Tag Archive for: mitigation

Land Cleared for Two More Humble Developments, Townsen Boulevard Extension

The new residential development going in along Townsen Boulevard West that I posted about last Saturday is just one of three new developments in northwest Humble. Of the other two, one will evidently be for light industrial use; the other for residential. A Townsen Boulevard extension toward Spring Creek is also under construction.

Townsen Extension

This conceptual plan by Skymark Development for Townsen Landing shows the Townsen extension in the upper left just below 94-acres designated for light industrial use. Skymark or its related companies own or owned all of the land in the colored areas below.

Undated conceptual land plan for Townsen Landing in Humble by Skymark Development.

You may have noticed an entrance cut into the woods at the northwest corner of the Townsen loop. Several readers have asked about all the recent activity there.

Entrance to Townsen Boulevard extension at NW corner of Townsen loop. Reader photo used with permission.

On Monday 9/26/22, I took several aerial photos of work beyond the entrance. They show a four-lane divided roadway that stops at Spring Creek. The images also show a floodwater detention basin and a large clearing already surrounded by silt fence. See below.

Slightly NW of entrance on Townsen. Note drainage inlets surrounded by silt fences on roadway.
Looking N. The detention basin already has grass-lined slopes and backslope interceptor swales to reduce erosion.
Closer shot, still facing N, shows where road ends at Spring Creek.

The four lanes end abruptly at the Spring Creek Parkway Trail.

I discussed that vast undeveloped area north of the creek more than a year ago. Suffice it to say, for now, that the same company owns that land and a small parcel shown in the foreground of the photo above. A bridge has been rumored for more than 10 years according to several sources I consulted. And a developer reportedly wants to build 7,000 homes on the far side of the creek. But the Montgomery County Engineer’s office claims to know nothing about it and Harris County has not yet responded to enquiries about a bridge. More on that area in a future post when I learn more.

Light Industrial?

Calls to Skymark were not returned. So it’s not clear who or what will go into that clearing by the detention pond. Harris County Appraisal District shows that the land is owned by Headway Estates, LTD, which is run by Clinton Wong.

Wong’s name is associated with hundreds of companies and partnerships in the Texas Secretary of State’s database, including Skymark, Headway Estates, Hannover Estates, and Townsen Landing. Wong and his companies own or control most of the land in the photo four photos below which comprise Townsen Landing.

Reverse angle looking back ESE. CostCo in upper left and Deerbrook Mall in upper right.
Looking SE toward two clearings for new residential developments at top of frame. Aldine ISD Jones Middle School in the upper right.

If the plans above remain unchanged, the big wooded area on the right above will also become light industrial. Light industrial land uses typically include final-stage or “clean” manufacturing, wholesaling, warehousing and distribution, and the sale and servicing of vehicles and equipment. Light industry includes a broad spectrum of land uses, some of which can be compatible with urban, mixed-use development.

Looking East toward 59 at the entrance at Townsen Boulevard and areas cleared starting in 2015, two years before Harvey! Those cleared areas were originally intended to hold homes. Hannover Estates has owned the cleared land since 2013, according to HCAD.

I have not yet obtained construction plans or drainage analyses for the light industrial area.

Saratoga Homes Residential Development West of Kohl’s

West and slightly north of the Kohl’s store on Townsen is another new development underway in Humble. Signs on Townsen Boulevard suggest most of it belongs to Saratoga Homes. But Saratoga has not returned phone calls or emails either. Most of this area is in the current 500-year floodplain. However, that could soon change with new Post-Harvey flood maps.

Looking W. Extent of site work as of 9/27/22. Note large detention basin in foreground and Kohl’s on right.
Close-up of one corner of detention basin.
Looking W. Water and stormwater lines are now going in.
Looking N. Entrance to development appears to be off of Townsen. Note corner of Costco in upper right.
Looking back east toward Kohl’s and stormwater detention basin. Note the large drainage ditch that runs the length of this development on the right.

That detention pond is more than a mile from Spring Creek and yet this area flooded during Harvey.

The flooding was deep enough that reportedly the developer is not even going to try to raise the area. Instead, he said he will raise the homes 6-7 feet.

