Tag Archive for: SB2126

Senator Creighton Responds to Concerns About SB 2126

Note: I have created several posts about SB 2126, a bill proposed by Senator Brandon Creighton. While I support the Senator’s efforts and objectives, I feel the bill’s language could open the door to river mining. Senator Creighton disagrees and offers following.

After Harvey, fresh sand deposits several feet thick lined both shores of the west fork of the San Jacinto. The issue: What’s the best way to keep sand from migrating downriver where it can accumulate and contribute to flooding?

To the Editor

First off, I would like to thank Mr. Rehak and ReduceFlooding.com for being a leader in our communities on all aspects of flooding. Your efforts represent the sort of grassroots organizations that impact government and the community.  Reduceflooding.com also serves as a useful resource for residents to educate themselves on flooding, policy initiatives and upcoming events. 


Since Harvey made landfall, we have worked tirelessly with one another to do what is best for the Lake Houston area. We have been on tours together with statewide officials and we have been in dozens of roundtables in Austin and in Kingwood. These meetings included state agencies such as the GLO and TCEQ, local representatives like Council Member Dave Martin, myself and Representative Dan Huberty, Commissioner Cagle, Congressional members such as Ted Poe and Dan Crenshaw, and most importantly, members of the community. Our meetings resulted in helpful policy recommendations on what needed to be done back then, and a vision for the long-term. And now, the long-term is here and we must act this session. 

The Bigger Picture

One of the biggest actions taken thus far was the Senate’s passage of hurricane preparedness and response packages, S.B. 6, S.B. 7, and S.B. 8. My bill, Senate Bill 7, creates the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund, a new fund that will provide unprecedented state funding to cover the nonfederal, local match resulting from Hurricane Harvey as well as provide funding for future mitigation projects that will include upgrading the water gates on the Lake Houston Dam. The state playing the nonfederal role will bring billions of your tax dollars back to Texas from D.C. and will finally result in the feds helping Texas as we have stepped up to assist other states time and again.  

Aggregate Related Proposals

We also filed bills to increase the enforcement of sand mining along the San Jacinto River basin. Senate Bills 2123, 2124, and 2125 were discussed in our roundtable meetings and were generally supported. These bills increase penalties, direct funds to enforce penalties for illegal sand mining, increase the frequency of mandatory sand inspections from every three years to every two, and creates a best practices guide for aggregate producers to follow. 

Where SB 2126 Fits In

Senate Bill 2126 was the next step. This bill passed the entire Senate this week and heads to the House of Representatives. This approach was one of the many discussed at these roundtables and I appreciate you acknowledging the good intentions of this bill. I hear your concerns, and I respect your point of view, however I believe this program will yield many benefits for the community.   

How Safeguards Would Be Implemented

I want it to be clear, this bill will not open up unbridled sand mining in the San Jacinto River basin, and there are many precautions in place to ensure the river basin is protected.   Rather than prescribing arbitrary guidelines in the bill, we will depend on the San Jacinto River Authority and Harris County flood control district expertise to formally and publicly adopt rules, controls, best practices and other safeguards. 

Alternative to Repetitive Dredging

This solution is an outside-the-box approach to a problem identified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While we have worked hard to expedite and fund the current dredging project underway in the River, it is inefficient and impractical to come back every 10 years to dredge in the River. There must be a long-term solution, and I think this legislation can play a role.

Oversight Authority

SB 2126 will allow the San Jacinto River Authority and the Harris County Flood Control District to place traps in the River. These are stationary traps that will capture sand that naturally deposits in undesirable locations. This does not allow for sand mining to continuously occur in the River or on the banks. We are delegating this authority to these public entities because they are accountable to you. They are entrusted with carrying out many other important duties to protect the resources of all Texans and this is one more way for them to play that role. 

Offsetting Costs Through Sale of Sand

Kaaren Cambio, a newly appointed SJRA board member from Kingwood recently said, “A long term maintenance plan for the San Jacinto River is key to protecting the adjacent communities. We must have many options available to make this plan effective and financially feasible. Public-private partnerships are critical to achieving this goal. SB 2126 gives the SJRA the opportunity to have specific areas dredged and the cost of the dredging is offset by the sale of the sand.”

