Tag Archive for: TACA

99% Solutions to a 1% Problem Are No Solutions at All

Today, I read a scientific article that talked about 99% solutions to 1% problems. It hit me between the eyes with the force of a freight train. It was written 30 years before Hurricane Harvey for a 1987 symposium sponsored by the U.S. Navy called Sedimentation Control to Reduce Maintenance Dredging of Navigational Facilities in Estuaries.

“SESSION A: SEDIMENT SOURCES AND TRANSPORT PROCESSES”  made months worth of arguments, complaints and frustrating meetings suddenly fall into sharp focus. I quickly realized our problem.

I can’t post the paper here for copyright reasons. So I will link to it and quote brief passages in a review. The author was Ronald J.Gibbs, Center for Colloidal Science, College of Marine Studies, University of Delaware.

His paper begins by looking at the largest rivers in the world and rank ordering them by their discharge (flow) rates. He then talks about factors that influence sedimentation, such as soil types, river gradient, and weather events. 

Rare Weather Plays Mammoth Role in Sedimentation

In case after case, extreme weather played a hugely dominant role in sediment transport. For instance…

…in one storm on the Delaware River, a two day discharge represented three full years of average discharge.

An even more spectacular example: a storm struck the Eel River in California. “In a three day period, the Eel River carried more sediment past Scotia, California than it had during the previous seven years.”

In ten days, the transport was equivalent to the previous ten average years.”

“To put this into perspective, the total suspended discharge for the Eel River was 168 million tons that year, which compares with the 184 million tons carried by the Mississippi River past St. Louis during the same year.” I had never even heard of the Eel River, so this caught my attention. 

Difficulty of Measuring

The authors’ point: This tremendous variability, occurring over a period of many years, is exceedingly difficult to sample and to understand because it is normally very expensive to prepare for sampling these types of rare events. However, sudden events are extremely significant in terms of quantity of sediments discharged…”

A Storm Like Harvey 

Another example: the Susquehanna, which flows south through eastern Pennsylvania before entering Maryland and Chesapeake Bay. Gibbs referenced another study that estimated sediment discharged in one week (June 22–28, 1972) during a major storm. “The Susquehanna River probably discharged greater than 50 x 10(6) metric tons of suspended sediment than had been discharged during the past three decades, and probably even during the past half century.” 

50 million more tons of sediment in one week than during the previous fifty years!

Annual Patterns Follow Extremes, Too

Gibbs looked at both extremely rare events like this and typical annual patterns. He found that,

“During 1 percent of a year (3.6 days), most rivers discharge better than one-half to two-thirds of their sediments for that year.”

These observations illustrate how important rare events are in transporting sediment. Gibbs says, “They dominate deposition over many years and greatly affect dredging and shoaling activities.”

I knew that most sediment transport happened during floods. But I until I read this study, I did not understand how extreme the disparities between normal and flood transport were.

Implications for Regulators and Legislators

Suddenly, the tumblers clicked into place. I understood why the Brown & Root study quoted sediment transport figures for the West Fork, Spring Creek and Cypress Creek, and then told people to ignore them; they measured suspended solids when the streams were moving only at about 60 cfs, not 131,000 cfs as during Harvey. 

Suddenly, I also understood how TACA, the TCEQ and state legislators could conclude that mining in floodways was OK. They look at the 99%, not the 1%. But the 1% is when all the damage occurs.

As a business person, I might have made the same mistake. Conventional wisdom dictates that you design systems for the 99%, and that you’ll go broke chasing that last 1%. Or more to the point, the last .2%.

Design for Disaster: The 1% Solution

Very few industries design for extreme events. In the airline business, the cost of a crash is unthinkable. Nuclear power plants simply cannot go out of control.  Every pacemaker has to work. For almost everything else, 99% success gets you a nice Christmas bonus and a promotion. But when the cost of failure is a major portion of the nation’s fourth largest city…

As a legislator, you listen to the carefully crafted arguments of TACA and say to yourself, “This was a force majeure event, an act of God. We can’t ask them to design their mines for that. They’ll go broke!” And you never stop to think, “Yes, I can. No, they won’t. It’s simple. I ask them to move out of the floodway. It doesn’t cost them a dime out of pocket. They just don’t mine so close to the river.”

