Tag Archive for: sand mine

West Fork Sand Mine Sending Sediment Downstream from Settling Pond

5/17/2024 – The Hallett sand mine on the San Jacinto West Fork appears to have dug a trench across the maintenance road of its settling pond to lower the pond’s level. Murky wastewater is draining into the West Fork while the SJRA is currently releasing 10,875 cubic feet per second (CFS) from Lake Conroe in the wake of yesterday’s heavy rains.

Sediment released from the mine is being picked up by the Lake Conroe water and carried downstream. Note below how sediment has discolored the West Fork.

Picture taken 5/17/24, at the confluence of the West Fork, Spring Creek and Cypress Creek. Cypress joins Spring slightly upstream on the left. The branch on the right is immediately downstream from 20 square miles of sand mines between US59 and I-45.

Where The Sludge is Coming From

In the last few weeks I’ve posted extensively about how the West Fork has breached the dikes of a pit formerly owned by Hallett. As of this afternoon, the river continues to run through that pit. No attempt has been made by the new owner to re-establish the dikes. And that certainly contributes to downstream sedimentation.

But this afternoon, I discovered an additional source of sedimentation thanks to a tip from a nearby fishermen who stumbled across a breach in Hallett’s settling pond. See video below.

Video supplied by fishermen.

It’s hard to get a sense of the location from the close up, so here’s the location of the breach in a satellite image from Google Earth.

General location of breach and path to river in red oval.

And here’s a more detailed look at the path the water took on its way to the river.

Looking N. Silty water leaves Hallett’s settling pond through a trench dug in the tree-line. From there it flows through an abandoned sand mine and then through another breach into the West Fork.
Reverse angle shows silty water flowing out of Hallett settling pond into abandoned neighboring mine.
Detail cropped from shot above shows how heavy equipment worked the area.
Looking S downstream. Abandoned mine on left, West Fork in middle and breach through another pit on right.

Timing of Release Should Raise Eyebrows

The timing of this release is suspect: Friday afternoon just before regulators headed home for the weekend.

I’ve documented a history of breaches from this pond dating back to 2019 and the fishermen say they’ve seen breaches before that.

Hallett flushed water from this and other ponds after the January floods in 2024 but via different routes.

Lest you think I’m picking on Hallett, it isn’t the only sand mine emptying its settling pond into the West Fork.

I also documented an instance when the West Fork ran white from a release at the LMI Moorhead Mine upstream from Hallett. TCEQ estimated they released 56 million gallons of sludge into the river. That pond dropped 3-4 feet according to the TCEQ.

Regular Occurrence

The montage below shows the confluence of the West Fork and Spring/Cypress Creeks from different angles on different days. In all cases, the polluted branch was the West Fork. I took these shots while photographing West Fork sand mines from a rented helicopter.

Confluence

A former West Fork mine operator and a former water quality manager for the City of Houston tell me that releasing sediment-laden water under the cover of floods is standard operating procedure for many mines on the West Fork.

Who Will Bear the Cost of Clean Up, Dredging?

Think this doesn’t affect you? It affects your water quality and the cost of cleaning it up. Lake Houston supplies drinking water for more than two million people.

And if you live between the mines and Lake Houston, it probably will affect you another way.

Most sediment moves during floods. During Harvey, the West Fork swept through 20 square miles of sand mines between I-45 and I-69. According to the Army Corps, deposited sediment blocked the West Fork by 90%. That reduced the conveyance of the river and caused water to rise into homes and businesses. Almost 20,000 flooded in the Humble/Kingwood area.

Since then, taxpayers have spent more than $200 million on dredging. And the City is getting ready to launch another $34 million dredging program.

However, that program won’t address the mouth of the Kingwood Diversion Ditch at the River Grove Park boat launch.

KSA has obtained bids north of $800,000 to dredge the blocked area. Spending that kind of money will be necessary to keep the KSA boat launch open. It has become badly blocked by sediment during two floods since the start of the year.

Kingwood Diversion Ditch at River Grove Blocked by sediment
Here’s what that area looked like yesterday afternoon when the SJRA release rate was closer to 1500 CFS. Water level in river was still up about a foot above normal.

Living with sediment is all part of life on the river. But dredging intervals at River Grove have gone from 8 years before Harvey to 4 to 2 years since Harvey.