In 2019, Jack Bombach, division president/CCO of Saratoga Homes, described his vision for the property at the Lake Houston Chamber’s Humble BizCom. “We bought the land in 2014 and are so thankful that we hadn’t started building,” said Bombach, “because, if we would have, Hurricane Harvey would have flooded everything we built.”

The Harris County Appraisal District shows that the area with the detention pond and a strip adjacent to the drainage ditch is owned by Hannover Estates LTD, a company controlled by Wong.

The rest of the cleared area appears to be owned by JNC Development, a company related to Saratoga Homes.


Much of the land under development in Humble is in a floodplain. See below.

Cross-hatched areas = floodway. Aqua = 1% annual chance of flooding. Brown areas represent .02% annual chance. #1 = Light industrial area. #2 = Saratoga Homes (see below). #3 = Single family home development owned by Wong companies.

Note: FEMA approved the floodplain map above in 2014. FEMA should release preliminary versions of Post-Harvey maps early next year. The floodplains shown above could expand 50% or more, according to preliminary guidance from HCFCD.

During Harvey, the gage at the West Fork and 59 registered the highest floodwater in northern Harris County – 20.5 feet above flood stage.

worst first
Chart showing feet above flood stage of 33 gages on misc. bayous in Harris County during Harvey.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/28/22

1856 Days since Hurricane Harvey

How to Save on Flood Mitigation

Since 2000, flood-mitigation spending in Harris County has topped $3 billion dollars. That’s through the end of the third quarter this year. Right of way (ROW) acquisition and construction represent the two largest components of that cost. ROW by itself consumed more than $1 billion and cost almost as much as construction. With saner building codes and floodplain regulations, we could have saved much of that for additional projects.

At the end of Q1, I made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) for more than 20 years of financial records. I wanted to see how much we spent, where we spent it and what we spent it on. You can find the results on the funding page of this web site. I recently requested updated numbers through the end of the third quarter. While I haven’t finished analyzing the latest numbers yet, one thing leaped out at me immediately.

ROW Costs Virtually as Much as Construction

I knew the acquisition of property for large detention basins or channel expansions was expensive. However…

I had no idea that right-of-way acquisition cost HCFCD almost as much as construction of mitigation projects.

As you can see from the chart below, 36 percent of all HCFCD spending on mitigation projects goes toward the acquisition of Rights of Way (ROW). Forty percent goes toward construction. And 24 percent goes toward “all other.”

Based on data provided by HCFCD in response to a FOIA Request. Covers all capital improvement spending from 1/1/2000 through end of third quarter 2021.

What are Right-of-Way Costs?

Right-of-way costs represent the purchase of land on which HCFCD builds its projects. HCFCD can’t just build projects on someone else’s land. They need to acquire the land first. ROW acquisition can take years. Often people don’t want to leave homes and neighborhoods they may have grown up in…despite the flood risk.

Even with willing sellers, HCFCD must appraise the property, locate the owner, negotiate a price, close the sale, and demolish the property before doing anything.

Four and a half years after Harvey, about half of the Forest Cove Townhomes on Marina Drive remain standing but uninhabitable. They must all be torn down before HCFCD can revert the property to green space.

Buyouts of some properties elsewhere have taken a decade or longer.

Factors Affecting Percentages

Several factors affect the ROW percentage above.

When Projects Started

Projects that started recently may show a higher percentage of ROW costs, simply because construction may not have even started yet. Conversely, some projects that started in the 1990’s did not even have any ROW costs included in these numbers because they fell outside the period (2000 to 2021) of investigation.

Population Density

Population density also affects ROW acquisition costs. It’s more expensive to purchase land after development than before. For example, inner city land with apartments and high rises costs more than rural land. See below.

Brays Bayou at South Main near Texas Medical Center shows difficulty of expanding channels in developed areas. Photo May, 2021.
Type and Location of Density

Areas where people have built right next to the edge of bayous increase the cost of mitigation. They also increase the time it takes to complete projects. HCFCD had to buy out whole subdivisions along Halls Bayou in order to build the two giant detention ponds at US59 and Parker. The buyouts took three to five times longer than construction.