At least you don’t realize it’s that easy until the sediment sent downstream by Hurricane Harvey dams the river and contributes to wiping out 16,000 homes, 3,300 businesses, a college, a high school, a hospital, a fire station, entire subdivisions, and entire shopping centers. Repairs for all of the above also wiped out billions in equity, college funds and retirement savings.

We Need to Fix A Business Model that Destroys Growth

If that doesn’t move you, consider that it also slowed the growth of an area from 6% to 1%. That’s what happened in the Humble ISD right after voters approved a  $575 million bond referendum.

Attention: governor, developers, aggregate producers, concrete manufacturers, legislators, mayors, city council members, county commissioners, chambers of commerce, do you really want to bet on a business model that destroys growth?

Sometimes, it makes more sense to think of the 1% solution than the 99%. This is one of those times. In fact, the 1% is the ONLY thing we should be focusing on as we consider legislation to fix the broken sand mining model. What good is building cheap roads if you drive residents to move out of state?

These are my opinions on matters of public policy and protected under First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/16/2018

474 Days since Hurricane Harvey

ReduceFlooding.com’s Recommendations for the 2019 Legislative Session

 As we approach the next legislative session, we have a rare chance to pass meaningful legislation that could reduce sedimentation from sand mining. Such legislation has been defeated repeatedly in the past by lobbying efforts of the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association (TACA). TACA has spent millions to lobby against regulations that protect downstream citizens and property.

How Texas Fails to Protect Citizens & Property

Did you know that Texas, unlike other states and countries:

At the moment, people still hurt from Hurricane Harvey. By the next legislative session in 2021, the energy required for regulatory reform may die. The time to do something is now if we are going to do it. But what to do?

There are approximately 20 square miles of sand mines upstream from the Lake Houston area on both forks of the San Jacinto. 

ReduceFlooding.com Recommendations 

After studying government regulations and scientific literature from around the world for a year, I have concluded that citizens need three things to protect themselves from the ravages of Texas sand miners. The legislature needs to:

  1. Publish and enforce best management practices for sand mining that bring Texas standards up to those common in the rest of the country and the world. Among them, prohibit mining in erosion hazard zones. The water supply for two million people deserves nothing less.
  2. Put some teeth into penalties for non-compliance. Mines have left dikes unrepaired and open to the river for years without fines. Yet TCEQ fines average about $800 in the seven years since HB571. That’s a slap on the wrist and no meaningful incentive to change business practices.
  3. Establish a water protection district for the San Jacinto, such as the John Graves district on the Brazos. It pushes mining back beyond the 100–year flood plain and makes miners post a performance bond that ensures reclamation of the property when they are done mining.

TACA Recommendations

Not surprisingly, TACA has a different set of recommendations. See the full text here.

Instead of moving farther back from the river, they are lobbying to move INTO the river.

To “mitigate adverse impacts of sedimentation associated with flooding,” the association proposes:

  1. Building sand traps in the river that would allow them to mine river sand in exchange for payments to the SJRA.
  2. Selective dredging of impacted areas.
  3. Converting sand pits to a network of off-channel floodwater storage structures to mitigate flooding. 
  4. Letting land conservancies turn abandoned mines into wetlands or natural areas for wildlife habitat preservation.

Discussion of Differences

The ReduceFlooding.com recommendations would prevent damage from excess sedimentation currently attributable to sand mines.

TACA recommendations might help – in some cases – if miners actually implemented them. And if they followed best practices in doing so.

But those are big “IFs.” Nothing in TACA’s proposals actually obligates them to do anything. 

