Tag Archive for: TACA

Urgent Request: Support HB1093 to Improve Water Quality, Reduce Flooding, Save Tax Dollars

State Representative Charles Cunningham has introduced HB1093. The bill would ensure cleanup of abandoned sand mines in the San Jacinto watershed. It requires miners to post a bond that covers cleanup costs. So, if an irresponsible miner walks away from a mine before reclamation, the public doesn’t have to pay the deadbeat’s costs.

A bond is like an insurance policy that guarantees the performance of obligations.

Without a bond, miners who profited for years from a mine can simply walk away when they are done mining, foisting cleanup costs onto the public or leaving blight behind.

How Bad Is the Problem?

Right now, there are at least six mines on the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto that were left a mess. Such abandoned sand mines are increasingly becoming a blight that imperils water quality in Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for 2 million people.

  • Rusting equipment leaks poisons and poses safety problems.
  • Un-stabilized soil increases rates of erosion and contributes to flooding.
  • Steep banks in pits slump away in slabs threatening neighboring properties and businesses.
  • Blight reduces surrounding property values and business activity

Miners are supposed to remove equipment and structures before they abandon a mine. But not all do. See the pictures below.

Leaking equipment near Riverview Drive in Porter on West Fork. Google Earth images show this in same location since 2008.
abandoned dredge
Dredge abandoned in Humble mine in 2017.
Abandoned excavator in Porter mine on West Fork
Abandoned dredge in Plum Grove mine.
Abandoned processing equipment in Humble mine.
Abandoned processing equipment and vehicle in Humble mine since 2017.

Miners are also obligated to grade and stabilize soil before they leave a mine, then replant vegetation similar to the surrounding area to reduce sediment pollution. But not all do.

Ungraded, un-stabilized soil in East Fork Plum Grove Mine.
Ungraded soil and abandoned equipment in East Fork Mine
A flood later swept through the mine above, sending sediment down the East Fork.
Defunct sand pit in Humble. Steep slopes – ungraded and unvegetated – erode and threaten neighboring business.

Community Consequences

Most sand moves during storms. This island appeared after Hurricane Harvey between Humble and Kingwood. It blocked the West Fork by 90%, according to the Army Corps and contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses.
Confluence of the San Jacinto West Fork with Spring Creek. Images taken on different days from different angles, but in each case the dirty water comes from the West Fork, where we have 20 square miles of mines on a 20 mile stretch of the river between I-45 and I-69.

Most responsible miners will clean up on their own. But experience shows, a few bad apples will not. And when they walk away, the cost to the public can be enormous. Dredging costs alone have exceeded $226 million in the Lake Houston area since Harvey.

How You Can Help

Please help reduce this and related cleanup costs in the future. Ensure that sand miners don’t pass their remediation costs on to taxpayers.

Make sure HB1093 at least gets to the House floor for a vote this year.

In the last session, a similar bill by former Representative Dan Huberty, HB4478, never made it out of the Natural Resources committee.

HB1093 deserves a hearing. Please write the chair and vice chair of Natural Resources asking them to consider it.

The committee will likely recommend King’s HB10. It will fund the creation of 7-million acre-feet of new water supplies for rural areas.

Let’s do something that won’t cost taxpayers a penny to protect a water supply we already have. Support HB1093. And please forward this link to all your friends, family and neighbors.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/18/23

2027 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.

How Vegetative Controls Can Help Sand Mines Reduce Erosion and Flooding

During Harvey, millions of cubic yards of sediment moved downstream. Some came from river bank erosion. But some also came from exposed sediment in sand mines that flank both sides of the West Fork like the one below.

West Fork Sand Mine photographed May 5, 2021. Such mines occupy 20 square miles in a 20 mile stretch between I-45 and I-69.

It’s exceedingly difficult to determine the percentages that came from various sources. Regardless, sediment built up at key places, blocking both the West Fork and its tributaries. Those blockages backed water up into thousands of homes and businesses.

The mouth bar of the West Fork (photographed after Harvey) is now gone thanks to three years and more than $100 million of dredging. Ten feet of sediment was deposited in this area during Harvey, severely restricting the conveyance of the river and contributing to the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses.

Ever since then, the Lake Houston Area Flood Prevention Initiative has lobbied the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association to adopt a comprehensive and improved set of best management practices (BMPs).

In yesterday’s post, I discussed setbacks from rivers, a major improvement in the new BMPs now being considered. Today, I will discuss vegetative controls in the Draft of Proposed BMPs, now in the public comment period. If observed, they could reduce sedimentation and flooding. If not, we could have more problems right here in River City. So please get involved.

Section 2.1 Vegetative Controls

Vegetative controls play a major role in minimizing soil exposure, erosion and runoff.

A large part of the new BMPs, Section 2.1, deals with vegetative controls. I summarize and liberally quote from that section below so that boaters, neighbors and community officials will know what the TCEQ expects mines to do. Also, the wording in one section should be strengthened to eliminate ambiguity. I will call it out below for readers so you can request the TCEQ to improve the language.

How Vegetation Helps Reduce Erosion

According to the TCEQ, “Vegetation is an inexpensive and effective way to protect soil from erosion. It also decreases erosion from flowing water by reducing its velocity. Roots hold soil and increase infiltration. In areas that are outside the active sand mining operation and not expected to handle vehicle traffic, vegetative stabilization of disturbed soil is required using the BMPs described below.”

