flooded twice last year after Perry Homes cleared 268 acres of adjacent land.

At the time of the floods, less than 25% of the planned detention pond capacity was in place. Perry has since developed additional detention ponds that provide the other 75%.

However, even that probably won’t be enough to absorb a 100-year rain. That’s because Perry Homes rushed to have the project approved before NOAA’s new Atlas-14 precipitation frequency tables went into effect. The new Atlas-14 standard would require about 40% more detention capacity. And that’s what the purchase is all about.

Rumor has it that political forces are aligned to accelerate this particular request.

Observations on Other Grant Applications

Of the other applications, two surprise me.

A joint reservoir operations study seems necessary. Currently, FEMA is funding a preliminary engineering study to add additional gates to the Lake Houston Spillway. If FEMA also approved the money for construction of the gates, they will be a game changer.

The Spring Creek Watershed flood control dams would provide additional upstream detention. Community leaders identified that as a high priority after Harvey. They would reduce the amount of water coming downstream during a flood.

Harris County MUD #153 contains Lake Houston shoreline where silt from Rogers Gully has accumulated. Earlier this year, Harris County Flood Control cleared a large part of the Gully, but the part owned by the City remains clogged with a mouth bar.

Sand bar blocking mouth of Rogers Gully has backed up water and contributed to flooding. Photo taken 6/16/2020.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/3/2020

1039 Days since Hurricane Harvey

TCEQ Levies $19,063 Fine Against Texas Concrete Plum Grove Plant

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has assessed a penalty of $19,063 against the Texas Concrete Plum Grove Plant at 7530 FM1010 in Cleveland, TX. The complaint stems from three incidents in 2019 and alleges unauthorized discharge of 40 million gallons of process wastewater; failure to keep proper and accurate water sampling records; and lack of soil stabilization at the site before abandonment. The complaint also alleges that one breach in the mine’s dike was 20-feet wide.

Unstabilized soil at abandoned Texas Concrete Mine. Photo taken April 21, 2020. Comparison with satellite images shows equipment has not moved since 12/1/2019.

Terms of “Proposed Agreed Order”

A “Proposed Agreed Order” dated April 14, 2020, spells out the basis for the alleged violations. Such orders represent a way for both Texas Concrete and the TCEQ to avoid the cost of litigation. The goals of the order: to reach a fair settlement under Texas law and force Texas Concrete to take corrective actions.

Unless Texas Concrete signs the order and pays the fine within 60 days, TCEQ will forward the case to its litigation division. The settlement offer then becomes void.

More Recent Alleged Violations

The enforcement action is in addition to a more recent investigation launched on April 28th of this year. The investigation alleged unauthorized discharge of water and lack of stabilization at the site. A TCEQ letter in response to an inquiry by State Representative Dan Huberty indicated that the investigator could not gain access to the site because no one was there. However, the investigator made limited visual observations from the property boundary. No processing activity was noted. There is no signage. And portions of the Site appear overgrown with vegetation.

The letter also indicates that TCEQ has tried to contact the site’s owner to gain access to the property for a proper investigation.

However, all communication efforts since April 28 have been unsuccessful.

Case Demonstrates Need for Performance Bonds for Reclamation

Calls to Texas Concrete’s headquarters in Houston by ReduceFlooding.com received a similar response. The person answering the company phone claimed they had no plant in Plum Grove. The person also said that she had never heard of Mr. Somaiah Kurre, the person listed as President of Texas Concrete Sand and Gravel, Inc. on the company’s permit. The phone of the plant’s manager had been disconnected.

The company’s web site indicates the Plum Grove Plant is still in operation, even though equipment on the site has not moved since December 1, 2019.

Ironically, Pit & Quarry magazine, and industry trade publication, featured the Texas Concrete Plum Grove Plant as a model for how to adapt to change. The article was dated January 16th of this year.

In the meantime, the plant represents a safety hazard to area children. The gate presents no real barrier to someone intent on trespassing. Pits on such mines can be 90 feet deep according to industry sources. And perimeter roads often collapse.

Such problems underscore the difficulty of getting operators to reclaim a mine when it becomes unprofitable. That’s why Texas should establish performance bonds that guarantee reclamation before the State grants a permit to begin mining.

“We will make sure they fix this,” said State Rep. Huberty. Huberty’s staff is already drafting more sand mining legislation for the session next year.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/7/2020

982 Days after Hurricane Harvey