Sediment Traps

They say only that the option “can be” implemented, not that they will implement it. They also don’t specify what the traps are. While meeting in Austin with TACA, the TCEQ and legislators two weeks ago, I asked and got three different answers from three different people. They basically wanted to mine sand bars in the river adjacent to their property. However, river mining has proven so damaging in other parts of the world that it is outlawed in many countries, including most of Europe

“Selective” Dredging

Sounds good. But note the qualifier “selective.” Who selects? When KSA asked mines to remove the sand deposited in River Grove Park, no mine would take it. They said it was unsuitable for sale. And that’s the same kind of sand and sediment found in the mouth bar.

So is this offer an empty promise? I suspect it is. I’ll believe it when I see these words in print: “We promise to dredge the mouth bar at our expense.”

In the meantime, I will keep wondering. How will they get sand 10-20 miles upstream and make it cost competitive with the sand that they take from  their mines? It’s a pipe dream, no pun intended –

Off-Channel Floodwater Storage  

Note that they have committed only to developing a strategy. They say the lakes “could be” cost effective, but the Texas Water Conservation Association disagrees. The TWCA says that this strategy relies on pumps which cannot move water fast enough during floods. They also explicitly state that this approach is not cost effective. See page 10 of their report on Flooding in Texas.

Donating Abandoned Mines

Donating abandoned mines to land conservancies? Basically, they’re donating  liabilities (i.e., their obligation to reclaim mines) to a third party. 

We Need Promises, Not Puffery

In closing, TACA claims their recommendations will cost taxpayers NOTHING. Maybe TACA thinks Mexico will pay for everything. Or maybe they think they won’t have to do anything after this legislative session.

Before closing, TACA pats itself on the back. They claim, “As an industry that is focused on stewardship of our natural resources…we stand ready to work together with all stakeholders…”  

In my opinion, that’s where the BS gets nose deep and the English language – our currency of communication – is devalued to ZERO. I’ve met with these people three times (including the trip in Austin) and…

In six months, they haven’t once made any solid commitments to changing the way they do business in order to protect downstream residents and businesses. They haven’t even discussed it.

They just keep making the same empty promises in an attempt to delay any meaningful discussion of issues past legislative deadlines. This paper makes them appear positive when, in reality, their current business practices have contributed to the destruction of billions of dollars of property and helped undermine the infrastructure of entire communities.

Tomorrow…more about how you can help if you wish to get involved.

These are my opinions on matters of public policy, protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on December 11, 2018

470 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Willful Blindness and Sand Mines

Fifty-one weeks ago, I woke to find:

Millions of Cubic Yards of Sand Trigger Willful Blindness Overnight

Millions of cubic yards of sand clogged the river and it all appeared virtually overnight. This much sand doesn’t come from a broken silt fence at a construction site or even erosion from a drainage ditch. Thus began my search for answers…and this blog.

Within days, I flew up and down the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto, taking pictures and trying to find a possible source for so much sand. It seemed so obvious to me: sand mines – twenty square miles of them. But then the naked earth revealed a naked truth about humankind – willful blindness.

People make money from sand. And not just miners. Developers, home builders, road builders, contractors, cities, counties, states, retailers. Sand fuels growth and almost everyone benefits from growth. So when groups like TACA spin fanciful tales about the environmental benefits of sand mining, how sand mines prevent flooding, and how mines trap sediment, they find a receptive audience of the willfully blind.

Omission of Key Facts

In each case, the spinmeisters begin with an element of truth to tinge their tales with credibility. However, they omit key facts.

  • Sand mines can be turned into wetlands, they say. (But are they?)
  • Sand mines can retain water in a flood, they say. (When their dikes don’t rupture.)
  • Sand mines can trap sediment, they say. (Except when the river is rushing through them at 130,000 cubic feet per second.)
  • Sand supports growth, they say. (Not mentioning its contribution to flooding.)
  • Sand came from Spring Creek, they say. (As if none came from the West Fork, and ignoring the East Fork.)
  • Brown & Root found more suspended solids in Cypress Creek, they say. (20 years ago, before sand mines lined the West Fork.)
  • Sand miners want to be part of the solution, they say. (While locating mines in the floodway.)