Note heaviest concentration of damage inside Beltway 8

Frontier Program

Counterbalancing that, HCFCD sometimes purchases large tracts of undeveloped land in rural areas as part of its Frontier Program. That enables HCFCD to build large regional flood mitigation projects in optimal locations at a lower cost per acre without the cost or delays of buyouts. HCFCD later resells detention pond capacity to developers to make its money back. The emphasis in the Frontier Program is on preventing flooding, rather than fixing it. That requires upfront investment. But it’s also a more humane approach because people aren’t flooding multiple times before HCFCD can acquire matching grants and take action.

Opportunity for Savings

If we could get developers to leave larger easements next to creeks and bayous, it could reduce ROW-acquisition costs in the long run. It could also enhance safety for residents and the reputation of developers. Wider ROW could be marketed as greenbelts and jogging trails – salable amenities. And people are usually willing to pay a premium for flood-safe homes. So this isn’t asking developers to be totally altruistic.

Would we save a billion dollars? No.

If you look at flood damage maps of Harris County, most flooding in the last 20 years has happened inside Beltway 8. We still need to fix much of that.

But going forward, the opportunity exists to reduce that 36% gradually to something more reasonable.

How much depends on whether you can make people in surrounding counties see the floods in their future if they don’t take action now. Flooding is already a significant issue in large parts of Montgomery and Liberty Counties. Perhaps that will motivate upstream interests to cooperate with downstream interests.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/7/2021 with grateful thanks to all the men and woman who fought at Pearl Harbor

1561 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Big Stories to Watch in 2020

As we enter 2020, keep your eyes on these stories.

Elm Grove Lawsuits and Mitigation

In 2019, Elm Grove flooded twice with runoff from the Perry Homes/Woodridge Village development in Montgomery County. Hundreds of homeowners sued Perry Homes’ subsidiaries (PSWA and Figure Four Partners) and their contractors.

On 12/17/19, attorney’s for the plaintiffs filed a fourth amended petition. Since the original filing, plaintiffs have named Double Oak Construction and Texasite LLC as additional defendants.

The judge set a jury trial date for July 13, 2020. To date, Perry Homes has done nothing to reduce the threat of flooding from their job site.

The 268-acres clear-cut acres that contributed to Elm Grove Flooding.

That brings us to the subject of mitigation.

What can be done to restore the safety of residents?

Perry Homes has demonstrated no interest in reducing the threat to downstream flood victims.

Protecting homeowners will require massive intervention from an outside source. But who? And how?

Harris County Bond Fund Mitigation Projects

In 2019, Harris County Flood Control began work on 146 of 239 of the projects identified in their $2.5 billion flood bond.

Many of those projects required studies and partners. Three affecting the Lake Houston Area are:

Many projects could actually enter the construction phase next year.

Recommendations from each study should come out in 2020. Then many more projects will get underway.

Upstream Development

In 2019, we saw what upstream development did to homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest bordering Taylor Gully.

I recently learned of two new developments in the Ben’s Branch watershed.

  • A developer intends to build 18 acres of apartments where the woods adjacent to the new St. Martha Church now stand.
  • Another developer intends to build hundreds of homes on tiny lots on an 80-acre site just north of St. Martha’s.

These two projects represent dozens of others gobbling up farm and forest land in southeast Montgomery County.

This drainage ditch feeds into Ben’s Branch at Northpark Drive. The 18 acres of trees on the other side of the ditch could soon become apartments.

Businesses such as the St. Martha School and Kids in Action already flooded twice this year. So did dozens of homes along Ben’s Branch.

Additional upstream development has the potential to make flooding even worse. This is like death by a thousand cuts. Residents just don’t have the time or energy to monitor each development to ensure that owners follow rules and regulations for wetlands, floodplains, drainage, etc. Neither evidently does Montgomery County. Which brings us to…

Montgomery County Standards and Enforcement

Montgomery County competes for development by touting its lack of regulations. That’s a huge problem for downstream residents.

  • Montgomery County still bases flood maps on data from the 1980s.
  • Large parts of the county remain unmapped for flood hazards.
  • The County last updated its Drainage Criteria Manual in 1989.
  • Developers ignore many provisions within it.
  • County Commissioners voted to leave loopholes open that allow developers to avoid building detention ponds.
  • The County even paid an engineering company to investigate itself for its role in the Elm Grove Disaster.

You get the idea. If you thought some benign government entity watched over new developments to protect downstream residents, think again. Below you can see the 80-acre site I mentioned above.