Council Member Martin’s Endorsement 

Houston City Council Member Dave Martin, who has been an invaluable voice as we address flood mitigation expressed the following sentiment, “Senate Bill 2126 is a key legislation item that will allow aggregate production operators to be part of the sand remediation solution by giving them the ability to introduce sand traps into the West Fork of San Jacinto River. The ability to use sand traps on the West Fork will allow for sediment to fall out of an otherwise sediment rich body of water, thus reducing sediment deposits downstream which can clog up the river and lake. As the Houston Council Member who represents Lake Houston, this bill will help our area avoid additional mouth/sand bars and sediment buildup. I hope this piece of legislation serves as a pilot study the rest of the State can learn from.”

Support of Game Wardens

You noted that Texas Parks and Wildlife testified as a resource for the bill. State agencies remain neutral on legislation because they are agents of the State, but the Texas Game Wardens Peace Officers Association did support the bill at the hearing. They recognize the problem we have and how SB 2126 can be a practical solution. 

Plea to Continue Working Together

Recent floods, and especially Hurricane Harvey exposed serious weaknesses, and I hope that this bill and other components of our legislative flood solution package will serve as effective solutions for Kingwood, Lake Houston and surrounding areas.  If we identify any problems down the road, I hope that you will be a partner and advocate for getting projects back on track.  I know we will continue to work together to ensure the best mitigation efforts are followed.  

Again, I am so appreciative of the work you and all the community leaders have done to make the Lake Houston area a better place to work, live, and raise a family. I look forward to our continued collaboration to achieve that goal. Please feel free to reach out to me and my staff if we can ever be of assistance. We have made some incredible progress – see my newsletter here – and hopefully these policy initiatives will pass during the legislative session and improve our readiness for future storms ahead.  

Senator Brandon Creighton 
State Senator
District 4 

Senator Creighton’s letter posted by Bob Rehak on 5/6/19

616 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Bill that Could Open Door to River Mining Modified and Heading to Full Senate

Senate Bill 2126, which allows sand mining in rivers – without permits or royalties – was voted out of the Senate Water and Rural Affairs committee last night. The committee left the bill pending during the previous day’s testimony after four of the seven members expressed concerns about it.

Changes in Committee Substitute SB 2126

However, when the bill’s author, Senator Brandon Creighton, created a “committee substitute” bill, four senators voted FOR it.

The substitute bill contains two major changes:

  • It limits the bill’s geographic scope to the San Jacinto River and its tributaries.
  • It gives the Harris County Flood Control District the same powers that it gives the San Jacinto River Authority.

Local bills rarely encounter serious opposition. So this may guarantee the bill’s passage.

Issues with Revisions

Unfortunately, the language is still so sweeping, that I fear it could open the door to abuses.

Someone reading this for the first time, without the benefit of all the senate testimony, could draw the conclusion that the San Jacinto and its tributaries are wide open to sand mining – 24/7/365 – as long you justify it by saying you will improve the river’s conveyance.

Vague Language Opens Door to Abuses

For instance, after reading this bill, unless you watched the testimony, how would you know that it’s supposedly:

  • For the purpose of building sand traps that are maintained once or twice a year?
  • Limited to “strategic locations”?
  • Based on scientific studies?

Several years down the road, when the players change, all the verbal promises made during testimony will be long forgotten. It’s easy to see how people could get the wrong impression of the bill’s original intent.

Nightmare Scenario

At that time, I can see developer’s coming to sand miners and the SJRA (or Harris County Flood Control) saying, “I need more fill to elevate my property. Can you take it out of the river for me?”

The only problem is this. While it may reduce the risk of flooding on the developers’ property, without proper safeguards, it will likely increase flooding for surrounding and downstream properties.

It could even increase sedimentation downstream as many academic studies have shown.

Example 1: Loss of riparian vegetation along the banks increases erosion. So even though you take sand out of the river, you put more back in.

Example 2: Imagine a flood moving slowly through a widened area. Now imagine those same floodwaters moving downstream through a narrower area. As the water hits the constriction, it starts churning at and eroding the river banks.

Example 3: Lack of permitting or engineering studies means that developers could put fill anywhere. Even in streams. They could divert flows onto neighboring properties. They could put fill in wetlands and pave it over. This would accelerate flooding downstream.

Proponents of the bill argue that removing deposits like this one near a mine could keep the sand from migrating downriver. Opponents argue that it could destabilize river banks and worsen sedimentation. The vagueness of the language in the bill would also make it easy to widen the river anywhere developers wanted to build in floodplains.