If this continues, KSA may be forced debate whether it can afford to keep the boat docks open.

Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, PE is trying to work with upstream authorities to reduce sedimentation that can lead to flooding. But it’s an uphill slog. No pun intended.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/17/2024

2053 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.

Environmental Regulation Committee Taking Public Comments on Three APO Bills

The Environmental Regulation Committee of the Texas House of Representatives will hear public testimony on three bills concerning sand mines/aggregate production operations on Monday, April 19, 2021. You don’t need to go all the way to Austin to testify. You can leave your comments on the Committee’s website. Just remember, there’s a 5000 character limit. See more about the bills below.

HB 767: Best Practices for Sand Mines

HB767 by Dan Huberty would require the TCEQ to establish best practices for sand mines and publish them on its website. Right now, Texas is one of the few states that doesn’t have a codified set of best practices. Granted, though, some are embodied in the terms of permits and federal laws. But the public never sees these. And many best practices common in other states are notably absent in Texas. For instance, there are no setbacks specified for sand mines from rivers in Texas. Companies can mine right up to the edge of rivers…in the floodway. Then when floods happen, dikes collapse and sediment gets washed downstream.

The Bayou Land Conservancy submitted this letter in support of HB 767. Two key points:

  • Best management practices (BMPs) would provide guidance for the industry and expectations for the community about how these facilities will be managed and the legacy they will leave.
  • BMPs would aid stakeholders in identifying which companies are interested in working with and protecting nearby communities.

HB 767 is scheduled for public hearings in Environmental Regulation on 4/19/2021. To learn more about the bill, click here. To support the bill, go to this web page and leave your comments. It’s quick and easy.

HB 291: Reclamation Plans and Performance Bonds for Sand Mines

HB 291 by Representatives Murr and Wilson calls for sand mines to file a reclamation plan before they get a permit to start mining, estimate the cost of the reclamation, and post a performance bond in that amount. Every time the mine expands, the owners would have to update the plan. The purpose of this bill is to ensure that miners simply don’t walk away from mines after the last ounce of profit is milked from them. That’s what many do now. The East and West Forks of the San Jacinto are littered with abandoned mines and rusting equipment. This bill also specifies the types of things that would have to go into the reclamation plan. It is scheduled for a hearing in the Environmental Regulation committee on 4/19/2021. To learn more about the bill, click here.
To support the bill, go to this web page and leave your comments.

HB 1912: Limiting Sand Mine Pollution

HB 1912 by Wilson would limit air-, light-, noise-, and water pollution; and soil erosion. It also sets limits, mandates monitoring equipment, and requires financial assurance for handling violations. Aggregate production operations throughout the state have had these problems. To learn more about the bill, click here. To support the bill, go to this web page and leave your comments.

Video Broadcast of Meeting

A live video broadcast of this hearing will be available here: https://house.texas.gov/video-audio/. The meeting starts at 2 p.m. or after adjournment of the House for the day.

Texas residents who wish to electronically submit comments related to this and other bills without testifying in person can do so until the hearing is adjourned by visiting: https://comments.house.texas.gov/home?c=c260.

One Sneaky, Bad Bill to Fight

Representative Harris of Hillsboro, TX has introduced HB 2144. Keep this on your radar. It takes away a private citizen’s right to sue for nuisance. For instance, if a sand mine were spewing silicon dust on your property, polluting your water, or flooding your home, you would have to convince the state to sue them. Good luck with that.

“Only the state or a political subdivision of this state may bring a public nuisance action…”

HB2144

This bill has already passed out of committee. So the only way to fight it now is with amendments or on the house floor when it comes up for a vote. I suggest you contact your representatives and try to get them to fight this bill. To learn more about the bill, click here. It does not have a companion bill in the senate but, if approved in the House, would go there for consideration.

Today, nuisance is the most frequently pled theory of liability under common law tort for environmental litigation. Under public nuisance, a plaintiff, either a government entity or a private individual, may bring suit if there are damages, interference, or inconvenience to the health or safety of the public at large. 