Only Plants Appropriate for Region

“Vegetative controls must consist of plants appropriate for the ecoregion where the site is located and must not include any noxious or invasive species.” They then provide links to several acceptable lists.

Weekly Inspection Required

“Site operators must inspect and document disturbed areas of the site where vegetative controls have been implemented once every seven (7) calendar days. Operators must inspect all vegetative controls to ensure that they are installed properly, appear to be operational, and minimizing pollutants in discharges, as intended.”

A sentence farther down can be improved. “Operators must replace or modify controls [that have failed] in a timely manner, but no later than the next anticipated storm event.”

Opportunity for Improvement:

TCEQ never defines the “next anticipated storm event.” For the last month, widely scattered thunderstorms have caused street flooding in parts of Houston will leaving others untouched. No one can predict with certainty whether one of those storms will park over a sand mine. This gives the sand miners an opportunity to delay repairs almost indefinitely.

See suggested change at end of post.

2.1.1  Vegetative Buffer Zones

“Vegetative buffer zones are continuous undisturbed or planted vegetated areas that surround a development, land disturbance activity or that border an intermittent stream or permanent water body. Buffer zones aid in sediment filtration and removal by blowing surface water flow through these areas. Construction site runoff must be dispersed over the entire buffer zone if possible. A minimum 100-foot buffer zone is required adjacent to perennial streams greater than 20 feet in width, 50 feet for perennial streams less than 20 feet in width, and 35 feet for intermittent streams.”

Lack of a vegetated buffer zone allows sand from this stockpile to erode into White Oak Creek. Notice large swirls of sand cascading down the slopes into the creek.

2.1.2  Sod Stabilization

Sod stabilization involves establishing long-term stands of grass with sod on exposed surfaces. When installed and maintained properly, sodding can be more than 99 percent effective in reducing erosion.

During May 2021 floods, the East Fork San Jacinto swept through the abandoned Texas Concrete Sand & Gravel Plum Grove Mine. The area circled in red was exposed to floodwaters. See below.
Close up of area above taken two months earlier, but still after site was abandoned. No sod.

Protection of Trees

“Protection of trees involves preserving and protecting selected trees that exist on the site prior to development. Mature trees provide extensive canopy and root systems that hold soil in place. Shade trees also keep soils from drying rapidly and becomingsusceptible to erosion, as well as increasing property value. Consideration must be given to the tree root structure.”

“If trees die or are no longer viable for soil stabilization for any reason, then they must be replaced within 30 days with any equivalent or better soil-stabilizing tree.” 

2.1.3  Temporary Seeding

“Temporary seeding is the planting of fast-growing annual grasses to hold the soil in areas that will not be disturbed again for 30 or more days. For long-term protection (greater than one year), permanent seeding must be initiated. Mulching helps ensure seed growth and maintains soil moisture and helps prevent erosion. It is essential when slopes are steep, the weather is hot or dry, and soil conditions are not favorable.”

Ooops. Note steep, unvegetated banks on this West Fork dike in foreground which breached multiple times.

“Tillage, with lime and fertilizer, to maintain adequate soil pH and nutrient content, may be important before seeding.”

2.1.4  Permanent Seeding

“Permanent seeding is the use of perennial grass (with trees and shrubs) to stabilize the soil. Vegetation is often not fully established until one year from planting. Inspect, repair and re-seed as needed, evaluating choice of seed and quantities of lime and fertilizer. Use temporary seeding if the time of year is not appropriate for permanent seeding.”

2.1.6  Mulching

“Mulching is the placement of hay, grass, wood chips, straw, or synthetic material on the soil. Mulch holds moisture, lessens temperature extremes, and retards erosion on steep slopes during seed establishment. Soils that cannot be seeded due to the season must be mulched to provide temporary protection. Operators must apply the mulch in an appropriate manner that prevents the mulch from leaving the site during heavy rain events.”

2.1.7  Erosion and Sediment Control Blankets

“Erosion and Sediment Control Blankets are machine-produced mats of straw or other fibers held together with netting that provide temporary or permanent stabilization in critical areas, such as slopes or channels, so that vegetation may be established. These blankets often contain seeds to help establish vegetation.”

The Artavia Development in Montgomery County appears to be routing its main drainage ditch through this old sand mine. This area perpetually eroded. This swale covered by what appears to be an erosion blanket may help reduce that in the future. Note erosion already existing to left of blanket.

2.1.8  Surface Roughening

“Surface roughening, using heavy equipment, creates horizontal grooves across the slope which reduces runoff velocity/erosion and aid the growth of seed. Roughened slopes must be immediately seeded and mulched.”

To make this work, the slopes would need to be gentle enough to catch rainwater on its way to the pond or river. Unfortunately, you don’t often see gentle slopes in San Jacinto mines, if at all.

Summary and Call to Action

Virtually all of these BMPs call for regular inspections and maintenance. The most troubling part of them is the sentence highlighted above about the next “anticipated storm.” A sand miner could build a case for ignoring virtually all of these by claiming he didn’t anticipate storms anytime soon. But by the time a storm like Harvey or Imelda approaches, or even one of the May storms that dumped 7 inches of rain on Kingwood in three hours, it would be too late to replant vegetation. It needs time to regrow.