Source: USGS National Wetlands Inventory.

Note how it was covered in wetlands. Developers did not ask permission from the Corps to remove them. They just decided on their own that they didn’t need to ask.

Below, you can see how virtually half the site is in a flood zone or floodway.

Source: FEMA’s national flood hazard layer viewer. Brown = 500 year flood plain, aqua = 100 year, cross-hatched equals floodway.

Here’s how it looks in Google Earth. Developers have already cleared the site.

Developers intend to build high-density homes in the floodplains. They will also build their detention pond in the floodway. Those hazard areas will likely expand when and if the County incorporates new Atlas-14 data into their flood maps.

Layout for Brooklyn Trails development in Montgomery County

None of this seems to bother the leadership of Montgomery County. And that’s a bigger problem than any one development.

In 2020, expect more focus on the decision-making process and decision makers who have created a permissive culture of indifference to flooding problems.

Sand Mines

Sand mines operate so closely to the San Jacinto that their walls frequently break and pour polluted process water into the drinking water for 2 million people. If they get caught, they pay a small fine and continue operating with impunity.

Left: Liberty Materials Mine in Conroe that undercut five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids. Center: Triple PG mine in Porter where erosion during Imelda exposed one natural gas line and threatens 5 more HVL pipelines. Right: Another Liberty Materials mine that allegedly dumped 56 million gallons of white goop into the West Fork.

Upstream Detention

During Harvey, the release of 80,000 cubic feet per second from Lake Conroe added to downstream flooding. The goal: to find enough upstream detention capacity to help offset future releases. The San Jacinto River Basin Study will examine that possibility. It’s unlikely that one reservoir will provide enough capacity. However, multiple smaller reservoirs may.

Peak flow map during Harvey.

The study partners will release their results in the second half of 2020. Land acquisition and construction could take several additional years.


Dredging is another essential element of flood mitigation on the West Fork of the San Jacinto. Sand buildup near the mouth of the river has created a giant sediment dam. The Army Corps removed three feet in a dredging effort that ended on Labor Day. But much remains.

Luckily, State Representative Dan Huberty sponsored legislation that allocated another $30 million. The Harris County Flood Bond allocated $10 million. The City of Houston allocated $6 million. Plus two more grant requests are still pending that could increase the total even more. And a disposal site for the material has already been permitted.

Mouth Bar of the West Fork. Photo taken 12/3/2019.

Last week, Harris County commissioners voted to proceed with additional dredging. Project managers are studying the most cost effective ways to proceed. We should see more dredging soon.

This money could also be used on the growing mouth bar of the East Fork.

State Highway 99 Extension

The extension of the Grand Parkway (State Highway 99) east and south to I-10 will open up vast new expanses of forest and farmland to high density development. The biggest threat will be to the East Fork watershed as construction moves through southeast Montgomery County and the northeast tip of Harris County into Liberty County.

Eastward clearing for SH99 has reached Caney Creek near Lake Houston Park.

Those are my predictions for the biggest stories of 2020. There’s a lot of good news in the forecast and much to remain vigilant about. Life seems to be a constant struggle between those who would increase and decrease our margin of safety when it comes to flooding.

Posted on 12/21/2019 by Bob Rehak

844 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.

January Update on Lake Houston Area Flood Mitigation Projects

High-rise development in the floodplain has pushed Lake Houston Area flood mitigation projects out of the headlines lately. So here’s an update on where things stand from Stephen Costello, the City of Houston’s chief resiliency officer and Mayor Turner’s flood czar.

Extending Dredging to Include Mouth Bar

It’s becoming increasing unlikely that we’ll be able to piggyback on the current dredging project. The City and Federal Government are still arguing about how much of the mouth bar existed before Harvey.

The mouth bar almost totally blocks the West Fork where it meets Lake Houston. FEMA and the City of Houston have argued for almost a year over how much existed before Harvey.

Regular readers may remember that FEMA and the Corps stonewalled action on the mouth bar because of the Stafford Act. The Stafford act is the enabling legislation for FEMA. It bars using disaster relief funds to address pre-disaster issues such as deferred maintenance.