HB 2144 would restrict public nuisance law only to cases where a person causes an unlawful condition, namely “an ongoing circumstance or effect … that is expressly prohibited by the laws of [Texas].” Further, the bill specifically provides that persons or entities engaged in “lawful manufacturing, distributing, selling, advertising, or promoting a lawful product” cannot be a public nuisance.  This ignores the fact that people and property can be seriously harmed even though no statute or regulation is violated – that’s one of the reasons we have common law causes like nuisance to begin with!  HB 2144 would remove the ability for the government or individuals to stop such harms from occurring or to seek redress.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/15/2021

1326 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.

Expert Witnesses Model Surprising Flood Risks in Sand Mine Lawsuit

The case of Emil C. Shebelbon, II v. Upstream Holdings, LLC ET AL (Montgomery County Cause No. 15-10-10710) provides fascinating new insights into how sand mines can affect flooding. This case is NOT about broken dikes, unauthorized discharges of sediment-laden water, or mines inundated by super-storms such as Hurricane Harvey. It involves the opposite of all those things. Yet it still has implications for state regulations – or lack thereof. Specifically, I’m talking about setbacks of mines from rivers, lack of best management practices, reclamation of mines after the completion of mining and monitoring of floodway development.

All of the mines around Shebelbon’s property (bottom center) lie completely within the West Fork floodway (cross-hatched area). Development in floodways should not impede flow.

Defendants in this case appear to have filled in or walled off more than 200 acres of floodway property north of Shebelbon. That should have raised eyebrows from Washington to Conroe City Hall, but didn’t.

Two sand mines north of Shebelbon occupy more than 200 acres of floodway. The one closest to I-45 has been abandoned without remediation. Mining debris still litters the site. Shebelbon’s property lies immediately to the south, across the river.

Plaintiff’s Property Did Not Fill Floodway

The plaintiff in this case, Emil Shebelbon, purchased approximately 200 acres of land on the southwest corner of the San Jacinto West Fork and I-45 North about 20 years ago. He operates a motorsports facility there with dirt tracks and jumps for cyclists. Most of his land is in the floodway at the original level. He did not bring in fill. However, he did push some dirt into mounds to create the jumps. Very little impervious cover exists. It resembles a park. If you were going to build a business in the floodway, this is one of the few you might consider. It does not obstruct floodwater.

Increase in Flood Frequency, Depth and Erosion

When Shebelbon bought his land, everything north of him was farm, ranch or forest land. Then one mine came in and another. They expanded and started building up their property or walling it off from the floodway with dikes.

Shebelbon soon started to notice an increase in the depth and frequency of floods. He also started to lose land to erosion during statistically small floods.

Allegations in Lawsuit

Shebelbon’s lawsuit alleges that:

  • Mines blocked half of the floodway, forcing their flood water south onto his property, a violation of state law.
  • Cutting the floodway width in half forced floodwaters up to 3-4 feet higher on his property.
  • The increased flow in a smaller area increased the velocity of floodwaters.
  • That increased what hydrologists call “sheer stress,” the force necessary to start erosion.

Modeling showed shear stresses increased upwards of 0.5 pounds per square foot. The hydrologists claim that’s enough to cause substantial land and bank erosion near and within the Shebelbon Property. That, in turn, widened the river, eroding Shebelbon’s property, they say. Shebelbon estimates he lost seven acres due to erosion caused by constriction of the floodway (see photos below).

The mine north of Shebelbon’s property on the San Jacinto West Fork. Shebelbon’s property is out of frame to the right, underneath the nose of the helicopter. To visualize the height of the dikes, compare activity in the red circle with the following photo.
A dredging expert estimates that the height of the berm at this point is 50-60 feet based on the size of the dredge. Note: this photo and the one above were taken on April 21, 2020, more than a year after the hydrologist’s study. Dikes here are likely taller than 2018 LIDAR data in the study indicates.

Federal, state, county, and city regulations all prohibit restricting the conveyance of floodways. So how did this get permitted? That will be the subject of another post.

Court documents show that the mines deny any connection to Shebelbon’s damages. They issued simple, general denials and are fighting Shebelbon tooth and nail.

Surprising Expert Witness Testimony

Shebelbon, however, has produced hundreds of pages of expert witness testimony to support his claims. This 197-page document downloaded from the Montgomery County Clerk’s office contains the testimony of several experts. For this post, I’m focusing on Exhibit E-22: Flood Impacts from Surrounding Activities, prepared by Dr. David T. Williams and Dr. Gerald Blackler. Their testimony and credentials run from pages 19 to 101 of the PDF. (Caution: 19 mb download.)