I suggest replacing “next anticipated storm” with “must repair or replace controls immediately when damage is noted during weekly inspections.”

Please submit your thoughts on this and other BMPs to the TCEQ by emailing Macayla.Coleman@Tceq.Texas.gov with the subject line “BMPs Guidance Document” before August 19, 2021.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/12/2021

1444 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.

Take Two Minutes To Help Reduce Flooding in San Jacinto Watershed

The Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative needs your help. The group’s four-year effort to establish best management practices (BMPs) for sand mines in the San Jacinto River basin is drawing to a close. But one of the rules needs strengthening. Leave a public comment to that effect on the TCEQ website. It should only take two minutes.

Background: Proposed Rule is No Rule At All

Here’s the concern:

311.103 General Requirements (c) Pre-mining, Mining, and Post-Mining states: “If a BMP is infeasible, the operator shall use an alternative equivalent BMP and maintain documentation of the reason onsite.  The following considerations may be used to determine if a BMP is infeasible (financial considerations; health and safety concerns; local restrictions or codes; site soils; slope; available area; precipitation pattern; site geometry; site vegetation; infiltration capacity; geotechnical factors; depth to groundwater; and other similar considerations).

Allowing twelve (+ an infinite) number of reasons to avoid implementation of BMPs provides so much latitude as to make this rule useless for community protection.

Operators need only retain documentation of their “reason” onsite for not complying, without first getting approval for substituting BMPs.

The Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative recommends that this rule be changed to include mandatory approval by the TCEQ for any variance from standard BMPs. The group also recommends the TCEQ make approved changes available for public inspection on its website.

Leave Public Comment Before Midnight Tuesday

If you agree, please go to the following link:  https://www6.tceq.texas.gov/rules/ecomments/ and register your concern. Use your own words or feel free to cut and paste the information in red below – before Tuesday, July 27th at midnight.

I am concerned about 311.103 General Requirements (c) Pre-Mining, Mining and Post-Mining. It gives sand mine operators free license to ignore BMPs for a virtually infinite number of reasons. No approval by the TCEQ is necessary. All operators need to do is keep a note in a file onsite.

There are always those who will bend the rules for their convenience or financial gain at the expense of protecting the community.

Therefore, I urge you to change the wording in this rule so that variation from the BMPs requires approval by the TCEQ. I also urge you to publish any variations on your website for public inspection.

Hurricane Harvey showed us the dangers of sediment blockages in the San Jacinto River. Federal, State and Local Governments are spending $222 million to remove them.

Sand Island was deposited during Harvey. It is gone now…but at great expense. The Army Corps said it blocked the San Jacinto West Fork by 90%.

To reduce such blockages in the future – and their associated risk of flooding – the Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative has been working on your behalf since Harvey to get to this point. Please take two minutes to protect four years worth of effort. Take action now.

You can read the complete text of proposed BMPs here.

And you can read all of the proposed rules governing their implementation here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/25/21

1426 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.

TCEQ Accepting Public Comment on Sand Mine Practices for 30 Days

Yesterday, the TCEQ held a virtual hearing on sand-mine best management practices (BMPs). After listening to stakeholders on all sides of the issue, TCEQ agreed to allow public comment for another 30 days before making any recommendations to TCEQ commissioners.

Breakdown of Five-Hour Meeting

Yesterday’s hearing started with a description of the TCEQ rule-making process and timetable. The meeting then compared two sets of BMPs – one submitted by the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association (TACA) and the other submitted by the Lake Houston Area Flood Prevention Initiative.

  • The good news: both sides agreed on most BMPs.
  • The bad news: Substantial disagreement remains on several crucial BMPs as well as the area(s) that the BMPs will apply to.

The TCEQ then allowed three stakeholders (Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining [TRAM], the Bayou Land Conservancy and ReduceFlooding.com) to make presentations.

After lunch, the meeting resumed for two hours of discussion about the BMPs.

At the end of the meeting, everyone agreed to extend the public comment period from 15 days to 30, given the importance of the effort and Thanksgiving.

No decisions were made at yesterday’s meeting. The objective was purely to give all interested stakeholders a chance to express their opinions.

Disagreement over Where BMPs Will Apply

TACA wanted the BMPs to apply only to the main stems of the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto. The Flood Prevention Initiative wanted them to apply to the tributaries of the East and West Forks also. In other words, the entire watershed upstream of Lake Houston.

The area of enforcement proposed by the Flood Prevention Initiative includes everything upstream of the Lake Houston Dam. However, TACA wants to exclude tributaries of the East and West forks.

Areas of Disagreement

Overall, the two sides disagreed on 12 of 41 BMPs. Of the twelve, the Flood Prevention Initiative and ReduceFlooding.com identified three as crucial.

  1. Minimum setbacks from rivers
  2. Performance bonds ensuring reclamation at the end of mining
  3. Whether compliance with BMPs should be voluntary or mandatory

For a summary of the rule making process and a complete breakdown of the differences in BMPs, see this special section of the TCEQ website set up for Sand Mining BMPs.

For more information on the three crucial BMPs mentioned above, see this presentation or read below.

