Tag Archive for: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

TCEQ Says RV Resort Discharge Not Allowed by Permit

The TCEQ says discharges of sediment-laden stormwater are not allowed across public or private property under the terms of its Construction General Permit.

Two weeks ago, I photographed contractors at the Laurel Springs RV Resort construction site discharging silty stormwater from its detention pond into the wetlands and cypress ponds of Harris County’s Precinct 4 Edgewater Park.

stormwater runoff discharge
Photographed on Saturday, January 29. Laurel Springs RV Resort dug a trench through the southern wall of its undersized detention pond to discharge silty stormwater onto public property at top of frame.

Not long after that, I photographed them laying pipe in the trench to create a permanent conduit for stormwater into the park.

Response From Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

So, I emailed the photos to people at the TCEQ responsible for water quality, Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans, and Construction General Permits. I asked if their permit allowed them to discharge silty stormwater into Edgewater Park. The short answer: NO.

Earl Lott, Director of the Water Quality Division of the TCEQ wrote back a lengthy email. In it, he concluded…

“…[their] general permit does not give the permittee the right to use private or public property for conveyance of stormwater and certain non-stormwater discharges…”

Earl Lott, Director, TCEQ, Office of Water

CGP Covers Activities During Construction, SWP3 Prior to Construction

Mr. Lott also noted that “Large construction site operators must comply with the conditions of the stormwater Construction General Permit (CGP) TXR150000 under the Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (TPDES) Program. The CGP requires construction operators to control pollutants in stormwater during construction activities. Construction site primary operators that disturb greater than one acre of land are required to develop a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWP3) and implement best management practices (BMPs) prior to construction activities beginning.” [Emphasis added.]

“As part of the SWP3,” Lott continued, “a description of BMPs used to prevent and reduce pollution in stormwater must be included and the BMPs must be inspected and evaluated to determine the effectiveness of controlling stormwater leaving the property.”

“The SWP3 must include a description of any sediment control practices used to remove eroded soils from stormwater runoff, such as a sedimentation basin. These controls must minimize sediment discharges from the site,” said Lott. [Emphasis added.]

So what did the Laurel Springs RV Resort’s SWP3 and Permit obligate them to do? For the full text of this 162 page document, click here. (14 Meg Download). The first have of this document includes the SWP3. The second includes the permit to discharge under the Texas Pollution Discharge Elimination System. There are many redundancies between the two. I’ll cover the SWP3 today and the Permit another day.

Concerns About SWPPP Plan

I want to make it clear that Mr. Lott’s comments related only to discharges of stormwater into Edgewater Park. However, after reading the RV Resort’s SWP3 and Permit, I have personal concerns listed below. The TCEQ may or may not share them. The TCEQ has up to 60 days from the date of an initial complaint to file a full report.

Based on my observations, contractor performance does not match contractor promises in the SWP3 in many cases. Also, several key elements of the plan were left blank. And some claims were just plain false, misleading or erroneous.

Below is a list of my concerns. You may find others.