Surprisingly, experts for the plaintiff found that the problem is most visible in smaller floods, i.e., less than 18-year floods. 100-year floods can overtop dikes and spread out. But smaller floods cannot.

Despite hundreds of posts on the relationship between sand mining and flooding, I have not previously focused on the phenomenon described by these experts. But every flood expert I talk to – at local, county and state levels – says their findings make perfect sense.

Looking west. Compare height of dikes on right with river bank on left by Shebelbon’s property. Photo 11/2/2020. Also note how little flood storage capacity is left in ponds.
This abandoned sand mine virtually blocks TxDoT’s auxiliary bridge on the north side of the river (upper right). TxDoT commonly uses such auxiliary bridges to convey water in floodplains. Photo 11/2/2020.

Public-Policy Concerns Raised by Shebelbon

Shebelbon’s case has not yet gone to trial. But I see similar situations every time I get in a helicopter. Together, they raise some disturbing public-policy issues. For instance:

  • Do we need greater setbacks of mines from rivers? Greater setbacks would allow greater expansion of floodwaters and help protect neighboring properties.
  • Do we need a comprehensive set of best management practices for sand mines that cover reclamation and abandonment? Restoring the natural floodplain instead of leaving an elevated mine next to the freeway might have prevented some of Mr. Shelbelbon’s damages.
  • What happens when local officials turn a blind eye to those apparently violating regulations? Is there a higher authority to enforce compliance – short of expensive lawsuits?

Hopefully, the TCEQ or State Legislature can address these questions. But it won’t happen without public pressure.

I would simply ask.

Why should miners’ property rights outweigh those of a neighboring business or resident?

Food for thought as we approach the upcoming legislative session!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/4/2020

1163 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.

Sand Mine Continues to Push Its Luck by Mining Over and Between Pipelines

Last year, the flood during Tropical Storm Imelda washed out the sand supporting a natural gas pipeline running across an easement through the Triple PG Sand Mine in Porter. Luckily, Kinder Morgan (KM) shut the line down before anyone was hurt. KM then drilled 75 feet under the mine and spliced in a new section. But now Triple PG is mining over the new section, once again eroding the the public’s margin of safety.

Of course, it’s possible that the miners won’t get down to 75 feet. But TACA and some West Fork sand mines say they routinely mine 100 feet down.

Eroding Margin of Safety

Just as bad, they’re mining toward five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids (HVL), potentially exposing them in the next flood, just like they were on the West Fork at the LMI River Road Mine.

The Kinder Morgan natural gas line runs diagonally between the trees in the foreground, parallel to helicopter skid in the lower left. Five HVL pipelines run in the utility corridor in the background.
Here’s how that same area looked after Imelda on 9/27/2019, when Caney Creek (right) had flowed through the mine.

Shortly before Harvey, the sand mine started mining next to the road cutting diagonally from top left to bottom right. Then, Harvey flowed through the mine, creating much of the erosion you see here.

Two years later, Imelda cut through the mine again, extending the erosion headward to the point where it could threaten the HVL pipelines in the utility corridor near the top of the frame above during the next flood.

In two years, the headward erosion cut toward the pipelines by 2000 feet.

Triple PG Already Operating Under Injunction

The sand mine sits at the confluence of two floodways and floods repeatedly.

On October 11, 2019, the State Attorney General at the request of the TCEQ, filed a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction against the sand mine. Repeated breaches of its dikes which had gone unrepaired allowed process wastewater to escape directly into the headwaters of Lake Houston. The issue even became part of the last Mayoral campaign when Tony Buzbee picked it up.

A Travis County Court set a trial date for 6/22/2020, but the trail has been delayed by COVID. Shortly after the Attorney General filed his suit, the owner of the mine, a cardiologist from Nacogdoches, tried to transfer ownership within his family’s companies and trusts.

The attorney general wound up suing all of them and the cardiologist’s attorney petitioned to withdraw from the case as counsel – a highly unusual move.

The case is still pending trial. Until then, the mine continues to operate under an injunction which prohibits it from dredging, but not dry mining.

