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.
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:
- SJRA says the activity is not part of their new sand trap program. That’s still being studied and in the preliminary engineering phase.
- TCEQ says they did not permit the activity.
- TPWD says they know of “no permits for stream bed excavation along the San Jacinto River.”
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.
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.)
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.