  1. The plan is undated and appears never to have been revised even though it should have been.
  2. Clearing started in October. As Lott said, the contractor should have put pollution prevention measures in place before construction, but didn’t.
  3. Page 15 – The discussion of runoff coefficients is misleading. If sand comprised the top 18 inches of soil, water would not still be ponding on the site. We’ve had less than an inch of rain in the last 20 days. It would appear that the contractor overstated the potential for water to infiltration.
  4. Pages 16 and 17 – Construction schedule left blank.
  5. Page 18 – Says locations of support activities are included, but blanks not filled in.
  6. Page 18 – Says no wetlands have been found near site when adjoining property is full of them.
  7. Page 18 – Can’t see where they planned temporary erosion control measures during construction. Until yesterday, they had no silt fencing along the southern property line and still have no along the western property line.
  8. Page 18 – No source listed for fill materials. They have used Sprint Sand & Clay. But Sprint’s contract prohibits them placing fill in the 500-year flood plain. I have photographed the contractor spreading Sprint fill into the 500-year area.
  9. Page 22 – Contractor lists the size of the site as 20 acres and claims 20 acres are sandy loam. But then he says 20 acres out of 20 acres is 74%. Hmmmm. No wonder he has six tax forfeitures in his past.
  10. Page 22 – Contractor relied on USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for soil data. But NRCS says its data is invalid for a site of this size. It falls below the limits of resolution for NRCS sampling.
  11. Page 34 – Before clearing, contractor failed to mark the southern property line. Employees then cut down a corridor of trees approximately 50 feet wide for a distance of about 750 feet. Contractor then piled dirt in corridor which eroded into Edgewater Park.
  12. Page 40 – I can see no measures in use to slow down velocity of sheet flow.
  13. Page 40 – I can see no temporary erosion controls in place on portions of the site where they are no longer working.
  14. Page 41 – Exits have been mud pits so vehicles have tracked dirt out of the site and spread it into streets where it washes into storm sewers.
  15. Page 41 – They have perimeter protection installed only along one side and have even bypassed that.
  16. Page 42 – No protection of storm sewer inlets until yesterday (about 5 months late).
  17. Page 42 – They claim a sediment basin would put public safety as risk, but don’t explain why.
  18. Page 42 – Contractor should have drained the detention pond through a 24 inch reinforced concrete pipe leading to the City’s storm sewer system, but chose to use the wetlands in Edgewater Park instead.
  19. Page 43 – Says discharge of standing water into a storm sewer will not be allowed, but residents have photographed them doing it.
  20. Page 43 – Covers vehicles tracking dirt out of the site. It requires stabilized construction entrances and/or regular street sweeping. This is basic “good housekeeping” stuff that has been in short supply since this construction site found the spotlight.
  21. Page 44 – Says “No discharges of Stormwater…will take places under this SWPPP.” See photos above.
  22. Page 45 – Says “Maintenance and repairs will be conducted within 24 hours of inspection report.” But only in the last two days has the contractor started removing eroded dirt from the county’s park caused by the discharge weeks ago.
  23. Page 45 – Says “Sediment will be removed from sediment fences … before it reaches 50% of the above ground height of the barrier.” Sediment was placed against the new southern silt fence that already exceeds that height.
  24. Section 8 on page 45 requires the contractor to select the most effective erosion control measures for specific site conditions from a page-long list of options. The contractor chose NONE.

How To Report Violations to the TCEQ

I urge residents who live close to the RV Resort to read the SWPPP and report additional violations/problems to the TCEQ if they see them.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/13/22

1629 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.

Eight TCEQ Investigations Reprimand Colony Ridge Construction Practices

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) finalized nine investigations into Colony Ridge construction practices this week. Eight of the nine found violations. And six of the eight scolded Colony Ridge for lack of best management practices relating to erosion controls. The other two cited Colony Ridge for operating without a permit.

Summary of Violations

The TCEQ meticulously documented the findings with dozens of photos and supporting documents. The nine investigations total 2,341 pages. Below is a summary of the investigation numbers, subdivisions and violations:

  • #1699286, Sante Fe #6, operating without a permit
  • #1704908, Long Branch, best management practice (BMP) violations
  • #174909, Sante Fe #5, failure to meet final stabilization requirements, large bare areas of unstabilized soil
  • #1704910, Sante Fe #7, BMP violations, unstabilized drainage channels, damaged BMPs, improperly installed BMPs
  • #1704912, Sante Fe #8, erosion control measures not installed
  • #1404914, Sante Fe #9, erosion control measures not installed
  • #1704916, Sante Fe #10 and #11, erosion control measures not installed
  • #1704918, Sante Fe #10 and #11, no violation
  • #1707467, Sante Fe #10 and #11, operating without a permit

The best management practices and erosion control measures cited above are designed to prevent the rivers of mud seen coming from Colony Ridge. The mud has partially plugged local creeks in Plum Grove, contributing to flooding. It has also contributed to sediment buildup farther downstream near the mouth bar of the San Jacinto East Fork.

Violations apply only to TCEQ regulations, not Liberty County’s drainage standards. The Liberty County attorney is reportedly conducting a separate investigation into Colony Ridge construction practices and engineering reports.

Nature of Violations

Six of the TCEQ violations relate to best management practices and erosion control. For instance:

  • Planting grass can stabilize soils.
  • Silt fences can prevent dirt from entering ditches.
  • Rock gabions can reduce the velocity of water, thus reducing erosion.