Source: Travis County Clerk
Source: Travis County Clerk as of 9/30/2020

2020 will certainly go down in history as the year of living dangerously. A miner trying to push his luck is just one more thing we shouldn’t have to worry about…especially when he’s sitting on top of a huge stockpile of sand that he has barely touched in months.

No one has died yet. Hopefully they won’t. But if they do, it won’t take long for a lawyer to argue negligence and triple damages for the Triple PG owners. Of course, they will then likely declare bankruptcy and tuck tail back to Nacogdoches.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/30/2020

1128 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 377 since Imelda

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.

Montgomery County Commissioners Vote to Sue New Sand Mine Near Carriage Hills

In a rare move, Montgomery County Commissioner’s Court voted today to let the County Attorney sue a new sand mine. The mine property is owned by MBM Sand Company, LLC and operated by Skilled International near a Conroe subdivision named Carriage Hills.

General location of new sand mine, south of Conroe, west of I-45 and West Fork, and east of Carriage Hills subdivision.

40 Minute Session with One Spectator

Likely due to the corona virus scare, only one spectator showed up to the Commissioners Court meeting, Paul Crowson. Crowson reported that the motion carried. He also said the entire meeting lasted only 40 minutes.

Minutes and video of the meeting still have not been posted. Crowson says he queried Montgomery County Attorney BD Griffin for details about the suit and Giffin replied only with “No comment.”

The Montgomery County District Clerk has not yet listed any documents relating to the suit. So we still don’t know exactly what the County’s complaints are, only that they related to the Section I of Chapter 16 of the Texas Water Code and the Montgomery County Flood Plain Regulations.

I wonder if the decision by Commissioners to allow the County Attorney to sue will actually result in a lawsuit. With permission to sue now in hand, the District Attorney may use that as a tool to get the defendant(s) to remediate whatever damage he/they have done. Either way, that’s good news.

A New Day for MoCo Sand Miners?

Regardless, this signals somewhat of a sea change for Montgomery County. The County passes out tax breaks to sand miners like Halloween candy, even though they violate State Controller guidelines.

More news to follow as it becomes available.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/25/2020

939 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Triple-P Sand Mine Breached Again; East End Park Destroyed for Second Time in Two Years

Correction: The head of Enforcement for the TCEQ notified me that there was a “proposed” fine of $16,875 issued to the Triple-P Mine for the May breach, but that they have not “settled” yet.

The East Fork of the San Jacinto River and the Triple-P sand mine took a terrible toll on Kingwood’s East End Park for the second time in two years during Imelda. Sand several feet thick blanketed about 30 acres of this beautiful ecological gem and the peaceful trails that wind through it. The devastation matched and in some cases surpassed Harvey’s. These pictures tell the story. After Harvey, it took hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore the trails and boardwalks in the park. It will cost at least that much again.

Carried Away

This bench on the Pelican Overlook Trail used to have about 50 feet of trail, trees and river bank in front of it. Imelda eroded the bank and the river cut away the land under the trail. The trail will now have to be moved inland. It no longer exists.

Blanketed by Sand

This boardwalk to Eagle Point used to go over pristine wetlands. It will now require excavation. Photo courtesy of John Knoezer.

Scoured by Flood Waters

Trail scouring occurred in many places. Large parts of the North Loop trail will require replacement. Photo courtesy of John Knoezer.

Taking Destruction to New Levels

This sign used to be chest high. Now it’s knee high. Photo courtesy of John Knoezer.

Giant Trees Uprooted

Trees are down in multiple places and block the main boardwalk. Photo courtesy of John Knoezer.

Covered Up

The main boardwalk is covered with a layer of ultra-slippery silt 1-2 inches thick. Photo courtesy of John Knoezer.

Under Water

In many places, trails have gone underwater. At this location, we found quicksand. See below.

Quick Sand

Rika, the safety pup, says, “Hmmmm. Lucky I don’t have to buy shoes.”

For your own safety and the safety of your shoes, do not venture into the park near the river. It’s dangerous as you can see. Quicksand even exists in some places.

Now for The Bad News

Much of this sand may have come from the Triple-P sand mine on Caney Creek, just upstream from East End Park.

