Tag Archive for: Multisource Sand and Gravel

Video From Boat of 7.5-Acre Area in San Jacinto West Fork Mined for Sand

Yesterday, I posted pictures taken from a helicopter of a 7.5-acre sand bar in the San Jacinto West Fork that had been mined without a permit. Then last night, Josh Alberson sent me some video from a boat of the same area. Gabe Gosney, a passenger in Alberson’s jet boat, shot the video on GoPro and wants to share it with the community.

Giant Sand Bar Now Looks Like Example of Pit Capture

The area in question lies on the west side of the river, just south of SH99. When Alberson first saw it, he excitedly texted me, saying he found an example of “pit capture” on the West Fork. The only problem: there was no pit to capture. And no recent flood.

As Alberson sped down the West Fork, he spotted the area and slowed. Gosney shot hand held from the boat. Here’s what the carnage looked like from the river.

3 minute 15 second video by Gabe Gosney of 7.5 acre area in San Jacinto West Fork being mined for sand.

Changes to Riverine Environment

Several things become apparent immediately upon viewing the video.

  • Humans caused extensive damage to the river ecosystem (property of the state).
  • What looked like the edge of a sand bar from 300 feet up in a helicopter is actually small piles of sand left by the miners.
  • River current now flows through the mined area, but at a slower rate than the river itself.
  • Trees that used to form a small part of the edge of the bar in one area have toppled.
The sand bar outlined above in this Google Earth satellite image from 12/1/2019 no longer exists.
It has been mined out of existence.

Alberson says the river was up about a foot to a foot and a half compared to normal because of the SJRA’s seasonal release of 529 cubic feet per second from Lake Conroe. He said the current was quite fast – difficult to stand in. He did not get out of the boat to see how deep the water was in the mined area, but his impression was that it was shallow.

Mining Not Permitted According to Authorities

The TCEQ regulates mining in the floodplain. Texas Parks and Wildlife Division regulates mining in the river. And the SJRA has commissioned a study on the possibility of building “sand traps” in the river.

All three groups say they have no record of issuing any permits for river mining in the San Jacinto.

Potential Dangers

During floods, the dying trees you see in the video will dislodge and float downstream where they will cause property damage or get lodged in bridge supports, form dams, and cause flooding.

When floodwaters spread out in this area, they will slow and deposit their sediment load. However, where the river channel becomes narrower downstream, the river will speed up again and likely accelerate erosion of river banks and other people’s property.

Texas Parks and Wildlife is investigating. More news to follow.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/24/2020 with thanks to Josh Alberson and Gabe Gosney

969 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

TPWD Investigates River Mining Without Permit on San Jacinto West Fork

A 7.5-acre point bar outside a San Jacinto West Fork sand mine has disappeared, the apparent victim of river mining. River mining is prohibited in many countries because of its dangers. Texas does not prohibit it, but taxes it at a higher rate than floodplain mining to discourage the practice. The dangers include:

  • Upstream and downstream erosion
  • Destruction of riverbanks and river properties
  • Undermining infrastructure (such as bridges and pipelines)
  • Increases in turbidity
  • Lowering of the water table
  • Loss of riparian vegetation.
Location of River Mining on West Fork Just South of Highway 99

No Permits on File With Key Regulatory Bodies

A check with the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and Texas Parks and Wildlife Division (TPWD) showed the following:

A TCEQ investigator has spoken to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) Wetlands Conservation Program. “If the facility is digging in or very near the water’s edge,” said the TCEQ’s Jonathan Walling, “the facility would most likely need a permit from TPWD.”

Tom Heger of TPWD said Montgomery County Parks & Wildlife officials are investigating.

Compare the satellite image above to the shots below. Google Earth measurements show the sand bar that no longer exists was bigger than most of the pits in the mine itself.

Looking downriver, you can still see outlines of point bar and marks from excavator.
Close up of marks left by teeth of excavator.
Looking toward West Fork where point bar used be. Vehicle tracks lead back to mine behind camera position.
Pits created in the river.
Relationship of river mining to flood plain mine in background.
Well-used road between excavation and mine.
The disappearance of sand is not because of the seasonal release of water from Lake Conroe. Hundreds of bars both up and downstream appeared normal.
Google Earth shows the river to be approximately 350 feet wide at this point.

Texas Rules on River Mining

The State of Texas governs the taking of sand from rivers. See the regulations and laws on this FAQ page at: https://tpwd.texas.gov/faq/landwater/sand_gravel/. Key points include:

  •  If the stream is perennial (flows most of the time), or is more than 30 feet wide between the banks (even if it is dry most of the time), the State claims the bed and the sand and gravel in it as State-owned. 
  • A permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is required to “disturb or take” streambed materials from a streambed claimed by the State.

According to TPWD, the operator did not have a permit. In fact, no one on the entire San Jacinto river has a permit, according to TPWD.

How River Mining Degrades River Beds/Channels: Academic Insights

San Diego State University summarizes some of the issues associated with river mining. The paragraph below, taken from their excellent website, explains why most governments discourage river mining.

…bed degradation occurs when mineral extraction increases the flow capacity of the channel. A pit excavation locally increases flow depth and a barskimming operation increases flow width. Both conditions produce slower streamflow velocities and lower flow energies, causing sediments arriving from upstream to deposit at the mining site. As streamflow moves beyond the site and flow energies increase in response to the “normal” channel form downstream, the amount of transported sediment leaving the site is now less than the sediment carrying capacity of the flow. This sediment-deficient flow or “hungry” water picks up more sediment from the stream reach below the mining site, furthering the bed degradation process.

G. Mathias Kondolf of the University of California/Berkeley published this illustrated paper on the hungry water effect.

Professor Kondolf also published “Geomorphic and environmental effects of instream gravel
mining.” It contains an excellent, well documented discussion of the impacts of river mining.

SEDIMENT MINING IN ALLUVIAL CHANNELS: PHYSICAL EFFECTS AND MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVES by M. RINALDI, B. WYZGA and N. SURIAN contains an thorough discussion of the dangers of river mining and public policy. (Warning: Copyrighted paper; costs $49.)

Mine Ownership

According to the TCEQ, the sand mine in the photos is called the Spring Wet Sand and Gravel Plant. Their registration database shows Multisource Sand And Gravel Co., Ltd. owns and operates it, under APO registration number AP0002459. Multisource Sand and Gravel Co. Ltd. is based in San Antonio at 126 East Turbo Drive. It is a subsidiary of Sage LLC. Lee C. McCarty and Benjamin Davis manage it from the Turbo Drive offices.  Daniel E. McCarty and Lee C. McCarty manage Sage.

The mine owners could not be reached for comment. Their phones went unanswered, perhaps because of the COVID crisis.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/23/2020

968 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.