The sand bar already eliminated was toward the top and left side of the frame above. It stretched almost 2000 feet.
Now dredgers are focusing on the giant bar in the middle above.
Mouth Bar Complex in 2020 Before Start of Dredging
The shot below, taken from the opposite direction, helps put things in perspective.
More Current Shots Taken Today
Long Range Dredging Plan
The City of Houston’s purchasing website does not indicate whether the City has yet awarded the project to develop a long range dredging plan. Last month, the purchasing agent for the City, Bridget Cormier, stated that “The City has not yet made a decision, nor a recommendation for award yet.” She explained, “We are still in the evaluation phase and have requested additional information from suppliers that moved forward in the process.”
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/20220220-DJI_0266.jpg?fit=1200%2C799&ssl=17991200adminadmin2022-02-20 16:08:072022-02-20 16:12:40February East Fork Mouth Bar Dredging Update
Of course, even when the above water portion of the Mouth Bar is removed, that will still leave a huge portion below the surface. However, all progress is welcome.
At the start of October, the above-water (sub-aerial) extent of the mouth bar was down to the width of one excavator. Two excavators are now working toward the middle from each end. See below.
Like an Iceberg, Most of a Sand Bar Exists Below Water
That’s significant progress given what we started with. But much sand remains below the surface.
Tim Garfield and RD Kissling, two leading geologists now retired from one of the world’s largest oil companies, mapped the depth of the river using sonar and depth poles. They found an underwater plateau exists in this region of the river. See chart below.
Plans for Next Phase Still Not Revealed
FEMA has approved dredging another million cubic yards. And Dan Huberty’s amendment to SB500 in the last legislature dedicated $30 million for dredging the West Fork Mouth Bar. The City is drawing up plans, but they have not been announced yet. The last time I talked to Stephen Costello about this, he said the City was leaning toward dredging a channel somewhere south of the mouth bar. But many details remained to be worked out, such as:
Method of dredging (hydraulic vs. mechanical)
Finding qualified contractors
Determining a suitable placement area, etc.
More news when its available.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/26/2020
1154 Days after Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/BeforeNow.jpg?fit=1200%2C1200&ssl=112001200adminadmin2020-10-26 17:09:182020-10-26 17:09:22Above-Water Portion of Mouth Bar Could Be Gone by Christmas
Two world-class geologists, Tim Garfield and R.D. Kissling, both of whom live in the Lake Houston Area, agreed (at ReduceFlooding.com’s request) to offer their opinions on what would be the best strategy for dredging near the San Jacinto West Fork Mouth Bar. Garfield and Kissling helped bring mouth bar issues to the attention of the public after Harvey. Both have followed various dredging programs in that area closely ever since.
However, none of the various parties involved has volunteered to share their thinking about objectives and strategies behind mouth bar dredging alternatives. That’s why I asked Garfield and Kissling to offer their thoughts on what constituted the best strategy. Both worked for one of the world’s largest oil companies at the very highest levels.
Old Bathymetric Maps No Longer Valid
The first thing they realized was that they didn’t have enough data to make informed recommendations. The last published bathymetric maps were based on surveys taken before Imelda and before the Corps’ mouth-bar dredging.
Gathering Own Data
So Garfield and Kissling gathered their own data – with sonic depth finders, GPS, and a 14-foot pole with depth markings. They started upstream of the mouth bar, where the Army Corps finished its Emergency West Fork Dredging program near Kings Harbor. And they worked their way downstream beyond FM1960 to the railroad bridge.
Found Underwater Plateau 20′ High and 3 Miles Long
They found an underwater wall approximately 20′ high where the Corps stopped its first dredging program near Kings Harbor. It extended downstream more than 3 miles.
That wall, they say, “…constitutes a significant and abrupt hydraulic barrier that will likely exacerbate flooding and sedimentation.”
Garfield and Kissling recommend dredging along the deepest path (see below). They reason that would save money.