Image courtesy of Charlie Fahrmeier, an expert in turbidity control. Photo taken on 9/22/2019.
Image of same breach on May 17th.
Location of Breach

Once again the mine breached its dike, underscoring the danger of locating mines in floodways. This particular mine sits at the confluence of two floodways: Caney Creek and White Oak Creek. During Harvey, it lost a major portion of its stockpile to floodwaters. Then it happened again.

In May 2019, Tony Buzbee, candidate for Mayor of Houston, witnessed another breach while on a tour on the San Jacinto to investigate sedimentation issues. I notified the TCEQ and they issued a Notice of Enforcement in August. But they did not fine the company. This makes the third documented breach in two years.

Wrong Type of Repair

It appears that Triple P dumped some sand in the breach in a feeble attempt to stop the hemorrhage. But it obviously did not hold for long. Fahrmeier, who discovered this latest breach on his Waverunner, is an expert in turbidity and environmental pollution control. He said that sand is the wrong type of material for repairing dikes and that the repeat blowout was predictable.

Fahrmeier said that as he was coming up Caney Creek, the stream of sediment coming from the mine made it look as though there were two different streams. “There’s still quite a bit of sediment flowing into the river as evidenced by the discoloration.  The pit is pretty large and no doubt contributed a significant volume of water and sediment flowing into Lake Houston since last week.”

KSA Repairs

KSA will begin initiating repairs on East End Park quickly. But many parts of the park are still not accessible. It may be months before all this damage can be repaired. In the meantime, please limit use of the park to the higher parts unaffected by Imelda and Triple P. No doubt some of this sand comes from river bed and bank erosion. But I believe a lot came from the mine, too. I hope KSA decides to sue the mine this time. It’s clear that they do not fear the TCEQ.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/23/2019 with images from John Knoezer and Charlier Fahrmeier

756 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 5 since Imelda

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

Sand Mine Dike Breached 3 Times in 1 Week During Minor Flood

I’ve posted dozens of times about the dangers of mining in floodways. A local canoeist, Don Harbour, Jr., paddled down the West Fork of the San Jacinto twice during the last flood. He says he saw three breaches in one sand mine. The water was moving too fast to get pictures of all three, he says, but he did manage to get several shots. They eloquently illustrate the dangers of mining so close to the river.

Harbour, Jr. says he paddled by this mine on Saturday, December 8, and noticed water rushing into it.

River breaching into mine. Photo courtesy of Don Harbour, Jr.

The following Wednesday, December 12, he paddled down the river again and saw the reverse.

Sand mine sending sediment into river as flood went down. Photo courtesy of Don Harbour, Jr.

On that same trip, he photographed the owners frantically trying to plug the leaks in dangerous conditions.

Repairs to other breaches. Photo courtesy of Don Harbour, Jr.

Altogether, Harbour, Jr. says he saw three breaches in one mine in one week.

I have seen video of a fourth breach at the same mine last August. It appeared as though it was created with a backhoe. Six months later, the TCEQ says it is still investigating the August breach.

When Pro Business Means No Business,
It’s Time to Rethink Mining in Floodways

Breaches allow the escape of sand and silt. They contribute to the buildup of sediment dams in the river. Those then contribute to downstream flooding.

When a rain that averaged only 5 inches across the watershed breaches the dike of one mine three times in one week, it’s time to rethink mining in floodways.

Such dangerous business practices can reduce growth.

  • The growth rate in the Humble ISD this past year dropped from 6% to 1% due to flooding, in part, caused by sedimentation.
  • 44% of the businesses in the Lake Houston Chamber were damaged or destroyed during Harvey.
  • 100% of the businesses in Kingwood Town Center and Kings Harbor were damaged or destroyed.

Move Miners Back from River

We don’t want to drive miners out of state; we just need them to move out of the floodway.

We don’t allow unsafe vehicles on the road. Why do we allow unsafe mining on the river?

Here’s the dike of another mine farther upriver. I took this picture shortly after Harvey. But the same dike breached again during the July 4th flood this year.

Sand mines on the West Fork come right up to the river where floodwaters repeatedly breach dikes.

Texas is the only state that has no minimum setbacks of mines from rivers. In contrast, Alaska allows no mining within 1,000 feet of a public water source. Other states and countries establish erosion hazard zones taking into account factors such as:

Many geologists and engineers believe erosion hazard zones represent a safer approach to determining setbacks.