ReduceFlooding.com Presentation

I started my presentation by pointing out that the San Jacinto provides:

  • A source of sand for a few dozen companies
  • Water for 2 million people

Modern life would be impossible without concrete. But surviving for even a few days without clean water would be even more impossible. We must strike a balance to protect both industry and people.

Since Harvey, I have rented helicopters almost every month and taken approximately 17,500 photos of sand mines.

I’ve never claimed that sand mining was the only source of sedimentation in the river. But it is a large contributor in my opinion.

After Harvey, huge blockages showed up in the San Jacinto, such as the one below east of River Grove Park. The Army Corps found the river was 90% blocked in this area. Before they dredged it, the park flooded six times in three months on minor rains.

Such blockages led me to study sand mining best practices from around the country ever since. I tried to identify what other states did that Texas did not do. I identified ten BMPs that could help reduce sedimentation during floods.

However, I had no success in getting TACA to adopt them. Nevertheless, Bill McCabe and Dave Feille of the Lake Houston Area Flood Prevention initiative took up the challenge. Thanks to them, we are where we are today.

We have reached substantial agreement, but the sides remain far apart on three crucial measures.

The three remaining areas of substantial disagreement

The remainder of the presentation focuses on these issues.

Need for Greater Setbacks

Texas has no minimum setbacks for mines from rivers.

Other states specify minimum setbacks of varying widths.
This images shows the Texas Concrete Mine in Plum Grove on the East Fork and how the floodway (cross-hatched area) covers most of the mine.

This mine’s dikes breached in four places during Harvey and again during Imelda. Residents downstream described a sudden wave of water coming down on them as if a dam had broken.

The West Fork has far more mines. Between I-45 and I-69, a 20-mile distance, we have twenty square miles of sand mines, virtually all of them wholly or partially in the floodway. That makes the average width of the river one mile. And that increases the potential for erosion 33X.

One of several breaches at the Triple PG mine that remained open for months in 2019.

Because mines are so close to floodways, their dikes breach frequently. The Texas Attorney General is currently suing the mine above for more than a million dollars on behalf of the TCEQ. That’s the mine’s dredge pit in the foreground and Caney Creek in the background. The mine actually sits at the confluence of two floodways, White Oak Creek and Caney Creek. TCEQ alleges that water from one creek swept through the mine and went out to the other.

Floodwaters sweeping through mines are not the only source of sediment downstream. A mine’s dikes can also constrict floods as you see in the images below. This image shows a mine just west of I-45 and the West Fork.

Details from the red circle in the bottom image are shown in the close-up image above it. This mine walled off half the floodway with a dike approximately 50 feet high.

In all but the largest floods, such high dikes concentrate floodwater on the opposite side of the river above. That, in turn, increased velocity of water, accelerated erosion, and cost the businessman on the opposite shore more than seven acres of his property in ten years. Because floodwater had half the space to spread out, he floods more frequently and higher.

Regardless of the mechanism of erosion, the increased rate of sedimentation due to sand mining, has contributed to the buildup of sediment dams like the West Fork mouth bar (photographed above two weeks after Harvey). Such dams behind the dam contributed to flooding thousands of homes and businesses. They also are costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to remove.

Greater setbacks could have easily avoided much of this expense. Sand miners are passing their cleanup costs along to the public.

Greater setbacks would help reduce flooding. They could also help improve water quality.

See below: the day the West Fork turned white.

The TCEQ found that a dike at a mine upstream broke releasing an estimated 56 million gallons of whitish sludge into the West Fork.

The photo above shows the upstream limit of Lake Houston. The water elevation at the I-69 bridge normally matches the water elevation at the Lake Houston dam. So this IS our drinking water you’re looking at. Removing all this sludge before it reaches your tap is a large part of your water bill every month. Greater setbacks from the river could have prevented this catastrophe as well.

Performance Bonds for Reclamation

In Texas, miners need to file a reclamation plan before they start mining. But when they are done, nothing obligates them to execute the plan.

Many miners can and do walk away from mines. A performance bond filed before they start mining would ensure that money for cleanup when they were done. If they rehabilitated the property, they would get the money back. But if they did NOT, taxpayers would not have to foot the bill or leave dangerous eyesores in their midst.

At a minimum, miners should revegetate disturbed areas to reduce the potential for erosion and sedimentation. Shown above, the Texas Concrete Plum Grove Plant after the operator walked away from it more than a year ago. No attempt has yet been made at restoration, although TCEQ is pursuing them.
Shown above: (top l to r) Abandoned dredge, concrete crushing facility at abandoned mine, abandoned equipment. Bottom Left: abandoned pipe.

Need for Mandatory, not Voluntary Best Practices

TACA would like best practices to be voluntary. Can you imagine the state of the U.S. Treasury if the IRS considered paying taxes optional?

Shown above: an abandoned sand pit on North Houston Avenue in Humble. This pit has no fencing or berms around the perimeter like it should. Worse, the steep-sided slopes break off in slabs. Erosion now threaten adjacent businesses and roadways.
West Fork mine contaminated with cyanobacteria. Cyanotoxins, sometimes formed by the bacteria, are the most potent in nature according to the CDC. CDC also says there is no known cure. I caught this mine pumping bacteria-laden water into wetlands.
Mines that do not comply with regs put those that do comply at a competitive disadvantage.
Complying with safety regulations should not be optional.