“This might not only be the most beneficial dredging plan, but could also be the most cost effective as it leverages the paleo-channel as much as possible,” they say. “It harnesses nature, rather than fighting it.”
The geologists also identified a second possible route farther to the east but still south of the above-water portion of the stream mouth bar (labeled SMB in diagram above).
They caution that hydraulic modeling should be used to decide the best dredging plan. Political considerations drove initial mouth bar dredging rather than data. The Corps was authorized only to dredge an amount that it believed Harvey deposited. “We should be past the politics at this point and looking to get the most bang for our bucks,” say the geologists.
Whichever strategy the City settles on, Garfield and Kissling recommend excavating a channel, not a broad area, to get the best results for the dollars invested.
Objective: Re-establish Full Channel From Kings Harbor to Lake Houston
“This new channel should be no shallower, nor narrower than the upstream dredged channel at its end dredge location (450’ wide x 26’ deep),” say the geologists.
As a minimum, the future dredging plan should re-establish a continuous and down-stream deepening channel volume from where the Corps channel dredging ended to the 1960 bridge.
Tim Garfield and RD Kissling
This will help reduce sediment build up upstream from the plateau. By accelerating water through the blockage, it will let the river carry sediment farther out into the deeper portion of the lake. It will also reduce water backup that contributes to flooding.
Recommendations Consistent With City’s Preliminary Findings
The City has been methodically surveying Lake Houston and is in the process of developing its own maps, objectives and strategies. Stephen Costello, the City’s flood czar said they are not finished with that effort yet. However, he also said that the preliminary information they obtained suggested that a route south of the mouth bar might be the most effective.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/25/2020 with thanks to Tim Garfield and RD Kissling
1123 Days after Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Slide6-1.jpeg?fit=1200%2C900&ssl=19001200adminadmin2020-09-25 12:33:102020-09-25 23:08:43Two Top Geologists Suggest Mouth Bar Dredging Strategy
On February 20th of this year, approximately 1,000 plaintiffs filed a 118-page lawsuit against 55 sand mining companies in the San Jacinto River Basin. Plaintiffs allege that the miners harmed them by decreasing the capacity and depth of Lake Houston and its tributaries by wrongfully discharging and negligently allowing the release of materials into waterways. That reduction of capacity, they say, contributed to flooding their homes and businesses.
To support their claims (¶613), plaintiffs cite violations of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regulations and the U.S. Clean Water Act. They claim:
Excessive, unauthorized discharge of silt into waterways
Obtain stormwater discharge permits
Prevent unauthorized discharges
Minimize generation of dust and off-site tracking
Past and Present Activities Cited
Some defendants, they say, operated above permit limits and others operated without any permits at all (¶614).
Plaintiffs say (¶615) that defendants have operated immediately adjacent to various waterways and in the flood plain, clearcutting all vegetation, and digging pits within feet of the riverbanks. Thus, there are no real barriers between mines and the rivers, they claim. Further, they allege that defendants have no plans in place for protection and preservation of their pits and loose sand during flood events, which occur frequently.
Then Came Harvey
Hurricane Harvey, they say, inundated mines and “thousands of acres of sand washed downstream, clogging the rivers and lakes, resulting in flood waters moving outside the banks and outside the flood plain, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.”
Alleged Violations of Water Code
The defendants had a duty to implement procedures to reduce the discharge of sediment into waterways, but did not, according to the plaintiffs. Thus, the proximate cause of plaintiffs’ injuries involved negligence and negligence per se. Defendants allegedly breached their duties under sections 11.086, 26.039, and 26.121 of the Texas Water Code, thus causing flooding and damage to plaintiffs’ property.
To prove negligence, personal injury plaintiffs must show that the defendants’ conduct fell below the applicable standard of care and that their actions were the actual and proximate cause of harm.
In cases of negligence per se, defendants’ actions are assumed to be unreasonable if the conduct violates an applicable rule, regulation, or statute. That’s why lawyers cite the Texas Water Code, plus TCEQ and EPA regulations.