Posted by Bob Rehak on December 21, 2018

479 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Sand Mine Dike Remains Open for Years

In my last post, I talked about how certain sand mines on the San Jacinto could help reduce the rate of sedimentation in the river by following best management practices (BMPs) found in other areas. Those BMPs included:

  1. Locate mines outside of floodways.
  2. Establish performance bonds to cover the cost of cleanup.
  3. Increase the width of dikes.
  4. Decrease the slope of dikes.
  5. Control erosion with vegetation.
  6. Replant areas not actively being mined.
  7. Avoid clearing areas that will not soon be mined.
  8. Protect stockpiles from flooding.
  9. Mine only above the thalweg (deepest part of the river).
  10. Establish performance bonds to guarantee remediation of breaches and/or repurposing of mined areas once mining is complete

This Mine Missed 9 out of 10

The State of Texas does not require these BMPs for sand mines on the San Jacinto. But it should. Here’s a case study in what happens if you ignore these principles.

The wide shot below was taken in January of 2010. Notice the muddy brown area in the middle of the shot. Also notice the breach in the dike on the left hand side of the brown area and the stockpile right above it. Finally, notice that un-vegetated area in the point on the far left.

That’s where the original mined area was back in the 1980s. Whoever mined it at that point took sand directly from the river bank. Regardless, it was never replanted and the entire area remains vulnerable to erosion to this day.

That’s important because this mine, like all but one on the the West Fork, lies largely in the floodway. See the cross-hatched area below in the USGS flood hazard map.

As a result of being in the floodway, here’s what happened to it during Hurricane Harvey. Note multiple breaches in the dikes, the loss of the stockpile, and swirling floodwaters flowing through the mine from upper left to lower right. Finally note that Harvey inundated that original mined area that was not replanted.

This made me curious, so I reviewed the historical imagery for this location in Google Earth. Here’s the same mine in 2016. Same story. Just not quite as bad. They lost about a third of the stockpile. And nasty brown water flowed straight through the pits closest to the river.

Next, I zoomed in on the breach and scrolled back through time. It first showed up in 2006.

By early 2011, they were building roads out to the breach.

Here it is in late 2011. Note how the river below the breach has become clogged with sand.

In 2013, still wide open. Another flood. More sediment flushed downstream.

In 2014, still open!

In 2016, they’ve rebuilt the dike! But it’s skinny. Very vertical. Un-vegetated. And you can already see cracks and major signs of erosion developing in it.

Then along comes another flood at the end of the year.

And by the next day, most of the dike has been washed away.

By 2017, it was fixed again.

Then along came Harvey. And there it went again.

Spike the Dike

So how did this mine score overall? If you were applying these principles, it received an almost unperfect score.

  1. Locate mines outside of floodways.
  2. Establish performance bonds to cover the cost of cleanup.
  3. Increase the width of dikes.
  4. Decrease the slope of dikes.
  5. Control erosion with vegetation.
  6. Replant areas not actively being mined.
  7. Avoid clearing areas that will not soon be mined.
  8. Protect stockpiles from flooding.
  9. Mine only above the thalweg (deepest part of the river).
  10. Establish performance bonds to guarantee remediation of breaches and/or repurposing of mined areas once mining is complete

The breach first showed up in 2006 and was still open in 2014! Goin’ for the record! How much sand and sediment wound up downstream as a result?

No telling exactly. But whatever it was, they won’t be picking up the tab for the cleanup. You will be (Point #10)…which underscores the need for the State to adopt common sense guidelines like these. Perhaps if it had, we wouldn’t have had as much damage during Harvey.

As always, these are my opinions on a matter of public policy, protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statutes of the great State of Texas.

Posted on August 3, 2018 by Bob Rehak

339 Days since Hurricane Harvey

 

Five inches of rain helped create the third largest flood in 16 years and sand downstream made it worse

Note: We modified this post to reflect feedback from Harris County Flood Control District and the San Jacinto River Authority. HCFCD provided new information showing rainfall totals far upstream. Confusion over the main point of this article also led us to clarify that rain was a contributing factor to the flood, but not the sole cause. 

