Tag Archive for: Martin

Lake Houston Gates Project Moves Closer to Reality

The Lake Houston Gates Project is moving closer to reality with breakthroughs on the benefit/cost ratio, funding and endorsements.

City of Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin and Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello provided updates on 2/27/23 at City Hall on the Lake Houston Gates Project. The wide-ranging, hour-long discussion covered several related topics. They included:

  • A critical path for construction
  • Dredging of the lake
  • Funding for gates and dredging
  • Several related engineering studies
  • A favorable ruling from FEMA on the Benefit-Cost Ratio
  • An endorsement to the area’s legislators by the Greater Houston Partnership.

Need For Gates

For those new to the area, the City of Houston has been pushing to add gates to the Lake Houston Dam ever since Harvey in 2017. Upstream, Lake Conroe’s gates can release 150,000 cubic feet per second (CFS). But Lake Houston’s can only release 10,000 CFS.

The disparity in discharge capacity complicates joint-reservoir-management and pre-release strategies designed to avoid flooding by reducing the water level in Lake Houston.

Lake Houston releases cannot keep up with Lake Conroe’s. And pre-releasing water from Lake Houston takes so long that storms can veer away during the lowering process, often resulting in wasted water. That’s an important consideration for a water-supply lake.

According to Martin and Costello, the gate project will:

• Serve as the first phase of a long-term effort to extend the life of the Dam
• Enable the rapid lowering of lake levels in advance of a flood
• Eliminate the need for a seasonal lowering of both Lake Houston and Lake Conroe
• Provide potential water-rights savings
• Protect an estimated 5,000 residential properties in the surrounding area
• Yield an estimated half billion dollars in economic benefits during the life of the project

Gates, Funding, BCR, Studies

Preliminary engineering studies evaluated about a dozen different alternatives for adding discharge capacity to Lake Houston. The City initially favored adding crest gates to the spillway portion of the dam.

However, the City discarded that idea as “too risky” after further study. The engineering company cautioned the City that it would have a difficult time finding contractors willing to risk modifying a 70-year old concrete dam. The potential liability was just too great. So the City then revisited adding various numbers of tainter gates to the eastern, earthen portion of the dam.

Because tainter gates exceeded FEMA’s funding, the City had initially focused on crest gates. But after investigating the safety issues, the City decided to seek more funding for tainter gates instead.

The City now recommends adding 11 tainter gates.

Recommended location for new tainter gates is next to old ones, not farther east as I conjectured earlier.

The picture below is slightly wider and shows more of how both halves of the dam come together.

If funding comes through, new gates would go in the upper right along the earthen portion of the dam, next to the old gates.
Funding Needs

FEMA initially set aside $50 million for the gates. Plus Harris County committed $20 million in the 2018 Flood Bond to attract FEMA’s match. But the latest construction estimates show eleven tainter gates could cost between $200 and $250 million.

After engineering and environmental studies, only $68.3 million in funding remains. That includes an earmark secured by Congressman Dan Crenshaw. So the City is seeking another $150 million from the State of Texas. Martin and Costello have made weekly trips to Austin so far during this session to line up support from legislators, committee chairs, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Social Benefits Improve Benefit/Cost Ratio

All this is suddenly possible because of a favorable ruling from FEMA on the benefit-cost ratio (BCR).

For years, Houston had struggled to get the BCR for the gate project above 1.0 (the point at which benefits exceed costs). Usually, FEMA strictly interprets benefits as “avoided damages to structures.”

But Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Costello met with FEMA to argue that the problem was much bigger than damaged structures.

As a result, FEMA allowed the City to add the value of “social benefits” to the BCR. Social benefits can include such things as avoiding lost wages when businesses are destroyed; transportation disruptions that reduce the region’s productivity; reducing negative impacts on student achievement when schools are disrupted; and more.

The social-benefit ruling covers a number of City projects, not just the gates. It should also benefit other areas, especially rural ones.

Said Costello, “The minute the social benefits came in, everything was great.” Instead of struggling to reach 1.0, the City is now far above it.

