Tag Archive for: Lake Houston Dredging and Maintenance District

2023 Legislature Scorecard on Flood Issues: 2 Wins, 4 Losses, 1 Toss-up

The 2023 legislature scorecard, just five years after Hurricane Harvey, shows that flooding is fast becoming forgotten in Texas. Of the seven issues I tracked, the Lake Houston Area had two wins, four losses, and one that could be ruled a coin toss depending on your point of view.

In the Win Column

Let’s look at the good news first.

HB 1: More Floodgates for Lake Houston

Due to last minute heroics, HB 1 contained enough money earmarked for more gates to keep the project alive. A last minute phone-call campaign by hundreds of citizens making thousands of phone calls to key state legislators in the House and Senate succeeded in getting riders attached to the budget bill.

Few projects have inspired more hope among residents in the northeastern part of Harris County than the one to add more floodgates to the Lake Houston Dam. The Lake Houston Area Flood Task Force identified the project as one of the top priorities for the area.

The idea: to release water both earlier and faster in advance of major storms to create more storage in Lake Houston. Right now, Lake Conroe can release water 15 times faster than Lake Houston. And the release from Lake Conroe during Harvey was widely seen as one of the contributing factors to the flooding of so many homes and businesses in the Lake Houston Area.

The governor signed HB 1 on 6/18/23. It becomes effective on 9/1/23. With funding secured, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin says final design on the gates is proceeding.

Lake Houston Gates Project
Lake Houston Gates Project
SB 1397: TCEQ Reforms

The TCEQ was under sunset review this year. No one proposed eliminating the TCEQ. But many people had ideas to improve it. They focused on two main areas: increasing transparency and improving enforcement.

The Sunset Commission recommended measures to improve public outreach, public notices, community input, and dissemination of public information, including the publication of best practices for sand mining.

The Commission also recommended updating the TCEQ’s enforcement practices to better focus on the riskiest actors and ensure staff treat potential violations consistently and based on severity. 

Breach in dike of Triple PG mine remained open for months, sending wastewater into Lake Houston. Texas Attorney General is now suing the mine.

The governor signed SB 1397 on 6/18/23. It becomes effective on 9/1/23.

In the Loss Column

SB 2431/HB 5338: Gulf Coast Resiliency District

These companion bills would have transformed the Harris County Flood Control District into the Gulf Coast Resiliency District. The new District would have been governed by a board appointed by the Governor instead of management hired by Harris County Commissioners.

The idea: to create regional solutions that benefitted all residents of Harris County, not just those that scored high on an equity formula.

The County fought the bill(s) tooth and nail. Each failed to get out of committee.

HB 1093: Financial Surety Guaranteeing Sand Mine Cleanup

The bill died in the House Natural Resources committee. It never even got a public hearing.

This bill would have required sand mining companies to post financial surety that would guarantee cleanup of mines before they were abandoned. Abandoned mines on both the San Jacinto East and West Forks are littered with the remains of once thriving operations. But when the sand played out, the miners walked away, leaving a legacy of blight for the public to clean up.

abandoned dredge
Abandoned dredge in mine on North Houston Ave. in Humble. Property is unfenced so kids can play on equipment.
HB5341: Lake Houston Dredging and Maintenance District

This bill also died in the House Natural Resources committee. House Bill 5341 would have created a Lake Houston Dredging and Maintenance District. Its purpose would be to remove sediment, debris, sand, and gravel  from Lake Houston and its tributaries to restore, maintain, and expand the Lake to mitigate storm flows. 

SB 1366: Flood Infrastructure Financing

This bill died in the Senate Finance committee. Senate Bill 1366 would have redirected surplus revenue from the economic stabilization fund to the Flood Infrastructure Fund. The State’s Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) has turned into one of the main sources of funding for Texas Water Development Board grants and one of the main ways that smaller counties and cities can fund flood projects. 

Passed but Failed
HB 1540: SJRA Reforms

HB 1540 passed. The bill implements reforms recommended by the Sunset Review Committee for the the San Jacinto River Authority. Many of those are good and needed reforms. They include provisions governing:

  • Gubernatorial designation of the presiding officer of SJRA’s board of directors;
  • Specific grounds for removal of a board member;
  • Board member training;
  • Separation of the board’s policy-making responsibilities and the staff’s managementresponsibilities;
  • Maintenance of complaint information; and
  • Public testimony at board meetings.

Approval should have been a rubber stamp. But at the last minute, Rep. Will Metcalf from Conroe offered an amendment that effectively fired Jace Houston, SJRA’s general manager and leader of the SJRA’s fight to reduce subsidence. The amended bill passed the Senate. Houston resigned effective 6/30/23. And now the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District has no one to challenge unlimited groundwater pumping in Montgomery County.

Some in the Lake Houston Area who flooded during Harvey may rejoice at Houston’s departure. But differential subsidence is tilting Lake Houston upstream. It could make the Lake Houston Dam two feet higher relative to areas upstream near the county line. That could eliminate the safety margin above the floodplain for many homes in the next big flood.

subsidence in Harris County
Modeling shows 3 feet of subsidence near Harris/Montgomery county line, but only one foot at Lake Houston Dam.

As someone who had floodwater lapping at his foundation, I personally would put this one in the loss column.

The governor signed the bill on 6/18/23. It goes into effect on 9/1/2023.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/2/23

2133 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.

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