The flood on the East Fork of the San Jacinto last weekend (3/31/2018) crested at 66.1 ft. in New Caney.  This was the 10th highest historical crest in the last 35 years – after a relatively minor rainfall event – 4.33 inches as measured on Caney Creek at 2090. That’s the only rain gage operated by the San Jacinto River Authority on the East Fork. Last weekend’s flood was also the third highest in the last 16 years on the East Fork. In fairness, it rained more upstream than at the gauge. HCFCD provided this rainfall map  to show the distribution and said that rainfall averaged five inches across the watershed.

The East Fork: The Forgotten Flooding Problem

With the bulk of Kingwood’s and Humble’s population living on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, it’s easy to forget that we have a flooding problem on the East Fork as well. The “East Fork” also includes Peach Creek and Caney Creek watersheds as well as Luce Bayou. And there is no shortage of sand coming down the East Fork from the sand mine on Caney Creek. This sand exacerbates flooding problems in the Kingwood and Huffman areas.

Where Did All The Sand Come From?

The sand mine on Caney Creek in Porter upstream of Kingwood comprises approximately 600 acres. The area where they stockpile sand for shipment comprises approximately 34 acres. The image below, taken on 9/14/17 shows how high the sand stockpile is relative to the height of surrounding trees.

Sand mine in Porter in Montgomery County next to Caney Creek. Water tower in background is at Kingwood Drive and High Valley. The mine is just upstream from East End Park in Kingwood where approximately 30 acres were covered with dunes up to ten feet tall after Harvey.

The next image shows what happened to this stockpile during Harvey. At the top right, you can see how torrential rains eroded the pile. They washed sand down to the bottom left where floodwaters carried it downstream. Note the erosion patterns in the flat area to the left (closest to Caney Creek).

Sand mine in Porter in Montgomery County next to Caney Creek shows signs of massive erosion after Hurricane Harvey. Picture taken on 9/14/18.

Just downstream from this sand mine, one can see sand in the tree tops. It appeared there suddenly after Harvey. The sand in the trees reaches an estimated 20 feet. The giant new sand dune in the river reaches an estimated 15 feet.

Confluence of the east fork of the San Jacinto (background) with Peach and Caney Creeks (foreground). Notice sand deposited by Hurricane Harvey stretching into the tree tops and blocking half the river.

Approximately 30 acres of East End Park, in the background to the right, also flooded with sand. At Eagle Point in the Park, sand dunes exceeded 10 feet and covered approximately a half mile of trails with sand that reached shoulder height at times.

Harvey washed sand downstream from mines in Porter in Montgomery County. After the storm, new dunes up to ten feet high covered 30 acres of Kingwood’s East End Park on the East fork of the San Jacinto River and obliterated trails like this one.

Historical Satellite Images Show Increase in Sand Volume

Some people ask, “Could the sand have come from the creek itself?” Fair question. These historical satellite images help answer it. The first satellite image of this area dates to 4/28/2014. At that point, the mine largely constrained the sand within its perimeter. You see only several small white dunes between it and East End Park, outlined in red.

In January of 2017 before Harvey, Caney Creek (see below) still contained relatively little sand. So far, so good.

After Harvey, in October, 2017, we see a radical change in the volume of sand downstream from the mine. Images taken from the helicopter and from the ground (far above) show the depth of these sand dunes. They appeared immediately after Harvey. In real life, the little white streaks in the creek stretch hundreds of feet and reach tree top height. Moreover, both ground level and helicopter photos show that much sand was hidden from satellite view by the tree canopy.

Effect of Siltation on Caney Creek and East Fork

One question remains – the most important one! How has all this sand affected the flow of Caney Creek and the East Fork? The answer: much like the sand on the West Fork has.

Smaller rains have produced bigger floods because the carrying capacity of the river has been reduced.

How You Can Help

Please contact all Harris County commissioners and the county judge. Their email addresses are on the Links page. Ask them to make sure they have enough money in the upcoming bond election to dredge BOTH the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto. Currently, they are only contemplating dredging the West Fork between US59 and West Lake Houston Parkway.

Bill Fowler, co-chair of the Kingwood Grass-Roots Flood Initiative found these statistics. Our thanks to Bill.

Posted on 4/3/18, 217 days since Hurricane Harvey.

Revised 4/10/18, 224 days since Hurricane Harvey.