Better Ways to Reduce Sedimentation

Creighton’s original stated intent was to eliminate disincentives for public/private partnerships that could help address excess sedimentation. A noble intention.

But if he really wants to stop sediment from coming downstream, he might be better off partnering with groups like the Bayou Land Conservancy that protect and restore floodplains. Or accelerating bills like his own SB2124, which creates best management practices for sand mining. Texas is the only state that I could find that doesn’t require minimum setbacks from rivers for sand mines. That contributes to repeated flooding of mines. We sure could use some help in that department. Frankly, so could the miners.

This session ends on May 27th. Tick Tock.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/18/2019

597 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 39 days until the end of this legislative session

SB 2126 Stalls in Committee

Senate Bill 2126 could open the door to in-river sand mining, but was left pending in the Water & Rural Affairs Committee late last night.

Senator Brandon Creighton, author of SB 2126 and Senator Charles Perry, Vice Chair and Chair respectively of the Senate Water and Rural Affairs Committee.

Uncontested but Not Unquestioned Testimony

Testimony started at about 8 pm. Chuck Gilman from the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) and David Perkins from Texas Aggregate & Concrete Association (TACA) spoke FOR the bill. Craig Bonds from Texas Parks and Wildlife Division acted as a “resource” for the committee.

Senator Brandon Creighton, the bill’s author is vice chairman of the committee. Senator Charles Perry is chairman. Only Perry and Senators Lois Kolkhorst, Jose Rodriguez, and Carol Alvarado offered questions or comments. Creighton defended the bill vigorously at every turn.

  • Senator Perry questioned whether the SJRA was the appropriate entity, given its history, to tackle a project like this.
  • Senator Kohlkorst raised questions about how this would impact the Lower Colorado River Authority. She also raised concerns brought to her by the Katy Prairie Conservancy about the lack of permitting and possible erosion issues.
  • Senator Alvarado questioned the impact on water quality and increased treatment costs.
  • Senator Rodriquez questioned why the State was giving away a profitable, salable resource.

Bill Left Pending in Committee

After almost half an hour of testimony and discussion, Chairman Perry left the bill pending in committee. No action was taken on it. At several points during the discussion, members talked about amending the language. Unless it changes substantially, Senator Creighton may not have the votes to get it out of the seven-person committee.

I will continue to monitor this bill as will most citizen groups in Texas. It’s not dead until the session is over.

Watch Testimony

You can watch testimony and committee discussion for yourself at this link. Discussion of SB 2126 begins at 49:50 into the meeting and runs 27 minutes. Here are highlights and time codes for people who want to fast forward to certain parts.

49:50 to 53:00 Senator Brandon Creighton lays out the case for the bill.

53:30 to 54:30 Chuck Gilman, Director of Water Resources and Flood Management with the SJRA emphasizes that the bill will use private contractors to remove the sediment rather than paying a public entity like the Army Corps to do it.

55:00 – 55:30 Senator Perry asks whether the SJRA is the appropriate entity to tackle a project like this.

55:30 – 56:00 Gilman responds by talking about “Building places along the lake” (sand traps) where they could capture materials with beneficial market value.

56:00 – 56:35 Perry asks why the bill, which was once limited to the SJRA, now applies to every river authority in the state. “What’s changed?”

56:35 – 57:20. Senator Creighton interjects and asks Gilman to explain his role in flood mitigation.

57:20 – 58:10. Gilman gives his history. Perry’s question about change is never answered.

58:10 – 59:00 David Perkins speaks for the bill. He claims it would improve water quality without creating excessive cost. And says TACA wants to “Participate where we can.”

59:00 – 1:00:00 Senator Creighton asks Perkins to explain how sand miners wanted to be part of the current dredging effort, but were discouraged and why that policy needs to change.

1:00:00 – 1:02:30 Perkins implies that TACA volunteered to help the Army Corps dispose of material, but was rebuffed. Blames Corps for inertia. Implies storage was a major part of the $70 million project cost. Talks about TPWD’s 8% royalty fee for removing sand from river as a disincentive for private companies to take sand out of the river.

1:02:30 – 1:03:00. Senator Kolkhorst expresses concerns about lack of permitting in the bill’s language.