Greater Houston Partnership Endorsement

With that out of the way, the Greater Houston Partnership wrote a powerful letter to state legislators seeking their support for the gate project. See below.

Greater Houston Partnership letter endorsing Lake Houston Gates. For a printable PDF, click here.

The Partnership includes business leaders from 900 member companies in the 12-county Houston Region.

Dredging Update

While pressing ahead with the gates project, the City is also working on a long-term dredging plan for the lake and working with the SJRA on sedimentation and sand-trap pilot projects.

The Texas Water Department Board (TWDB) has estimated sediment inflow to Lake Houston at about 380 acre-feet of material annually.

The lake has already lost more than 20,000 acre feet of capacity due to sedimentation. That worsens flooding. While the Federal Government supports efforts to improve Lake Houston now, the chances of getting more money in the future will be reduced – unless we can show that we’re at least keeping pace with annual sediment deposits.

Since Harvey, FEMA, the Army Corps, TWDB, and City of Houston have removed almost 4 million cubic yards of material from the lake at a cost of $226 million.

We have to prevent more sediment from coming downstream or dredge it after it gets here.

Stephen Costello, City of Houston Chief Recovery Officer

The City is currently lobbying for another $50 million for maintenance dredging to add to the money secured in the last legislative session by now-retired State Representative Dan Huberty. New Representative Charles Cunningham will reportedly now carry that banner forward along with State Senator Brandon Creighton.

Legislative News to Follow

March 10th is the last day to file bills in the Texas Legislature this year. Please visit the legislation page on ReduceFlooding.com for updates once bills are filed and start moving forward in Austin.

Thanks to all of our elected and appointed representatives who have pushed so hard on so many fronts for the last 2008 days to tie all the pieces of this complicated flood-mitigation puzzle together.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/27/2023

2008 Days since Hurricane Harvey

City of Houston Re-evaluating Benefit-Cost Ratio on Lake Houston Gates Project Alternatives

According to minutes of the Coastal Water Authority (CWA) February 9 board meeting posted in March, work on the project to add more gates to Lake Houston was paused in January while the City of Houston updated the project’s benefit-cost ratio.

gates for Lake Houston and Conroe
Lake Houston and Lake Conroe gates side by side. Lake Conroe’s gates (right) can release water 15 times faster.

CWA Board Minutes Give High-Level Overview of Concerns, Status

Screen capture from CWA Feb. 9, 2022, minutes approved and posted in March.

Earlier, in December, the board learned that the project team was trying to get the benefit/cost ratio above 1.0, so benefits exceed costs.

Screen capture from CWA January 12, 2022, board minutes.

At that time, the CWA hoped to receive the updated BCR later in January. But it still hadn’t happened by the February board meeting.

Martin Says “September-ish” for BCR Report

City of Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin said he hopes to have the BRC report in a “September-ish” time frame. I asked him whether the Community Impact report was accurate when it said the project had been scaled back to 500 feet of crest gates as opposed to the original 1500 feet. He said “no,” and that the engineers were looking at multiple options. He also said “1.0 is incorrect as well,” but did not elaborate.

That leaves a lot of questions regarding this project.

History of Project

After Harvey, the Lake Houston Area Task Force identified adding additional gates to Lake Houston as one of three primary strategies to reduce flood risk in the Lake Houston Area. The idea: to equalize the discharge rates of the flood gates on Lake Houston and Lake Conroe. Conroe’s is 15X greater. That makes it difficult lower both lakes quickly in advance of approaching storms.

As a temporary strategy, the City and SJRA agreed on a temporary, seasonal lake lowering strategy to create more capacity in Lake Conroe until more gates could be added to Lake Houston. But the strategy met with significant pushback from Lake Conroe residents and lawmakers. The Lake Conroe Association even took the SJRA to court to stop it.

At various times, City representatives have discussed 10 and 6 additional tainter gates, plus 1500-, 1200-, and 1000-feet of crest gates. Engineers and City officials have repeatedly emphasized the need to balance costs, downstream impacts, and flood risk reduction.