11.086 of the Texas Water Code provides that no person impound the natural flow of surface waters, or permit impounding to continue, in a manner that damages property of another by the overflow of the water diverted or impounded.
26.039 specifies that mine operators must notify the TCEQ of accidental discharges or spills that cause or may cause pollution as soon as possible.
26.121 prohibits discharge of pollutants. Both the EPA and TCEQ consider sediment a pollutant.
Specific omissions, say the plaintiffs, include failing to:
Locate sand mines outside of floodways
Increase the width of dikes
Decrease the slope of dikes
Control erosion with vegetation
Replant areas not actively being mined
Protect stockpiles from flooding
Mine only above the deepest part of the river
The plaintiffs also allege nuisance. Under Texas law, nuisance refers to a type of legal injustice involving interference with the use and enjoyment of property. Specifically, plaintiffs say that the defendants’ negligent conduct caused paintiffs’ flooding, thus depriving them of the use of their homes.
Complaint against Forestar by Barrington Residents
On page 108, a subset of plaintiffs (those who live in the Barrington), lodge a complaint against Forestar (USA) Real Estate Group Inc. They allege that Forestar developed, marketed and sold homes in the subdivision without any standards for determining the elevation of a house relative to flood risk.
“Despite having actual knowledge of the possibility of flooding in the Barrington Subdivision, Forestar did not advise homebuyers to purchase flood insurance,” says the complaint (¶640). “Nor did Forestar advise the residents of the Barrington Subdivision of its location on a floodplain, or that their elevations were changed due to lots being filled with dirt” when residents purchased homes.
Nevertheless, the complaint continues (¶643), homes were built at an “unreasonably low” elevation, given their location near the West Fork San Jacinto. “Forestar knew, or should have known, that houses needed to be built at an elevation adequate to prevent and/or reduce the likelihood of flooding.”
Plaintiffs allege damages that include:
Cost of repairs to real property
Cost of replacing personal property
Lost of use of real and personal property
Diminution of market value
Loss of income, business income, profits and business equipment
Loss of good will and reputation
Consequential costs, such as loss of time from work and alternate living expenses
Pre- and post-judgement interest
Conscious Indifference and Gross Negligence
¶658 asserts that the conduct of all defendants (sand mines and Forestar) qualifies as gross negligence under Texas law. The plaintiffs say that the defendants acts of omission involved an extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of harm to others. Plus, “Defendants had actual subjective awareness of the risk involved in the above described acts or omissions, but nevertheless proceeded with conscious indifference to the rights, safety and welfare of plaintiffs and others.”
Where Case Stands
129th District Court Judge Michael Gomez signed a docket control order on 2/28/2020 that calls for:
All parties in the suit to be added and served with notice by 8/19/2020
Close of pleadings and start of mediation on 12/16/2020
End of discovery on 1/15/2021
All motions and pleas heard by 1/15/2021
Trial, if necessary, on 2/15/2021
To date, there have been several motions to transfer venue, dismiss the case, and change the judge.
Only Triple PG Sand Development, LLC has filed an answer to the plaintiffs’ claims; the company filed a general denial.
In a separate case, the Attorney General of Texas is suing Triple PG for failing to prevent and repair breaches in dikes that resulted in repeated unauthorized discharges of process wastewater and sediment into Caney Creek. Caney Creek joins the East Fork San Jacinto just downstream from Triple PG. Triple PG currently operates under an injunction that bars it from dredging.
If successful, this case may force sand mines to operate more responsibly, now and in the future. For instance, it might force them to move farther back from rivers and out of floodways. Having taken thousands of photos of leaking sand mines from the air since Harvey, in my opinion, that might benefit everyone, not just the plaintiffs.
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.
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/20191203-RJR_5020.jpg?fit=1200%2C800&ssl=18001200adminadmin2020-08-02 08:55:112020-08-02 09:24:31Approximately 1,000 Plaintiffs File Suit Against Sand Mines in Harvey Flooding
Mechanical dredging is slowly but surely downsizing the San Jacinto West Fork Mouth Bar. It’s still about a billion times larger than a snack-sized McDonald’s Oreo McFlurry, but it’s a vast improvement over what it was. It now appears to be about one third of its size in January when most people would have called it super sized.