1:03:00- 1:04:34. Senator Creighton volunteers to work with her on wording and exclude other river authorities like the Lower Colorado River Authority, if that makes it more palatable.

1:04:35 – 1:05:50 Senator Kolkhorst says she will work with Creighton.

1:06:00 – 1:06:45 Senator Carol Avarado worries about decrease in water quality and an increase in treatment costs. Her concerns are never really addressed.

1:06:45 – 1:07:00 Craig Bonds introduces himself as a resource witness from TPWD.

1:07:00 – 1:07:30 Senator Perry asks what should be put in the bill to protect the environment.

1:07:30 – 1:09:00 Bonds replied that he would bypass permitting where dredging was needed but not bypass permitting statewide. He said he wanted to require permitting for the Hill Country but was OK to bypass permitting on the San Jacinto. Said other areas of the state were “highly sensitive.” He also stated that he saw impacts from both regulated and illicit sand mining in the Hill Country. However, he claimed “sideboards” could be put on activities to protect the San Jacinto. He never explains what those are.

1:09:00-1:09:30 Senator Creighton asks Perkins to describe what a sand trap is and where it would be located.

1:09:30 – 1:10:30 Perkins talked about the need to assess the river first. He said sand needs to be removed on a regular basis and that it could be used for construction. He never did explain what “sand traps” were. Instead he suggested they would undertake “Excavation activities once a year or once every six months” depending on the rate of sedimentation.

1:10:30 – 1:11:25. Creighton emphasized “no free reign.” Said all stakeholders would have to agree where problems exist and that removal would be science-based.

1:11:30 – 1:14:12. Senator Rodriguez expresses concern about the fiscal impact of giving away sand which would otherwise be sold. Craig Bonds explains that TPWD charges an 8% royalty for sand taken out of a river. But he also admits that this bill would do away with that royalty, resulting in a fiscal impact on the state.

1:14:12 Creighton explains that 8% is such a disincentive that practically no river mining exists and the state is not receiving much in royalties.

1:17:00. Testimony ends. No one spoke against the bill. Chairman Perry closed testimony and announced that the bill would be left pending.

Questions Still Remain

  1. Why do Hill Country rivers deserve protection but not the San Jacinto?
  2. Who will conduct the scientific studies? An independent entity? If so, how would that affect cost?
  3. Senator Creighton keeps emphasizing that the LAKE needs to be dredged to improve conveyance and capacity. But TACA talks about doing it “where it makes sense.” From separate discussions, I’ve concluded that TACA means “next to their mines, on the RIVER.” Those are FAR upriver. Does this seem like a disconnect?
  4. Creighton and Gilman talk repeatedly about “sand traps”, but when Perkins is probed on that issue, he talks about excavating the river. Is that another disconnect? What do they really have in mind?
  5. They never acknowledge that these activities could increase sedimentation. Why?
  6. What is the basis for Perkin’s claim that this program will “improve water quality and reduce costs”?

So many questions. So little time. In exactly three weeks, final deadlines start kicking in for this legislative session.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/16/2019

595 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Caution: SB 2126 Opens Door to Sand Mining in Rivers

Senate Bill (SB) 2126 is well intentioned. However, in my opinion, its present wording could have disastrous unintended consequences.

What Bill Does

SB 2126 would allow a “conservation or reclamation district” to take sand from the West Fork and its tributaries in order to “restore, maintain, or expand the capacity of the river and its tributaries to convey storm flows.” The district would not need a permit and could deposit sand anywhere as long as it’s on private land. What’s a “conservation district?” The San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), which supports this bill.

Image showing proximity of sand mines to the West Fork of the San Jacinto. If approved, SB2126 would allow miners into the river, too.

How It Started

The SJRA, concerned about sediment in the river, met with miners to see if they could find a public/private solution. The feelings were:

  • The river had too much sand
  • Dredging is very expensive
  • Miners had the expertise and equipment to remove it at no cost to the public.

Great in Theory But…

It’s hard to argue with any of those points and the cost savings are appealing. But this bill ignores the fact that river mining is actually outlawed in many countries. They include England, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Others strongly regulate river mining including Italy, Portugal, and New Zealand.