Back in October 2020, the engineers calculated that the upstream influence of the dam ended at approximately Lake Houston Parkway. But they never explained why. It would seem that if the influence extended upstream to US59 when the lake is at its normal level, that the influence should extend at least that far in a flood. However…

BCR Not Based on Harvey Damage

Much of the damage to the Humble/Kingwood Area during Harvey happened upstream of the West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge. It included:

  • $60 Million to Kingwood College
  • $70 million to Kingwood High School
  • $50 million to Kingwood County Club
  • 283 homes in Barrington
  • 218 homes in Kingwood Lakes
  • 97 apartments in Kingwood Lakes
  • 110 homes in Kings Forest
  • 100% of businesses in Kingwood Town Center
  • 225 homes in Kingwood Greens
  • 30 homes in Deer Cove
  • 3 Homes in Deer Ridge Estates
  • 32 homes in Trailwood Village
  • An unknown number of homes in Forest Cove
  • 78 townhomes in Forest Cove
  • All of the Big Box stores along 59
  • Homes and business north of Deerbrook mall
  • 40% of all businesses in the Lake Houston Chamber
  • Humble ISD admin building
  • Destruction of US59 southbound lanes
  • Union Pacific Railroad Bridge

However, Black & Veatch does not base its benefit-cost ratio calculations on another Harvey. They’re basing it on 25- and 100-year storms. Almost all homes, businesses and infrastructure near the lake are already above those levels – at least based on pre-Atlas 14 standards. That may explain the difficulty and delays with benefit/cost ratio calculations and the multitude of scenarios examined.

Time, Uncertainty: More Factors to Consider in Cost and Risk Reduction

Each flood-risk reduction alternative would reduce lake levels by a different amount during a 100-year storm and therefore require its own BCR.

Other factors to consider: How much time do dam operators really need to lower Lake Houston? And how much uncertainty are they willing to live with?

Given the desire to preserve water, these are crucial considerations. If forecasters can reliably predict a need to lower the lake two days before a storm instead of one, operators may only need half the number of new gates. That could get the cost down to the point where the benefit-cost ratio needs to be.

But don’t forget another element of uncertainty: Atlas 14. FEMA has not yet approved the new flood maps based on the higher rainfall totals. Those could put more people in or closer to the floodplains. Below is the timetable for flood map updates currently posted on the MAAPnext website.

Timetable for flood map updates from MAAPnext.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/4/22 and updated on 4/5/22 with MAAPnext timetable

1679 Days since 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

West Fork Mouth Bar Dredging Set to Start As TWDB Considers Grant to Extend Program

On December 30, 2019, the City of Houston issued a Notice To Proceed (NTP) for debris removal services. Specifically, that means the large silt deposit at the confluence of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston. The area is commonly known as the “mouth bar.” See below.

Mouth Bar of the San Jacinto West Fork looking upstream. Picture from 12/3/2019.

Mechanical, Not Hydraulic Dredging

The City hired DRC Emergency Services, LLC (DRC) under an existing contract to begin mechanical dredging of the mouth bar “this week,” according to Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin.

Mechanical dredging differs from hydraulic dredging. With hydraulic dredging, contractors continuously pump sediment from the river to a placement area onshore via long pipelines. With mechanical dredging, they scoop it out of the river and dump it on barges. Then they ferry the barges to the placement area where trucks transport the sediment to its final location.

Hydraulic dredging takes less time once started, but the prep can take months. Mechanical dredging takes longer, but can start immediately.

The City will begin the hydraulic dredging with $6 million of FEMA money left over from Hurricane Harvey debris removal funds. The Texas Division of Emergency Management and Governor Greg Abbott allocated that money specifically for Lake Houston and approved the remaining funds for mouth-bar dredging.

Two-Phase Grant

Next week, another $30 million should become available to extend the program. SB500 earmarked that money for dredging of the San Jacinto East and West Fork Mouth Bars. The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) will consider Harris County’s grant application. Approval is expected.

The grant application proposes removing sediment in two distinct phases:

  1. Near and at the mouth bar on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River
  2. In the East Fork of the San Jacinto River AND other locations in Lake Houston.
Mouth Bar on East Fork San Jacinto grew 4,000 feet since Harvey.