Such comforting statements capitalize on willful blindness. People WANT to believe them, in part, because they profit and in part because they exonerate themselves. Digging into the omissions might implicate them in someone else’s misfortune. And besides, it would mean a lot of work.

Willful Blindness as a Legal Concept

In the law, willful blindness describes a person who seeks to avoid liability by intentionally keeping himself or herself unaware of facts. Google “willful blindness” and you’ll find dozens of books on the subject. Here’s a TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan, who wrote one of the definitive books on the subject. Ironically, the subject of her talk is a small Montana town with a large environmental problem. As you listen to her, you may be reminded of conversations you have heard in the Lake Houston Area.

I’ve never said that sand mines were responsible for all of the sediment clogging our rivers. I acknowledge the contributions of other sources. However, in order to reduce sedimentation to its natural rate, TACA, sand mines and the legislature must acknowledge and address problems where they exist. As we seek to find money to dredge the river, we should also find ways to reduce discharges from sand mines to manage costs and avoid future disasters.

I would suggest that following best practices commonly accepted in other states and countries would be a good starting point for debate.

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

Posted by Bob Rehak on August 28, 2018

364 Days since Hurricane Harvey Flooded the Lake Houston Area

TACA Spells Out Industry Position on Societal and Environmental Benefits of Sand Mining

In several places on this website, I’ve talked about sand mines on the West and East Forks of the San Jacinto River. Now, the sand miners are talking about this website – in Austin – to state legislators via their trade group, TACA also known as the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association. 

Things You Never Knew About Sand Mines

Read the TACA White Paper On The Societal and Environmental Benefits of Sand And Gravel Mining. I’m publishing it here verbatim because it is not posted publicly on the group’s own website.

Fresh sand deposits after Harvey coming out of the sand mines on the west fork of the San Jacinto adjacent to Kingwood. Note that the height of the dune is engulfing several medium sized trees.

In the document, TACA makes direct references to photos and a presentation that appear on this website. “One might look at an aerial image or fly over these operations,” they say, “and errantly [emphasis added] speculate that these operations are a potential source of sediment in a stream or river.” Later they say, “…not all sand operator stock piles were flooded in the recent storm.” They also claim, “…sand operations help to mitigate flooding.”

Sand mine in Porter next to Caney Creek covers approximately 600 acres. This stockpile covers approximately 34 acres. Note erosion patterns from Harvey in this shot taken on 9/14/17. Thirty acres of Kingwood’s East End Park, just downstream from here, was covered with sand dunes up to ten feet high during Harvey.

TACA states that one of its objectives is to promote sustainability and environmental stewardship.

One of my objectives is to promote understanding.

Sand mines on the west fork of the San Jacinto adjacent to Kingwood. Note what appears to be a breach of the dike between the mine on the left and the river about two-thirds of the way up the left side of the photo. Also notice how close the dikes are to each side of the river bank. They leave little room to accommodate flood waters.


Sand mines on the west fork of the San Jacinto adjacent to Kingwood.


Harvey’s floodwaters breached dikes surrounding the sand mines on the west fork of the San Jacinto. This let sand escape. It was carried downstream and deposited in Humble, Forest Cove, Kingwood and Atascocita.

Please Read White Paper Carefully and Closely

I urge you to read The Societal and Environmental Benefits of Sand and Gravel Mining in its entirety and draw your own conclusions. I ask only that you read it very carefully and closely, as you would a contract, because in a sense, what we are talking about IS a social contract.

Sand mines are given a license to operate next to the source of drinking water for millions of people. Are these particular sand mines operating responsibly?

In upcoming posts, I will discuss research I’ve done into best management practices for sand mining.

Posted June 7, 2018 by Bob Rehak

282 Days since Hurricane Harvey