The two sides argued for almost a year about how much of the bar existed before Harvey and how much resulted from Harvey. They have finally agreed on a procedure to answer that question. It’s called the Stockton Protocol and was developed at Stockton University in New Jersey to answer similar questions after Superstorm Sandy.

The protocol involves analysis of core samples from the mouth bar. According to Costello, the City hired a geomorphologist to harvest the core samples last week. It should take two to three weeks to analyze the layers in them.

Mouth Bar Disposal Issues Drag Out, Too

Another issue regarding the mouth bar has to do with disposal of the dredged materials. The City and the Corps have tried to agree on and permit a site since October 11 of last year. Three issues come into play when evaluating such sites: volume, cost and environmental considerations.

Next phases of dredging (proposed)

The site must be large enough to accommodate the volume of dredged materials.

The site must also be close to help hold down costs. The farther the site, the higher the costs. The amount of booster pumps, diesel fuel, pipeline, and manpower needed all increase with distance.

Re: environmental considerations, the Corps would prefer a below-ground site such as an old sand pit. That reduces the chance that sand and silt will end up back in the river during the next flood. It also eliminates the issue of possibly reducing the volume of the floodplain. On the other hand, above ground sites are easier to find and one exists that is much closer than any abandoned mine.

At the moment, managers are trying to find the optimal solution given all three variables.

Of course, the volume issue will depend on how much FEMA agrees to remove – after analysis of core samples and after the federal government resumes business.

Rapidly Shrinking Window to Save $18 Million

Before this process started dragging out, taxpayers had a chance to save $18 million. That represents the cost of mobilization and demobilization of the current dredging program on the West Fork. Piggybacking the mouth bar project on top of the current project would eliminate that cost for Phase II because the people and equipment would already be on site and could just continue working.

The current project should end in late April or early May. Costello says the City is already starting to look at contingency plans in case the shutdown drags on or permitting the disposal site becomes problematic.

Contingency Plans Considered

DRC, the company engaged to clean up debris in the lake, also does dredging. DRC has already bid the job and agreed to work for the same price as the current dredgers.

The leading permittee for the disposal site has agreed to store the dredges on his property if necessary until Phase II kicks off.

Current Barriers to Reaching An Agreement

But in the meantime, huge questions remain about volume and cost. With core samplings not yet analyzed, it’s hard to determine how much material will have to be removed from the river. So it’s also hard to determine whether the available money will stretch far enough to remove everything FEMA approves. At this point, the City has committed $15 million and the State $50 million. FEMA remains the big question mark.

Next steps:

  • Analyze core samples and agree on volume to be removed
  • Agree on disposal site and permit it
  • Determine available funds
  • Develop a dredging plan optimized for all variables above
  • Execute the plan

Status of New Gates for Lake Houston Dam

New gates for the Lake Houston dam also remain in limbo. Costello met with FEMA in December and again in early January. FEMA questions the benefit/cost analysis presented by the City. The City originally estimated a 2.8 b/c ratio for the project. That put it high on everyone’s priority lists. However, that may come down. Costello still believes the ratio will come in above 1.0, the cutoff (because benefits still exceed costs). A consultant is currently reconfiguring the estimate.

Lake Houston Dam is primarily a spillway. Small floodgates can lower lake if given enough time. But that requires starting before weather predictions acquire a high degree of certainty, thus raising the risk of wasting water if the forecast changes.

Concern about Potential for Downstream Impact

FEMA also wants assurances that new gates will not negatively impact downstream residents. The City remains confident that downstream residents will not experience impacts. The purpose of the gates is to be able to pre-release water at a controlled rate before storms hit to minimize the volume going over the spillway. Also, the county is reportedly offering buyouts to vulnerable homeowners below the dam.

If the City cannot convince FEMA that the threat to downstream residents will not increase, the City will have to look for an alternative source of funding, such as adding a penny to water bills.

Next Steps on Additional Gates

Assuming Costello can convince FEMA that there will be no negative impact downstream, the next steps would be:

  • Final design
  • Permitting
  • Construction

Each phase could take six months to two years, depending on unforeseen obstacles, such as political headwinds and completion of the long-awaited San Jacinto River Basin Watershed Survey.

San Jacinto Watershed Survey Status

In March of last year, the SJRA proposed a new survey of the entire San Jacinto Watershed. Projects such as maintenance dredging, additional gates, and additional upstream detention, all depend on the outcome of this study.