Phase-One Funding and Objectives

To complete Phase 1, Harris County proposed taking $10 million of the $30 million to provide a total $16 million for DRC dredging operations.

Phase 1 should remove a minimum of 400,000 cubic yards (CY) of material in eight to twelve months. The Army Corps of Engineers previously removed 500,000 cubic yards from the West Fork Mouth Bar for $17 million in about three months.

During Phase 1, the County will begin some activities for Phase 2. They include:

  • Hydrographic surveys of the West and East Forks, and Lake Houston
  • Development of plans and specifications
  • Identification and permitting of additional disposal sites
  • Competitive bidding

Since the TWDB grant money can only be used for dredging, Harris County will pay for the activities above out of the 2018 HCFCD Bond Program. The fund allocated $10 million for dredging in Lake Houston.

Phase-2 Funding and Objectives

The remaining $20 million from the $30 million TWDB grant will go toward Phase 2 dredging.

During Phase 2, Harris County, City of Houston (COH), HCFCD, SJRA, and Coastal Water Authority (CWA) will develop and execute a plan for the COH or CWA to assume all long-term dredging operations on Lake Houston.

The County does not intend to assume long-term responsibility for maintenance dredging of a City property, i.e., Lake Houston.

TWDB Meets Next Week to Approve Grant

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) will meet on Thursday, January 16, 2020, to approve the $30 million grant. “We are in the final stages of agency approval to continue dredging the lake and river,” said State Representative Dan Huberty. His amendment to SB500 last year dedicated the money for dredging this area. “By approving this amount, the legislature as a whole made a clear and concise statement that Lake Houston and the San Jacinto River are vital resources for the entire region and must be maintained.”

SB500 was a supplemental appropriations bill. The grant itself will technically come from the new Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund, created last year by SB7. Senator Brandon Creighton authored SB7.

Harris County Engineer John Blount submitted the grant application to TWDB in late December after receiving approval from County Commissioner’s Court.

“Due to the urgency of this issue, multiple entities worked together to craft a plan that could be executed immediately, allowing the first phase to begin as soon as possible,” said Huberty.

Kudos Go To…

“I would like to thank everyone who has worked to create the final grant program under the supplemental funds we received from the Legislature,” said Huberty. “It would have not been possible without Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Dennis Bonnen, former Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, State Senator Brandon Creighton, Chief Nim Kidd, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello, Harris County Commissioner’s Court, Harris County Engineer John Blount, Harris County Flood Control District Executive Director Russell Poppe, Harris County Flood Control District Deputy Director Matt Zeve, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin and many more.”

To View TWDB Board Meeting Live

Tune in to the live TWDB Board Meeting next Thursday, January 16, 2020 at 9:30 AM by visiting: http://texasadmin.com/tx/twdb/.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/8/2019

863 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 111 since Imelda

City To Host Meeting Tuesday, 6:30, At Kingwood Community Center for Homeowners Who Suffered Repetitive Flood Damage

This post is for all those unfortunate people who have suffered repetitive flood damage. Learn how you may qualify for federal assistance to elevate your home.

On Tuesday, October 15, at 6:30 p.m., the City of Houston will host a meeting about mitigation grant assistance for repetitive flood-damaged properties at the Kingwood Community Center.

The community center is at 4102 Rustic Woods, Kingwood, TX 77345 on the corner of West Lake Houston Parkway, near the Kingwood Park ‘N Ride.

Properties may qualify for Federal Emergency Management Assistance (FEMA) funding for structure elevation.

Many families in Elm Grove who flooded in May also flooded in September and should explore the options in this meeting. Regardless of where you live in the City, if your home has flooded at least twice, you may be eligible to have your home elevated.

Homeowners can speak with the City regarding options. To quality, property owners must:

  • Hold a National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policy.
  • Reside within Houston city limits.
  • Have flooded at least twice.

Below is more information.

Information about Tuesday’s meeting
Info About the Program.

Please submit the voluntary interest form available here

Thanks to Houston City Council Member Dave Martin for setting this up.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/13/2019

775 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 24 since Imelda

Special City of Houston Procedures for Flood Debris Pickup and Drainage Concerns

Dave Martin, City Council Member, asks residents to follow these special procedures to help ensure prompt pickup of Imelda-related flood debris.