The top photo above shows what happened when the Triple PG mine mined too close to a Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline. Headward erosion during Imelda exposed it. Kinder Morgan buried a new pipeline 75 feet down. Incredibly, now the mine is mining ON TOP of the pipeline AGAIN!

The lower image shows five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids at a West Fork mine. Headward erosion exposed them, too, when LMI mined too closely. The giant pipelines sagged like clotheslines across a 100-foot gap.


The six images below show the confluence of the West Fork and Spring Creek near I-69. I took them from different angles during different months, but they all show the same thing: sediment coming from the West Fork where a heavy concentration of sand mines exists. If miners voluntarily complied with best management practices, these photos would have looked far different.

West Fork from different angles is the siltier in each case.

An attempt to legislate BMPs in the last legislature failed. But we have yet another chance. Review the TCEQ site and if you see an opportunity to improve sand-mining best practices, now is the time to comment.

If you comment, make sure you explain why you feel the way you do. Don’t just say “I like X or Y.” Give your reasons. Cite your experience. That will help the TCEQ formulate regulations that make a difference.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/11/2020

1170 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 419 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.

TCEQ Commissioners Vote to Start Rule-Making Process for Sand Mining Best Practices in San Jacinto Watershed

On August 12, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Commissioners voted unanimously to initiate a rule-making process that would establish best management practices for commercial sand mining in the San Jacinto River watershed.

Meer feet separate the Hanson Aggregate mine from the San Jacinto West Fork. The integrity of dikes and setbacks from the river have become a major point of contention between the public and miners since Harvey. Photo taken late June.

Joint TACA/Lake Houston Area Request

In June, 2020, both TACA and the Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative presented petitions to have the TCEQ establish best practices. Though the two sides have not agreed on important provisions, such as setbacks from the river and reclamation, the start of the process is a positive step.

Seven Minutes of Deliberation

You can watch the discussion among the commissioners on YouTube. Items 29 and 30 on the agenda (the two petitions) start at approximately 17 minutes into the meeting. Discussion lasts about 7 minutes.

After the commission secretary announced the agenda items, Mr. Josh Leftwich of TACA spoke on behalf of the measure. Mr. Leftwich took over as president and CEO of TACA on June 15, from David Perkins. (Mr. Perkins joined Lehigh Hanson, an aggregate company, as the Vice President of Government Affairs.)

No one for the Lake Houston Area spoke on behalf of the proposal.

Rebecca Vialva, executive director of the TCEQ Water Quality Division explained that both sides of this debate submitted separate but similar petitions in June. They requested the agency to establish a rule making process with stakeholder involvement to ensure adequate environmental protection. Ms. Vialva explained that her Water Quality Division supported that.

Vic McWherter, from the Commission’s Office of Public Interest Counsel, also supported the idea.

No one asked questions.

Rule-Making Process Not Same as Adopting Specific Rules

Before taking a vote, Jon Niermann, Chairman of the Commission, explained that initiating a rule-making process was not the same as adopting specific rules. It does not commit to any specific rules or outcomes. It simply starts a public dialog.

All three commissioners, Jon Niermann, Emily Lindley, and Bobby Janecka, voted to start the process.

Model for Rest of State?

Both Mr. Janecka and Mr. Niermann expressed wishes that Best Management Practices for the San Jacinto Watershed could become a model for the rest of the state.

Lake Houston Leaders Urge Public to Engage

Dave Feille and Bill McCabe, leaders of the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative, sent out an email this morning. In it, they called the TCEQ decision “a major step forward.” However, they were quick to add, “Not surprisingly, the Petitions differed in some key areas and these will be addressed and consolidated in the rule-making stage of the process.”

“We would encourage all stakeholders to become involved in the rule-making process by following the progress of our Petition at: https://www.tceq.texas.gov/rules/participate.html,” said Feille and McCabe.

Efforts to establish best practices for sand mining died in committee in the state legislature last year. Let’s hope this has a better outcome.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/16/2020

1083 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.

Statewide Group Called TRAM Has Formed to Lobby for Responsible Aggregate Mining

Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining (TRAM) is a statewide coalition of member groups seeking to work with lawmakers, state agencies, and good-faith industry operators. Their goal: to create state standards for best management practices in the rapidly expanding Aggregate Production Operation (APO) industry, and adopt those standards into law.

“Our goal is to create a healthier, safer and more desirable community for Texans as well as a more efficient APO industry that is aligned with the concerns of the communities in which they operate,” says TRAM’s new website, which launched last week.

TRAM Represents 10 Organizations in 29 Counties

So far, TRAM represents groups reaching into 29 counties. Each of those counties have felt the effects of aggregate mining.

Groups include:

The Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association, TACA, which claims to advocate for more responsible mining practices, is noticeable for its absence.

Counties represented by TRAM Alliance
TRAM logo

Key Issues Identified by TRAM

TRAM members have identified six key issues they wish to affect:

  • Air particulate emissions
  • Water use
  • Surface and groundwater contamination
  • Rapid, largely unregulated development of Aggregate Production Operations
  • Truck traffic
  • Nuisance issues such as noise, blight, and blight on surrounding properties

They hope to educate legislators on each of these issues.

For More Information

Groups like this don’t spring up without cause. To learn more, visit TRAM’s website, contact info@TRAMTexas.org.