To properly design gates, for instance, engineers need to know the volume of water they need to shed in a given period of time.

To properly design maintenance dredging, they also need to know how fast the river is and lake are silting up.

The estimated cost of this study was about $2 million. Consultants have been ready and waiting since last April for the green light. Unfortunately, FEMA went back and forth with the SJRA and its partners on this project for eight months. According to Costello, FEMA was ready to write the check in December when the Federal Government shut down.

Next Steps:

  • Deposit FEMA check
  • Execute study
  • Final report

Expect this one to take 18 months from the start date.

Need to Mitigate Mitigation Funding

The saga of this study epitomizes the need to improve disaster mitigation procedures. Flooding along the Gulf Coast is foreseeable. If we budgeted for it, we wouldn’t have to depend on Washington and could save years on these projects. Two million dollars is not a great amount of money when spread out among the two million people who would benefit.

It Took 6 Months to Win the War for Texas Independence

It’s taking twice that long for FEMA to cut a check.

Think we have lost our edge? We need to get proactive and self-reliant about these things if we want the region to grow. It’s already been a year and a half since Harvey. It will take another year and a half to complete the study. Three years before the serious work of actual mitigation begins! We can do better. We must demand that our leaders reform the way the mitigation business works.

As always, these represent my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on January 21, 2019

511 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Dawn of a New Day for the Lake Houston Area

This morning, Dr. Charles Campbell, shared a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring photograph with me. He took it right here in Kingwood. It symbolizes all the hope and promise of a new day, maybe even a new year. Dr. Campbell jogs every morning at sunrise in East End Park where he took this shot.

Sunrise over Lake Houston from Kingwood’s East End Park at Otter Point. Photo courtesy of Dr. Charles Campbell. 

Reconstruction to Date

As I lost myself in this photo, I reflected on the progress our dynamic community has made this year.

  • Most people have rebuilt from Hurricane Harvey or are at least close to completion.
  • Most businesses have returned.
  • Kingwood College should completely re-open in January with $60 million of renovations and new construction.
  • Kingwood High School also received an estimated $60 million makeover and update.
  • Memorial Hermann opened a new 45,000 square foot Convenient Care Center in the heart of Town Center.

Flood Mitigation Progress

And to help prevent a repeat of Harvey:

  • The Army Corps of Engineers has started a $67 million dredging project which it hopes to complete by next April.
  • City, County, State and Federal leaders have rallied to urge FEMA and the Corps to extend the project past the mouth of the river. Both of these projects should help move water through the river faster.
  • Mayor Turner has promised to add 10 new flood gates to the Lake Houston dam. This will help shed water to Galveston Bay faster in future storms.
  • Harris County voters approved a historic $2.5 billion Flood Bond. It includes money that will help build the gates  and dredge the river on an ongoing basis.
  • The bond package also includes money to help build additional upstream detention. That will hold water upstream in future flood events.
  •  The SJRA adopted a policy of seasonally lowering Lake Conroe during the peak of spring rains and the Hurricane Season. They will hopefully continue this until other mitigation measures are in place. This helps give us an additional buffer against giant storms.
  • The City of Houston adopted a policy of lowering Lake Houston, also in anticipation of major storms. Again, this gives the lake extra capacity to absorb more runoff before the river is forced out of its banks. This also is a temporary measure until other mitigation measures are completed.
  • Government buyouts of repeatedly flood-ravaged homes have already commenced.
  • The county is also buying out properties below the Lake Houston dam in anticipation of higher flow rates once additional gates are installed.
  • Harris County has purchased floodway property and will convert it to new parks. Construction on Edgewater Park will begin next year and create a second boat launch for area residents.
  • The City passed a new ordinance requiring homes to be built 2 feet above the 500-year flood plain.
  • TexDoT completely reconstructed and strengthened the I-69 southbound lanes.
  • The County and the Corps are starting to open up ditches like the one at River Grove that drains the western third of Kingwood.

Dredging has reached the side bar and up into the drainage ditch at River Grove past the boat dock. Photo Courtesy of Dave Seitzinger.