Step 1

Please encourage friends, neighbors and community associations to report structural flooding, drainage concerns, and debris removal requests to Houston 3-1-1 by calling (713) 837-0311.

For the second time in four months, residents are piling storm debris at their curbs.

To bypass the beginning message, press 1 for English, then press 0 to speak with an operator.

The operators job is to simply log the request and provide a service request number.

Step 2

Once the operator provides the service request number, contact Martin’s office by emailing districte@houstontx.gov. In that email, provide any supplemental information (pictures, descriptions, etc.) relevant to your situation.

If you have specific questions, please email Martin’s office at districte@gmail.com. They don’t want anyone to get overlooked. Following these procedures will help them track your request, so his staff can help ensure prompt followup.

Starts Monday, 9/23

Solid Waste Department will begin storm debris pickup on Monday, September 23.

Residents may begin placing storm debris at the curb. Make sure it is not blocked by any vehicles or nearby mailboxes.

Keep Streets Clear for Heavy Trash Vehicles

Keep roadways clear to ensure trash vehicles can pass through. Please avoid street parking if possible.

Starting Monday 9/23, park off street if possible to allow heavy trash vehicles to help you.



  • Report all Houston storm debris by calling (713-837-0311).
  • Following the report, please email districte@houstontx.gov with the service request number and your address.

Martin’s staff will compile this information to provide to Solid Waste to expedite debris cleanup as much as possible.

Please let them know if there is anything they can do to help.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/20/2019

752 Days since Hurricane Harvey

FEMA/Corps To Stop Dredging Mouth Bar Before Finishing Job; What You Can Do

Having barely scratched the surface of the mouth bar of the San Jacinto West Fork, FEMA and the Army Corps will pack up their gear next week and call their job done. Last-ditch pleas by the City of Houston, Harris County and the State of Texas to get the federal government to extend its dredging program have fallen on deaf ears, perhaps because of the shifting of disaster relief funds to the construction of migrant detention facilities.

Mouth bar of the West Fork shortly after start of supplemental dredging. Photo courtesy of BCAeronautics.

Regardless, the bottom line is this: the Corps and FEMA will leave millions of cubic yards of sediment in place without restoring conveyance of the West Fork to a prior good condition.

The pullout caps months of arguments over how much sediment Harvey deposited. The City estimated 1.4 million cubic yards and the Corps 500,000.

According to City Council Member Dave Martin, the Corps agreed Harvey deposited 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment in the river near the mouth bar. The Corps also agreed, said Martin, that there was nothing wrong with the Tetra Tech study that arrived at that total.

Waffling by Corps

As late as last Friday, Martin said, the Corps agreed to write a letter to FEMA, recommending dredging more than the 500,000 cubic yards. The letter would say that almost a million cubic yards of Harvey-related sediment remained in the river and should be removed. However, at a meeting in Austin this Tuesday, the Corps revealed that FEMA told it not to write the letter. The Corps now intends to demobilize equipment as soon as it finishes dredging 500,000 cubic yards from the mouth bar. That should only take until next week.

These developments confirm speculation that the Corps “backed into” the 500,000 cubic yard number for reasons unrelated to Harvey. Mystery still surrounds how they arrived at that number. The Corps refused to release many documents related to their decision. A review of their 4-page analysis obtained from the City found numerous issues, logical flaws, and questionable assumptions – uncharacteristic of the Corps.

Next Steps

With the year-long dredging program now almost complete and perhaps less than a quarter of the sediment removed that is required to restore the natural flow of the river, what will happen next? We have some hope.

  • The Corps has finally approved Berry Madden’s property as a storage site for 500,000 cubic yards. That should be enough to get the next phase of the program started while the City seeks additional storage sites.
  • The City has committed to a maintenance dredging program according to Martin.
  • The State and Harris County have earmarked $30 million and $10 million respectively to continue dredging.
  • Additional funds may become available early next year through SB7.
  • Callan Marine has agreed to remain on site and do the dredging.