A Sisyphean Task
Snack-sized puns aside, the job is a Sisyphean task. For those not familiar with the term, Sisyphus was a figure from Greek mythology who angered Zeus. Zeus sentenced him to rolling a boulder up a hill for the rest of eternity only for it to roll back down again every time he got near the top.
And so it is with those three lonely excavators working on giant sand bar at the mouth of the West Fork where it meets Lake Houston.
Day in and day out, they remove one bucketful at a time. Six months after they started, much of the above-water portion of the sand bar has now been removed. But they still haven’t started to address the matter of cutting a channel that connects the dredged portion of the river with the lake.
Meanwhile, more sand and silt comes down river with every storm.
Comparing Post-Harvey with Recent Photos
Still, if you compare post-Harvey photos with photos taken recently, you can see progress.
Dredgers are slowly reducing the dam behind the dam.
The dredgers keep nibbling the south edge of the bar, taking row after row of sand, much like eating an ear of corn.
In the next few months, they may run out of room to maneuver on the bar.
Survey Boat Spotted on Lake Last Week
Residents recently reported seeing a survey boat out on Lake Houston. That’s a good sign. It says that the City, County and State are now looking at what should come next with the $30 million that State Rep. Dan Huberty got the legislature to commit last year as an amendment to SB500. Harris County Flood Control also committed $10 million to dredging in the 2018 flood bond fund.
It’s hard to get a feeling for the enormity of the West Fork mouth bar in a still photo. Something more than half a mile long is reduced to 1200 pixels. That fundamentally alters the scale between nature and humans. Instead of being a thousand times bigger, it’s a hundred times smaller. That does not produce the same emotional impact. It’s like looking at a picture of a mountain instead of standing at the base of one and feeling dwarfed as you look up.
Video Comes Closer to Capturing Imensity
However, tonight, at sunset, I flew a drone over mouth bar and captured the entire flight on video. At 30 miles per hour, it took 1 minute and 9 seconds to get from one end to the other.
Tonight, as we watch Tropical Storm Cristobal dump torrential rains on Mexico, it’s hard to escape thinking of Hurricane Harvey. It dumped torrential rains on Houston and formed this monster mouth bar almost overnight. Remember, like an ice berg, the part you see above water is only a tiny percentage of what you can’t see below water.
Thinking of Cristobal, Remembering Harvey
As I look at the cloudless skies and soft sunset, I can’t help but wonder. Will Cristobal miss us. Or is this just the calm before the storm?
Cristobal has produced life-threatening flash flooding in Mexico and Central America. The National Hurricane Center forecasts it to move northward across the Gulf of Mexico on Friday. Risks include storm surge, rainfall and wind impacts this coming weekend across the US Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida. NHC reiterates that it’s too soon predict the exact location, timing and magnitude of these impacts.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/3/2020
1009 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/20200602-DJI_0005.jpg?fit=1200%2C900&ssl=19001200adminadmin2020-06-02 22:27:092020-06-02 22:52:41Buzzing The Mouth Bar: Low Altitude Flyover at 30 MPH Takes 1 Minute 9 Seconds
So-called mouth bars are giant sand bars formed at the mouths of rivers. They form wherever a river enters an ocean, sea, estuary, lake, or reservoir. Whenever water slows, a river will deposit sediment. And it always slows when a moving body of water encounters a standing body of water. It’s a well understood geophysical process that occurs everywhere around the world. A prime example is the Mississippi delta.
Mouth bars are actually part of river delta formation. As they build up, they force a river to split.
Why Intervention Is Necessary In Populated Areas
As sediment builds up, if left alone, it will eventually choke the headwaters of the lake and form a flat swampy lowland. You can already see this beginning to happen on the East Fork San Jacinto.