New Day for the Community That Refused to Quit

Clearly, we have a lot to be thankful for this Christmas. But as I look back, the thing I am most thankful for is that the people of this community chose not to ignore flood issues. We addressed them head on. As a result, our our homes, health and future will be much safer.

When I moved to Texas almost 40 years ago, I fell in love with the can-do attitude of Texans.

Tell a Texan something can’t be done and he’ll show you how.

Tell a Texan it’s hopeless and she’ll tell you to get out of her way.

And among Texans, few embody this spirit more than Houstonians, especially those in the Lake Houston area.

Posted by Bob Rehak on December 5, 2018

463 days since Hurricane Harvey

Why You Should Be Concerned About Sediment and Sand Mines

For readers new to the site, I’d like to explain why I frequently mention sand mines in posts.

Bright, White Trail of Sand from the Mines

Shortly after Harvey, I became alarmed by the huge buildups of sand and sediment along the banks of the San Jacinto and in the river itself. I rented a helicopter to see if I could determine where it came from. It didn’t take long. I found bright, white trails of sand and monstrous dunes leading from sand mines on the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto all the way downstream to Lake Houston. I posted four hundred and fifty photos that I took that day (9/14/17) in the gallery section of this web site. See for yourself.

A six foot high dune – not present before Harvey – now virtually blocks the West Fork just south of the Kingwood Country Club.

Possible Sources

TACA claims that all the sand came from somewhere else, a contention that I have always found self serving and hard to believe. Miners exposed approximately twenty square miles of sand surface  to 131,000 cubic feet of water per second at the height of Harvey. As one of the world’s leading hydrologists told me, “The miner’s claims don’t appear plausible.”

Sand certainly came from other sources. But I believe my own eyes. Review the photos and Google Earth for yourself. You can see far more sand in the river and on the banks now than before. It had to come from somewhere.

Harvey deposited sand four to five feet deep along both shores of the San Jacinto for miles.

Sand now reaches into the tree tops at the West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge and blocks water from flowing under it.

The problem comes in determining how much came from different sources: Spring Creek, Cypress Creek, West Fork, Peach Creek, Caney Creek, East Fork, channel scouring, channel widening, sand mines, sand stockpiles, urbanization, etc. The short answer: some came from all of the above. How much came from each source? I personally can’t say with certainty.

So why should you worry about sand mines then?

Restoring Channel Conveyance is Costly

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently trying to remove 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment from a 2-mile stretch of the West Fork. Their objective: restore channel conveyance to the river between River Grove Park and King’s Harbor. Cost: Approximately $70 million.

That project will NOT include the “mouth bar” between King’s Point and Atascocita Point. Estimated cost of that project: another $100 million…if it happens. And we have not yet even estimated the cost of dredging the remainder of the West Fork, the East Fork, and channels down through the FM1960 bridge.

Other Concerns

HGAC has discovered alarming levels of bacteria in both forks of the San Jacinto and linked the levels to sedimentation.

The capacity of Lake Houston is rapidly decreasing at a time when the City of Houston plans to radically increase the number of people using its water.

River migration could soon capture a number of abandoned sand pits, increasing levels of sediment in the river.

It could be years before land for additional upstream detention is identified and purchased. Harris County and the SJRA are still awaiting funding from FEMA for the study that will help identify the best locations. FEMA has studied the study since April.

Stephen Costello, the City’s flood czar, told a meeting of residents at the Kingwood Community Center in October that additional flood gates for Lake Houston could take 5-10 years.

It’s Time for Progress, Not Promises

The next legislative session starts in less than two months. Two things we can focus on NOW: strengthening sand mine regulation and putting some teeth in the TCEQ. Let’s get the sand mines out of floodways. Let’s establish an erosion hazard zone like they have on the Brazos.

Other mitigation projects to reduce flood risk are far off. And if the mouth bar project is delayed, any additional sediment coming downstream will likely be deposited behind the bar in the heavily populated Humble/Kingwood/Atascocita corridor again.

The risk of a future flood could be catastrophic to the community. Dozens of people I have interviewed have told me that they are rebuilding now based on the Mayor’s assurances of additional dredging, upstream detention and flood gates. However, they say they will never rebuild again if flooded a second time.

It’s been 448 days since Hurricane Harvey. We need progress, not promises.

As always, these are my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on November 19, 2018

448 days since Hurricane Harvey