Your Help Is Needed

However, to make that money stretch far enough to finish the job, we will need FEMA and the Corps to designate the remaining sediment as Category A. City Council Member Dave Martin is sending this letter to all congressional and senatorial representatives in the area. Designating the sediment as Category A will:

  • Enable reimbursement from FEMA
  • Allow the City of Houston to utilize existing resources and pre-positioned contracts.
  • Save nearly $20 million associated with mobilization.

Please Contact These Officials

Here’s how you can help. Send the letter below to:

Tell them that you support the Category A designation and see the mouth bar removal as crucial to public safety with a letter like the one below.

Sample Letter


Dear _____________: 

Thank you for helping to make dredging of the San  Jacinto West Fork a priority.  It will help reduce flooding, protect property, save lives, and improve public safety.  

However, part of the existing mouth-bar located at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston remains.  

I’m writing to enlist your support in urging the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to designate that remaining debris as Category A for reimbursement.  

Category A designation will allow the City of Houston to:  

  • Utilize existing resources and pre-positioned contracts  
  • Save nearly $20 million associated with mobilization  
  • Protect life, property and safety  

Field data collected by the City of Houston and provided to FEMA demonstrates that the remaining debris was directly associated with Hurricane Harvey. As of August 20, 2019, the City of Houston has proactively secured a third United States Army Corps of Engineers permitted disposal site needed for the additional debris.  

Your assistance is crucial to rehabilitate the San Jacinto River to its prior good condition.  Please urge FEMA to grant this Category A designation. It will let the City of Houston continue rebuilding from Harvey.  





Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/30/2019 with drone photo from BCAeronautics

731 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Houston Council Member Dave Martin Issues Mouth Bar Update

Houston City Council Member Dave Martin announced today that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has authorized the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to remove sand and siltation from the Lake Houston mouth bar.  

History of Project

In 2018, USACE first began removing debris deposited during Hurricane Harvey from the San Jacinto River under FEMA Mission Assignment (DR 4332). The assignment directed USACE to restore the river to pre-Harvey conditions.

DR 4332 has removed debris from three out of four identified sections of the San Jacinto River. Contractors should finish the last segment (shown in blue below) in May.

Original segments identified by USACE. The orange and green segments are complete. The blue segment should be finished with another week or so. And the purple segment is the one yet to be done – including the mouth bar.

FEMA did not approve the fourth section, in the original scope of work for DR 4332.  Last month, the City of Houston filed an application for mouth bar removal as well as an additional dredge material disposal site. FEMA and USACE have been reviewing it since then, according to Council Member Martin.

The State of Texas, the City of Houston, as well as multiple stakeholders from the Lake Houston area, requested FEMA to expedite authorization of a Mission Assignment for debris removal and dredging of the mouth bar while the equipment is still in the river. The hope: to save taxpayers the cost of a second mobilization effort. Mobilization for the first assignment cost approximately $18 million.

FEMA Issues Directive of Mission Assignment

At a meeting last week in Austin, FEMA issued a directive of Mission Assignment to USACE for dredging of the mouth bar at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston.

The City requested removal of 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment. It is unclear at this time how much FEMA will fund, exactly where it will be stored, and whether matching funds will come from other sources. FEMA, TDEM, City of Houston, and USACE are still working to determine the amount of silt deposited by Hurricane Harvey.

Dredging of Final Segment To Begin Within 30 Days

 Martin hopes the calculation will be finalized next week, and expects dredging to begin within 30 days. 

The Great Lakes Dredge is still docked at the USACE Command Post while it awaits FEMA and USACE to finalize mouth bar dredging details with the City and State.

Kudos to Mission Team

In his press release, Martin issued “a huge thank you to our federal partners Congressman Dan Crenshaw, Field Representative for Congressman Crenshaw, Kaaren Cambio, Congressman Kevin Brady, Senator Ted Cruz, and Senator John Cornyn for their support as they have all been meeting regularly with FEMA and discussing this project.”

“This is a huge project for our area,” said Martin, “and it would not be possible without the on-going support and push from Governor Greg Abbott and Chief Nim Kidd, Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM), as well as Mayor Sylvester Turner and Stephen Costello, Chief Recovery Officer – City of Houston.” 