You can also visit the sand mining page or the index page of this web site to review information on APOs and sand mining specifically in the Houston region.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/13/2020

1049 Days since Hurricane Harvey

How TACA is Winning the Battle to Continue Pillaging Your Environment and Polluting Your Water

In March, as the pandemic spread across America, the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association gave a presentation to a convention of industry producers in Las Vegas. The title: “Be Prepared: Protect your Operation from New Tactics in Community Opposition.”

Use of Internet Seen as New Tactic

As far as I can tell from the presentation, the new tactic is the use of the Internet. Wowsers! That’s quite an insight!

In the presentation, they specifically mentioned ReduceFlooding.com. I’m sure I anger these people as much as they anger me. I have met with them five times now. None of the meetings resulted in any change of industry practices. Or even a genuine willingness to explore them.

The Boy Scout Connection

In Austin during the last legislative session, a House committee member (evaluating a bill to establish best management practices for the industry) asked whether TACA had engaged with communities they affected. Mr. Rob Van Til (a mine owner and TACA spokesperson) looked at me waiting to testify, and said, “We’d prefer to talk to the Boy Scouts.” And just like that, the bill died in committee.

TACA sees people trying to protect their communities as the enemy. Instead of engaging with “the opposition” and trying to reform damaging mining practices, they rally support among neutral third parties.

TACA’s presentation in Las Vegas talked about:

  • How concrete supports Texas’ growth by providing essential infrastructure materials
  • Why “WeRTexas”
  • Teacher and school workshops they sponsored
  • Legislative and staff tours they promoted
  • Chamber of Commerce mixers
  • Quarry Days

They also patted themselves on the back for bicycle donations to a children’s charity in San Antonio.

Millions in Back-Door Political Contributions

TACA has also donated millions of dollars to legislators and state officials through a back-door political-action committee called TACPAC. Meanwhile, TACA has refused to acknowledge damaging practices and resisted all attempts to develop meaningful best management practices that address them.

Delivering Air Cover for Members

It’s tough for trade associations to tell members what to do. Loss of members means loss of funding for the association. For the most part, members want air cover from associations. And that’s what TACA delivers.

Communication experts on controversial issues divide the world into three camps: pro, undecided, and anti.

Conventional wisdom says you target messaging to pro and undecided groups. And that’s exactly what TACA is doing. Because you rarely swing anti’s.

For the record, I like concrete. I DON’T LIKE the irresponsible production of it. And what TACA never shows people and avoids talking about. So I will redouble my efforts. And continue advocating for responsible aggregate and concrete production.

Explain These to The Boy Scouts and Kids Clubs

Below is a tiny sampling of more than 10,000 aerial photos I have taken in the last eight months along the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto in southern Montgomery County.

Let’s turn these into murals at the State Capitol for TACA Day next year. Just so legislators get the full picture.

20 square miles of sand mines to the left up the West Fork.
One of eight breaches at Triple PG in October 2019. This one on Caney Creek.
Second of eight breaches at Triple PG in October 2019. This one on White Oak Creek.
Pumping wastewater into the West Fork
Confluence of West Fork (right) and Spring Creek on 11/4/2019.
The Day the West Fork Ran White. TCEQ traced this back to the LMI Mine upstream.
More pumping into the West Fork.
One part of a double breach at the Hallett Mine that blew out the sand bar on the opposite side of the West Fork.
Five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids undermined at the LMI River Road mine.
Massive breach barely patched and ready to let loose again.
Equipment abandoned in floodway
LMI Moorehead mine. TCEQ traced white-water incident to here.
River Aggregate Mine on West Fork
LMI River Road Mine pouring into surrounding wetlands.
Pipe that automatically sends wastewater from mine into surrounding forest when level gets high enough.
Wastewater from LMI River Road mine leaking across neighbor’s property…
…where it enters sewer system under road and then empties into West Fork.
LMI Moorehead Mine pumping wastewater into surrounding forest where it can’t be seen by road or river. Eventually this drains back into West Fork
…which can be seen here (top) where it joins Spring Creek at 59.
Ditches or small streams go along the sides of every mine on the East and West Forks. Breaches and pumps are common along these. They make a secluded way to send water to the river.
River mining without a permit at Spring West Sand and Gravel on West Fork
That blue water is either high in chlorides or cyanobacteria.
Another wastewater leak from LMI River Road mine where it enters West Fork.

Unsolicited Advice to TACA

Dear TACA. If you want to protect your organization from community opposition, start cleaning up your act. That would be a new and truly effective tactic.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/3/2020

1039 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.

Don’t Dig Near Pipelines: A TACA Safety Moment

The Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association (TACA) brags that its members uphold the industry’s highest standards for safety. Or did they mean daring? Let’s have a safety moment.

Myth Meets Reality on the West Fork

To shine a light on the difference between the myth and reality, I’ve taken up a new hobby: sand-mine photography from a helicopter. On my December flight up the West Fork of the San Jacinto, I flew over this mine. Note the wetlands and utility corridor in the middle. Also note the trench leading through the trees on the right to that open gap in the tree line along the utility corridor.

I was curious about that gap. So I asked the pilot to go closer and got the photo below. How strange, I thought! The pipeline corridor has washed out, like at the Triple PG Mine. But this was a little different. The mine appeared to be draining the wetlands. Note the river of muck in the photo below.