Part of the reason for the buildup of sediment behind the West Fork mouth bar is that Ben’s Branch and another major drainage ditch have been dumping sediment into the river there. Luckily, HCFCD is removing sediment from these and other ditches. That will help reduce the problem in the river, but not eliminate it.
Need for Maintenance Dredging
Erosion is relentless. We can do many things to minimize it (preserve wetlands, use best management practices in sand mining and construction, etc.). However, as long as rain falls, we can’t eliminate it.
To my knowledge, until the emergency West Fork dredging program began in 2018, the upper San Jacinto had never been dredged since the Lake Houston Dam was built in 1953. That’s 65 years. Over that time, sediment build up turned into a $100+ million dredging program. And that doesn’t even include flood damages which likely total another BILLION dollars according to a City estimate. Imagine all the heartbreak and misery that could have been avoided had the City budgeted $2 million for dredging each year.
Flood losses we could have avoided
Recreational opportunities we could have realized
Reservoir capacity we could have preserved
Home values we could have multiplied.
For all these reasons, we need to start a serious dialog about maintenance dredging. Even if it’s not every year, we need it after every flood. Think of it as a yearly insurance premium against the next disaster.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/22/2020
997 Days after Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/20200511-RJR_2501.jpg?fit=1200%2C800&ssl=18001200adminadmin2020-05-22 17:58:532020-05-23 11:39:54Putting Mouth Bar Removal in Larger Context; Need for Maintenance Dredging
Aerial photos taken on April 21, 2020 show that Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) finished its Rogers Gully project in the Walden area of Lake Houston south of FM1960. However, a significant mouth bar remains in the portion of the ditch owned by the City of Houston.
Project Did Not Extend to Lake Houston
The channel repair project extended from Trophy Place to approximately 1,400 feet downstream. Matt Zeve, Deputy Executive Director of HCFCD, said “We had worked this location a year ago, and the sediment accumulated in this spot again very quickly, so we had to come back.”
However, he added, “We won’t be getting the mouth bar.” The mouth bar is yet another one of the jurisdictional issues that plague homeowners around Lake Houston. The map below shows the HCFCD right-of-way in yellow. City of Houston (COH) is the red (actually COH owns all of the lake area even though it doesn’t show up on the map).
Zeve also said, “The mouth bar will have to be handled by another dredging contract that will come after the COH executes the $30 million program.” The $30 million program refers to the Huberty Amendment to SB500 passed during the last legislature.
The April photo of the mouth bar above was taken after a large rain when the lake level was up slightly. When the level is down, here is what the problem looks like.
The Rogers Gully mouth bar still appears to have the potential to back water up and contribute to neighborhood flooding.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/10/2020
985 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 234 after Imelda
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/20200421-RJR_1184.jpg?fit=1200%2C800&ssl=18001200adminadmin2020-05-10 14:27:342020-05-10 14:29:32HCFCD Finishes Clean-Out of Its Portion of Rogers Gully; But Mouth Bar Remains
The State of Texas, Harris County and the City of Houston are whittling down the mouth bar of the San Jacinto West Fork – teaspoon by teaspoon. Just kidding; it only feels that way.
At the planned rate, the partners will remove approximately one third to one half of the planned 400,000 cubic yards of sediment by the start of hurricane season. But after waiting two and a half years since Hurricane Harvey, any and all progress is welcome! I’m not complaining.
The Mouth Bar Immediately After Harvey
Harvey deposited massive amounts of sediment in the area where the San Jacinto meets Lake Houston.
The mouth bar formed where it did because the river water slows down when it meets the lake. The lower velocity causes sediment to drop out of suspension and accumulate faster.
While the Corps used hydraulic dredging to remove 500,000 cubic yards from the mouth bar in three months, the current phase uses mechanical dredging. Partners hope to remove another 400,000 cubic yards in 12 months. The process resembles whittling in that workers remove small chunks at a time.
Big Machines Dwarfed by Size of Job
Mechanical dredging uses large excavators. They load the sediment on pontoons. Tugs then push the pontoons upriver to a placement area. There, skid loaders remove the sediment and put it in trucks. The trucks cart it inland.