Martin also gave additional thanks to Jenna Armstrong and Mark Mitchell from the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce for coordinating a letter writing campaign.

Breathing a Bit Easier Tonight

During floods earlier this year, I noticed a ten foot difference at times at gauges on either side of the mouth bar. It is acting like a dam behind the dam.

With the start of Hurricane season on June 1, residents of Kingwood and Humble will breathe a little easier tonight. Hopefully, the Corps and its contractors will be able to at least dredge a channel through the mouth bar area before the peak of the Atlantic season from mid-August through September.

The SJRA has agreed to continue lowering Lake Conroe during that period by 2 feet versus its normal level as an additional buffer against flooding.

My thanks to Council Member Dave Martin for pushing this project so tirelessly, and to Kaaren Cambio and Mark Micheletti for leading to effort to lower Lake Conroe again this year. Neither effort has been easy. Finally, kudos also to Tim Garfield and R.D. Kissling, two local retired geologists for their efforts in helping people understand the dangers posed by the mouth bar.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 26, 2019

605 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Great Lakes Finishes Dredging Early; Accelerates Need for Mouth Bar Decision

Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted that dredging could take until early May. They allowed another month for de-mobilization. However, one of the two dredgers on the job, Great Lakes, finished this week. Their early finish could affect a series of decisions on the mouth bar.

Sand Bar blocking the West Fork of the San Jacinto where it enters Lake Houston. The City estimates that 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment was deposited in this area during Harvey.

Early Finish, New Possibilities

The early finish could let mouth-bar dredging start sooner. However, it also could put pressure on the Corps to consider options not in play a week ago.

At the end of March, the City of Houston submitted an application to FEMA to fund mouth bar dredging. The purpose: remove 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment from the giant sand bar at the mouth of the San Jacinto West Fork. Separately, the City also submitted a permit application to the Army Corps to store the dredging spoils on property in Humble, across from Kingwood’s River Grove Park.

Officials hoped that decisions could be made on both requests before the dredgers began demobilizing. That could save up to $18 million in re-mobilization fees. From a taxpayer-savings point of view, it’s more economical to keep the dredgers dredging than organize a second separate project.

However, Great Lake’s early finish is forcing everyone from Galveston to Houston to Austin to Washington to scramble.

Great Lakes’ dredge is back at the dock at the Corps’ command site in Humble.

New Possibilities

As of this afternoon, the Army Corps said it was still reviewing the storage application permit to use the property in Humble. The permit review plus site prep, if approved, could take months though.

This raised the question of a backup site and the obvious one in my mind is one the Corps is already using – Placement Area #2 (PA2) on Sorters Road south of Kingwood College.

But that would require a much longer run, additional booster pumps, more pipe, and most likely…the larger, more powerful dredge that just finished.

Experts tell me that it is technically feasible to pump the sand all the way from the mouth bar to PA2 – IF the sand mine operator would allow it.

Evaluating Alternatives

Will the higher cost of the longer run eat up any savings that come from avoiding a second mobilization? The Corps has not yet had time to explore all possibilities and run the numbers, but it’s good to know another possibility may exist…

  • …if FEMA acts right away
  • …if the Humble property runs into problems
  • …if the Corps needs to move quickly to take advantage of the larger dredge.

To help keep all options open, officials throughout Texas at every level have leaped into action.

Crenshaw and Brady Urge Quick Action

This morning, representatives from Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s office met with FEMA. Both Crenshaw and Congressman Kevin Brady sent a letter to FEMA three days ago, underscoring the need for quick action on the grant request.

City, State Pushing, Too

City officials have scrambled also. Dave Martin, Houston City Council Member said, “I’ve been in communication all day, and had multiple conversations with Great Lakes; Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s office; Chief Nim Kidd of the Texas Division of Emergency Management; Stephen Costello, the City’s Chief Recover Officer, and more.” Reportedly, even Governor Abbott got involved at one point.

According to Martin, “Our #1 goal is a Mission Assignment.”