Enlargement Shows Makeshift Supports

Someone had rigged “supports” under five pipelines. See the enlargement below. I put supports in quotes because they don’t seem to be working very well; note the sagging. Some look more like clotheslines than pipelines under pressure.

Pipelines Carry Highly Volatile Liquids

Investigation showed this is the SAME utility corridor bisecting the Triple PG mine miles to the southeast in Porter. These are the same five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids (HVL). This mine, however, lies on the West Fork of the San Jacinto in Conroe near 242.

The channel under the five pipelines is up to a 100 feet wide.

Historical Images in Google Earth Show How This Happened

An investigation of historical satellite images in Google Earth shows that erosion has been a problem in this area at least since 1995 – the date of the earliest available image. Water overflowing the wetlands tried to make its way to the river on the other side of the utility corridor. The problem was manageable, however, as long as the land was flat. That was until 2014.

In 2014, when the mine first started excavating next to the corridor, a process called headward erosion started. Water flows from top to bottom. Notice how much deeper and wider the erosion is below the corridor than above. See explanation below.

In 2014, two things happened. The mine started excavating right up to the edge of the pipelines (just as Triple PG did).

Next, three back-to-back-to-back monster storms in 2015, 2016 and 2017. They were “perfect storms” where the right combination of circumstances came together: Heavy rain. Exposed, loose soil. Steeper gradient.

How “Headward Erosion” Happens

The fact that miners had excavated up to the pipeline corridor with some very deep pits created a steep drop at the edge of the pipelines. That meant water crossing the corridor tended to accelerate and erode the sandy soil beneath the pipelines faster. The soil then sagged into the pit, much as you see in the pictures above. This process is well documented and has a name: headward erosion.

Here’s an illustration of how the process of headward erosion works

Here’s a 43-second YouTube video showing the process in action in a table-top flume experiment.

Makeshift Repairs Not Working All That Well

Trying to make the best of a bad situation, it appears that either the miners or the pipeliners tried to shore up their pipelines with supports. But it’s not working. They keep trying to plant grass. They keep using erosion control blankets. The supports keep sinking. And the pipelines keep sagging. Here’s an even bigger blowup.

It looks as if some of these supports are anchored in quicksand. Notice the extreme difference in their heights. The cross braces supporting the weight may be adjusted as the supports sink. But not on this day.

Another factor here: What if a tree washes down this chute during a torrential rain? It happens. Regularly.

I have a hard time imagining the stress on these pipelines. An engineer calculated a range of weights for me. He made some assumptions about the thickness of the pipes and the weight of liquids inside them. Then he calculated the weight of 100 feet. The range: 20,000 to 30,000 pounds. No wonder they’re sagging. That’s more than I weigh after a dinner at Carrabbas!

Probably No Imminent Danger, But Just in Case…

They’re probably not an imminent danger. But what happens in the next big storm? We’re overdue. It’s been more than two months!

Hundreds of thousands of gallons of flammable liquids. Under high-voltage electric lines. Pipes under stress. Erosion that widens with every storm. This should be a wake up call. But…

TACA has resisted all attempts at sensible regulation. They don’t even want to define and publish best practices. And it has long been known that you can’t legislate common sense. So I guess we are just stuck living on the edge with connoisseurs of edge work.

Where to File Complaints

If you would like to complain to someone, these people may be willing to listen.


Mine Safety and Health Administration (this puts miners at risk)

Texas Railroad Commission (responsible for pipelines in Texas)

US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

Location of exposed pipelines: 30º11’56.63″N, -95º21’57.78″W

Office on 18214 East River Road in Conroe, TX

Highly Volatile Liquid (HVL) Pipelines Involved:

  • Plains Pipeline – Red Oak Pipeline (20”) moving crude
  • Enterprise Products Operating – Chapparral System (12.75”) – HVL Liquid (probably crude)
  • Mustang Pipeline – GLPL System (6”)  – HVL Liquid
  • Enterprise Products Operating – Texas Express Pipeline System (20”) – HVL Liquid
  • Phillips 66 Pipeline LLC – 8″ Products Pipeline

That concludes our safety moment.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/9/2019 with help from Josh Alberson

832 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 80 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.

Outlook Good for Bill That Would Double Fines for Illegal Sand Mining

On April 17th, the Texas House of Representatives Environmental Regulations committee heard testimony on a bill that would double fines for illegal sand mining, HB907. No illegal sand miners spoke against the bill, so this one has a pretty good chance of passing.

Click here to view testimony.

Key Points in Huberty’s Testimony

The bill’s author, State Representative Dan Huberty laid out the case for the bill starting at 9:29 into this recording. His main points: this bill does not penalize miners who have registered with the TCEQ, only those who have not. He reminded committee members how bad the problem of illegal sand mining was when his first sand mining bill was passed in 2011. Huberty said that he believes the problem of unregistered sand mining continues to this day. However, he said, the fines set in 2011, no longer make the same deterrent they did then. He said the increased fines would enable the TCEQ to increase oversight efforts.

Why This is Important

Illegal sand mining contributes disproportionately to the problem of sedimentation in the river. That’s because it often takes place in or on the banks of the river. The illegal miners make no attempt to control erosion or sediment. And the scars can last for decades.