The excavators are currently nibbling away at the southern edge of the bar. I took all photos below on 3/6/2020.
Mechanical vs. Hydraulic Dredging
The whole process resembles a five-mile long conveyor belt. It involves excavators, pontoons, tugs, trucks and more. Both mechanical and hydraulic dredging have advantages and disadvantages. Hydraulic dredging takes more time to mobilize, but re-suspends less sediment, and costs less per cubic yard of sediment removed. Mechanical dredging, on the other hand, can mobilize much faster.
At this point, returning to hydraulic dredging feels like a distant dream. No one is commenting on the possibility. But this picture speaks volumes.
It shows the once-bustling, but now-empty Army Corps command post. Just three months ago, it was filled with dredge pipe, spare parts, construction trailers, pontoons, booster pumps, survey boats, and more. Getting all that equipment back will be difficult.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/12/2020
926 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/20200306-RJR_9728.jpg?fit=1200%2C800&ssl=18001200adminadmin2020-03-12 15:32:312020-03-12 15:34:58Whittling Down the San Jacinto West Fork Mouth Bar
When we think about flooding, most of us don’t think beyond the repair costs of homes. But there are more costs to communities that can remain hidden for years. Erosion, for instance, is one of the hidden costs of flooding that we rarely talk about.
You’ve heard me talk about the eroded sediment from sand mines that winds up downstream in the mouth bars of the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto.
In Deer Ridge Estates, ditch erosion is creeping inexorably toward back yard fences.
On a recent flight down the San Jacinto West Fork, I spotted erosion threatening the back yards of homes still under construction in the new Northpark Woods subdivision.
Erosion can threaten pipelines, too.
Let’s Play Hot Potato
Who is responsible for repairing the upstream erosion when it happens? In Harris County, we’re lucky, we have a flood control district that has assumed responsibility for that. But the ditch two photos above is in Montgomery County. So are the pipelines in the photo above.
Who is responsibly for repairing erosion in these cases? The County? The homeowners? The homeowner association? The developer? The sand mine? The pipelines? A flood control or drainage district? Everyone wants to assume it’s someone else’s problem. No one wants to assume responsibility.
But without someone stepping up, these homes will eventually be threatened. And with the exception noted above, few people or groups are stepping up.
Paul Crowson, a Montgomery County flood activist has posted about this subject on Facebook. Says Crowson, “The county, the flood control district, the neighborhood HOA, the POA, the City, the State, the developers, the engineers … all are passing the blame and responsibility around to each other.”
“These poor people (in the court case) have lost most of their yard, and are in danger of losing their home to the ravages of the drainage easement nightmares,” says Crowson. “Those nightmares are growing every day and will eventually swallow them and their home. Why does it matter to you? I’m thinking right now of Roman Forest, Tavola, New Caney, and Montgomery County.”
It’s Easier to Keep Up Than Catch Up
I would argue that it’s cheaper to prevent a disaster in the making than to remediate a disaster after the fact. Remember those homely homilies your parents and grandparents tried to instill in you? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A stitch in time save nine.
Congressman Dan Crenshaw says the Navy Seals have a similar saying for those who fall behind on those long training runs they take. “It’s easier to keep up than catch up.” They’re all true! And the same holds true for deferred maintenance.
When Deferred Maintenance Turns into a Disaster Area
Montgomery County does not have a flood control district. Nor does it seem especially eager to address problems, such as those in the photo above.
As we saw with the mouth bar on the West Fork that had been building up under water for decades, maintenance can be deferred for only so long.
Then a monster flood comes along like Harvey. It finds the weak points in systems…and boom. Deferred maintenance turns into a disaster area.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/28/2020 with input from Paul Crowson
913 Days after Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/20200213-RJR_7905.jpg?fit=1200%2C800&ssl=18001200adminadmin2020-02-28 12:39:172020-02-28 12:44:11Hidden Costs of Flooding