Still Time to Save Re-mobilization Costs

Martin added,”Nothing is being disassembled, yet. They are not removing any pipe yet. They are taking advantage of this down time to check the pipe’s condition so that it can be replaced if necessary. I’m guardedly optimistic at this time.”

One experienced dredger explained that pipe can wear out. Coarse sand, he said, can be very abrasive, especially with steel pipe.

So for the time being, dredgers are performing necessary maintenance and inspections. That could take days or weeks. However, it probably will not keep them here months. Bottom line: the clock is ticking … louder now than before.

Contractors can’t tolerate downtime indefinitely. How long they decide to wait will most likely depend on the certainty of future work. That depends on FEMA and how quickly it acts.

Update on Funding

FEMA has not yet committed any funding. Stephen Costello has said in the past that the amount they fund will depend on their assessment of the City’s assessment. The two sides need to agree on how much mouth-bar sediment came from Harvey.

Separately in Austin, SB500, a supplemental appropriations bill, has been approved unanimously by both the House and Senate. It includes an amendment from State Representative Dan Huberty that includes $30 million for dredging the mouth bar. That money could help form the local match for FEMA. Next step for SB500: conference committee and the governor’s desk.

Mayor Sylvester Turner has committed $18 million from the City, according to City Council Member Martin. And the County committed $10 million in last year’s flood bond.

Keep in mind though that we must also budget for dredging beyond the mouth bar. We need East Fork, remainder of the West Fork, and maintenance dredging.

All the pieces are falling into place. Keep your fingers crossed and your eyes on FEMA. This is a high-stakes, political drama for the Lake Houston area!

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 12, 2019

591 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Meeting in Austin to Include Mouth Bar in Dredging Scope Ends Well, But Two Hurdles Still Exist

On Thursday, October 11, Council Member Dave Martin attended a follow up meeting to discuss Harvey recovery needs in the Lake Houston area, including the mouth bar. Regulatory agencies including the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), along with staff from Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s office and the City of Houston also attended the meeting. At one point, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd reportedly told people he wasn’t going to let them leave until they reached agreement. The meeting lasted nine hours…without lunch. But at the end of the day, we’re a big step closer to removing the giant sand bar blocking the mouth of the San Jacinto River. Here’s how things reportedly played out.

City Requested Expansion of Scope

The City of Houston asked FEMA to give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) an emergency directive to remove siltation caused by Hurricane Harvey at the mouth of the West Fork of the San Jacinto. Further, to expedite the project and save remobilization fees, the City requested that this work piggyback on the original State of Texas Assistance Request (STAR).

Although  not officially approved yet, regulatory agencies reacted favorably to adding this to the original STAR request. However, two hurdles still exist.

Two Hurdles Remain for Mouth Bar Project

Before the mouth bar can be removed, two more hurdles must be cleared:

  • Identifying and permitting a disposal site
  • Complying with environmental regulations.

TDEM agreed to complete this additional work under an emergency request similar to the one that jumpstarted the initial dredging.

Said Houston City Council Member Dave Martin, “All parties involved are ready to make this work.”

Humble Land a Possibility

Barry Madden, an Humble landowner, with substantial acreage near the river and the mouth bar, has already met with officials about using his property as a potential disposal site. If acceptable, the proximity could save millions of tax dollars. Madden already has “fill” permits in place. So there may really only be one hurdle to clear.

Property owned by Barry Madden just west of Kings Lake Estates and south of the San Jacinto West Fork

Thank You to…

As discussed at the Kingwood Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, October 9, this mouth bar and other Lake Houston area projects could not happen without the continuing efforts of TDEM, in particular Chief W. Nim Kidd;  Governor Abbott’s Chief Operating Officer, Reed Clay; City of Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner; Chief Resiliency Officer, Stephen Costello; and Chief Recovery Officer, Marvin Odum.

How You Can Help

Many residents continue to ask Council Member Martin what they can do to help. Council Member Martin encourages residents to send their thanks to several key officials for assisting District E. Please click here for their mailing addresses.

For more information, please contact Council Member Martin’s office at (832) 393-3008 or via email at districte@houstontx.gov.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/12/18

409 Days since Hurricane Harvey