Last Monday I photographed white water in the West Fork. Alarmed by what I saw, I sent photos to the TCEQ and SJRA. Then I posted about it last night. Fox 26 saw the post and decided to do some of its own investigating.
Fox News Investigates Further
Today, Fox called for an interview. The reporter, Ivory Hecker, also called the TCEQ, the San Jacinto River Authority and Houston Public Works Department. Everybody, it seems is now investigating. Chuck Gilman of the SJRA says he has never seen anything like it.
Meanwhile, the river is still running white. Not AS white, but nothing like its normal color. Fox sent its own helicopter up today and documented a definite discoloration.
Here’s a link to Ms. Hecker’s segment on Fox. I include it here not because it contains an interview with me, but because it contains the results of her own investigation and interviews with others. It also has helicopter footage taken this afternoon showing that the river is still running white, albeit a dirtier white.
So far this week, the TCEQ, SJRA, and City of Houston have all launched investigations. None has reported results yet.
What Causes Color in Water
China has a Yellow River. Wyoming and Utah have a Green River. Colorado has a Blue River. And of course, Texas and Oklahoma share a Red River. Here’s an article about what makes water different colors. They include runoff, chemical spills, reflected light, color temperature, suspended particles, dissolved minerals, you name it. But the article never once mentions WHITE.
In happier times – Pre-Harvey – I drove to the Arctic Circle and photographed spectacular scenery along the way. In Alberta, Canada, I photographed some of the most intensely blue water I have ever seen anywhere. Given the pristine alpine location, you might think the lake in the photo below was naturally blue.
It’s not. Water is a clear colorless liquid. Things IN it give it color. The intense blue in the water below comes from the way suspended “rock flour” from the glaciers refracts light. Still, I’ll take it over San Jacinto white water any day.
Best Theory so Far
According to Fox, Houston Public Works suspects the color is caused by suspended sediment from a sand mine. Although both of the mines I flew by on Monday were discharging water from their pits directly into the river, we just need to wait and see what water tests show and whether the discharges I witnessed had been permitted by the TCEQ.
The water was also white upstream from the two mines I photographed – just not as white. So it’s possible those two mines were not even involved. We should not jump to conclusions.
Better Ways to Monitor
Several things are certain at this point, however. Flyovers once every two years by the TCEQ are insufficient to catch issues like this. LandSat flies over Houston 18 times a day. It’s hard for taxpayers to understand why the TCEQ doesn’t use the satellite imagery that the federal government is already collecting anyway. It could provide a higher level of protection at a lower cost. I posed the same question last November to the TCEQ and never received a satisfactory answer.
Second, I have been told that there are ways to monitor the Total Suspended Solid (TSS) concentration in water above and below sand mines. Such gages would make a great way to narrow down the source of pollution and stop it quickly. The SJRA could and should demand such monitoring as part of the price of mining sand near its river banks.
It’s also hard for people who pay sky-high, City-of-Houston water bills to understand why we allow people to dump things in the drinking water of two million people that raise our treatment costs. It just doesn’t seem right regardless of your politics.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 11.8.19
801 Days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post are my 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.