Scientific literature abounds with examples of how river mining frequently increases sedimentation downstream. Some causes include:

  • Loss of riparian vegetation that stabilizes river banks
  • Channel incision (lowering or widening of river beds)
  • Lowering of flood plain water tables, which kills more plants on river banks and increases erosion
  • Disturbance (resuspension) of sediment on the river bottom that gets carried downstream
  • A reduction of “bedload” that contributes to head cutting and downstream erosion, as seen in this video.
  • “Sediment starvation” which causes downstream water to pull sediment from banks and beds, often resulting in the loss of private property downstream.
  • Upstream changes in channel geometry that cause beds and banks to erode downstream, for instance, when rivers go from wide (near sand mines) to narrow (downstream).

For more background and explanation, see:

Proponents Say…

The SJRA says that it would provide the necessary oversight to reduce negative environmental impacts of river mining. The bill’s authors cite the need for “continuous dredging” on the West Fork. Further, they say that the bureaucracy for contracting dredging is overly burdensome and that this bill will cut red tape. Here is the analysis of the bill prepared for the Senate’s Water and Rural Affairs Committee.

Opponents Say…

Many environmental groups and scientists see river mining as far more destructive than flood-plain mining. Historically, the shift to flood-plain mining across the U.S. was largely a response to the dangers and excesses of river mining.

Also, the bill makes no mention of any oversight provisions, limitations or public comment. Sponsors even argue that the bill’s purpose is to eliminate the red tape associated with current oversight.

The Bayou Land Conservancy, one of the leading environmental groups in the Lake Houston Area, is sending the following letter to members of the Senate Water and Rural Affairs Committee as well the group’s own members.

Bayou Land Conservancy’s Letter on SB 2126

“On behalf of Bayou Land Conservancy, I urge you to vote NO on SB 2126 when the Water & Rural Affairs Committee meets to consider this bill.

“Bayou Land Conservancy is a non-profit, community-supported, land-conservation organization that preserves land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife. We preserve 14,000 acres in the Houston region, primarily focused on the Lake Houston watershed. This includes the San Jacinto River, cited in 2006 as one of America’s most endangered rivers due to a number of threats, including the high intensity of local aggregate mining. 

“SB 2126 would allow operators that are now currently limited to mining away from the river to remove sand and gravel from within the river itself. The river belongs to the citizens of Texas, and the contents of the river do as well. SB 2126 allows operators to remove sand, gravel, and other natural products that belong to the taxpayers of Texas without acquiring a permit or paying a fee. 

“Not only would passage of this bill set a dangerous precedent, only a casual understanding of the science is necessary to know it would make sedimentation and flooding on the San Jacinto River even worse. “

“Because of the sandy soils along the San Jacinto, river banks are especially prone to collapse. Furthermore, while dredging in the still waters of a lake or bay can have benefits, mining within the flowing portion of a stream catastrophically destabilizes the river channel, speeding up erosion. Far from the imagined result of less sediment moving down the river, this dredging within a flowing river leads to much more sediment ending up in Lake Houston.

“This watershed-wide disruption of regional stream dynamics could also potentially create a tremendous liability for mining operators. Worst of all, this action would send much greater volumes of water even faster downstream, threatening communities like Kingwood, Humble and others. 

“Without prior careful and deliberate study by an independent research organization long before any legislation, this practice should not be allowed. There are too many risks to downstream communities. We urge you to keep the life, health, safety, property of these downstream communities in mind and vote NO on SB 2126.”

This Bill Scares Me

The lack of language pertaining to oversight, methods and limitations in SB 2126 scares me. I was at a meeting in Austin last November when the subject of this bill came up.

I asked a simple question: “What would the solution look like?” I got three different answers from the SJRA, legislators and sand miners. Since then, I have met with all three groups again and still have no consistent answer.

Worse, the bill does not encourage them to find one. I can imagine years down the road (when all the good intentions are long forgotten) how the purpose of this bill could be subverted. Imagine a developer like Romerica saying, “I have a flooding problem. Take more sand out of the river and put it on my property. We don’t need any pesky oversight or public comment. Let’s get on with it. Who cares about flood plains when you can just expand the river?”

While I would like to see flood mitigation speeded up, I recognize that removing regulation can sometimes solve one problem only to create others. In addition to increasing sedimentation, this bill could fuel ceaseless and careless development along river banks that contributes to flooding. Despite its good intentions!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/15/2019

594 Days since Hurricane Harvey