Here is a satellite image from 1989 on the West Fork of a mining operation near a point bar. At this point in time, sand miners were not forced to register with the TCEQ.
The same area almost 30 years later still bears the scars. Both photos courtesy of Google Earth.

Supported by Both TACA and Environmental Groups

At about 18 minutes into the recording, Rob Van Til, owner of River Aggregates, a registered sand mining company, spoke in favor of the bill. Speaking for himself as well as TACA, he said it would help deter “bad actors.”

Grant Dean, representing the Texas Environmental Coalition, from Marble Falls, also rose to speak in favor of the bill.

Not a “Christmas Tree”

Given the lack of opposition, Huberty then wrapped up testimony by moving for passage of he bill. He said that he would not allow the bill to become a “Christmas Tree” when it went to the House floor. A Christmas tree bill is a political term referring to a bill that attracts many, often unrelated, floor amendments that provide special benefits to various groups or interests.

The testimony with questions from the committee members took about 15 minutes. In response to one of the questions, Huberty details all of the other flood mitigation legislation moving through the Legislature at this time. It’s definitely worth watching if you want a preview of how the political landscape could change for sand mining in coming years.

Revenue Neutral

While this is certainly not the most important piece of sand mining legislation, it will help in a limited way by plugging a legislative and enforcement gap. And because the extra revenue generated will pay for the enforcement, it is revenue neutral.

Status: Pending in Committee

To read the text of HB907, click here. Senator Brandon Creighton has introduced a companion bill in the Senate, SB2123. Both are still pending in committee.

Creighton’s SB2123 was referred to the Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee on March 21. The committee has not yet held hearings on it.

Reasoning Behind Companion Bills

A companion bill is a bill filed in one chamber that is identical or very similar to a bill filed in the opposite chamber. Companion bills are used to expedite passage as they provide a means for committee consideration of a measure to occur in both houses simultaneously. A companion bill that has passed one house can then be substituted for the companion bill in the second house.

How You Can Help

Both of these bills deserve the support of Lake Houston Area residents. To urge action, call or email the committee members. Here is contact info for:

Said Huberty at the end of the day, “It was quick, but we feel good about this!”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/20/2019

599 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Sand Miners Plan TACA Days in Austin for February 4th, 5th

Sand miners plan to gather in Austin on February 4th and 5th to meet with legislators for their annual TACA Days. TACA stands for the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association. It represents sand miners. They hope  to beat back regulation of the industry that could help protect areas like Lake Houston from excessive sedimentation.

They describe the event as a series of meetings with state legislators and their staffs, which will be followed by recognition in both the House and Senate Chambers.

The flood during Hurricane Harvey breached sand mine dikes and roads up and down the West Fork. All of the mines with the exception of one are located inside the floodway – a dangerous business practice that contributes to sedimentation. However, none of the bills introduced in the Texas House so far address this issue.

TACA Plan of Attack

The invitation says that for the meetings, the group will split up into teams. Each team will have a captain who speaks for the group. Captains know the drill from previous attempts to beat back legislation. TACA has spent millions of dollars lobbying the legislature and key state officials. This is part of that effort.

The invitation closes with a plea. “The higher the participation, the greater the impact we will make with our legislators. This legislative session will involve critical issues to our industry and we need your representation.”

Guess they’re expecting a fight. In year’s past, I have been told, they’ve even brought in some of their big equipment to parade up and down streets leading to the Capitol Building.

Sadly, Not Much Legislation to Get Excited About

Four bills have been filed re: sand mining so far.

The most exciting from a Lake Houston Area resident’s perspective is HB509. State Representative Terry Wilson filed it. It:

  • Requires a hydrology assessment of the operation’s impact on surrounding surface and groundwater – including water availability. 
  • Creates criminal penalties for non-compliance.Enables regulators to consider the cumulative impact of multiple APOs in an area when evaluating new applications.
  • Requires the operation to prevent material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area.
  • Requires public notice of permit applications
  • Provides for public comment on permit applications
  • Makes permit approval contingent on past performance
  • Requires permitting agencies to publish the public comments
  • Allows the agencies to deny permits based on public comments
  • Grandfathers operations with existing permits

HB 907 filed by State Representative Dan Huberty doubles the penalties if sand mines don’t register with the TCEQ. However, most of the problems with sand mining have to do with companies that ARE registered. They are mining in the floodway which contributes to sedimentation during floods. So double the penalties on unregistered mines will create only the APPEARANCE of getting tough on mines.

HB 908, also filed by Representative Huberty, increases penalties for other violations, but calls for inspections once every two years. A lot can happen during that time. I suggested using Landsat photos to supplement monitoring of operations. Landsat flies over Montgomery County sixteen times a day and could spot breeches of dikes in near real time. Seems like it would be more effective, more efficient, and cheaper. But no mention of Landsat appears in the bill.

HB 909 calls for the TCEQ to develop and publish a set of best practices for sand mining. However, it attaches no penalties for violation of them.

I’ve talked to representative Huberty about these issues. He believes regulation should happen in small steps. I believe it should happen before the next big storm.

With the exception of HB506, TACA may have won this fight before it started. The sand miners should have a lot to be thankful for tomorrow in Austin.

As always, these are my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/3/2019

523 Days since Hurricane Harvey