But the investigations found little evidence of any such practices. And when they did, the measures were often ineffective due to lack of maintenance. For instance, water eroded around and under silt fences, rendering them useless.

Dirt piled on sides of ditches. No silt fences, grass, or gabions. Photo taken May 26, 2021.

When you clear thousands of acres at a time, erosion control is important to protect downstream neighbors.

Two of the other investigations found Colony Ridge operating without a valid permit.

Conditions For Obtaining Permits

The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) requires developers to formulate Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPP) as a condition of obtaining their permits. The plans should:

  • Control the perimeter of the site
  • Protect receiving waters adjacent to the site
  • Follow pollution prevention measures
  • Protect slopes and channels
  • Stabilize the site as soon as possible
  • Minimize the area and duration of exposed soils at any one time
Part of Colony Ridge expansion area covered in TCEQ investigations. Photo taken March 3, 2021.

The goals of pollution prevention plans include:

  • Retaining sediment on the property
  • Selecting, installing, inspecting, and maintaining sediment control measures in accordance with good engineering practices
  • Removing offsite accumulations of sediment that escapes the property at a frequency sufficient to minimize offsite impacts
  • Preventing litter from becoming a pollutant source in stormwater discharges
Accumulations of litter on banks of Colony Ridge ditchdefinitely not a best management practice. Photo taken March 3, 2021.

Penalties Unclear at This Time

It’s unclear at this time whether the TCEQ violations will result in any fines for Colony Ridge. Typically, the TCEQ gives regulated entities a chance to remedy violations before levying fines. However, the recurring nature of these violations may call for a new approach. TCEQ has warned Colony Ridge about similar issues in the past, saying that Colony Ridge violations could adversely affect human health. However, violations continue.

Clearly, the ability to fix problems without a fine – after silt has been discharged into bayous, streams and rivers – seems like an incentive to ignore, not obey, regulations. Violators can simply fix problems if caught and, if not, take their profits to the bank.

Looking south. Photo taken May 26, 2021. Colony Ridge continues to push north with same construction practices.

Conclusions of All Nine Reports

The reports comprise almost 650 megabytes. They are far too large to post in a forum like this. However, I have captured screen shots of the reports’ conclusions for those who wish more detail.

#1699286: operating without a permit

#1704908: failure to maintain and properly install BMPs

#1740909: failure to achieve final stabilization requirements, large areas of bare soil

#1704910: Failure to maintain BMPs, install them properly and stabilize drainage channels.

#1704912: erosion control measures not installed

#1704914: failure to install even minimum erosion controls.

#1704916: no erosion control measures installed

#1704918: No violations.

#1704467: Operating without a permit.

For full reports, visit the TCEQ website.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/5/2021, based on TCEQ investigations

1376 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.

TCEQ Cites Sand Mine for Allegedly Discharging 56 Million Gallons of White Pollution into West Fork

After receiving complaints and news reports of bright white water in the West Fork of the San Jacinto, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) launched aerial and ground investigations.

West Fork near US59 bridge. Photo taken 11/4/2019.

They found three mines discharging process water into the West Fork of the San Jacinto.

  • Sorters-Eagle Mine, used as Placement Area #2 by the Army Corps, at 231 McClellan Road in Kingwood
  • RGI Materials at 18185 Hill Road in Porter
  • Liberty Materials at 19515 Moorhead Road in Conroe

The Corps found that the discharge from the Eagle-Sorters mine was related to equipment installed by the Corps which is being removed. Therefore, the TCEQ considered it a permitted discharge and did not issue a Notice of Enforcement.

The other two mines, however, were different stories. The TCEQ issued Notices of Enforcement to both for alleged unauthorized discharges of process water.

Double Breach at RGI

At RGI, TCEQ investigators found that a process wastewater pond breached into a stormwater pond. That, in turn, breached into the West Fork. (Click the link above to see the complete investigation report.) Investigators cited the mine for one alleged violation for failure to prevent the unauthorized discharge of process water. The same mine already had one active notice of enforcement for a violation that allegedly occurred on 10/2/2019.

Loss of 56-Million Gallons of Milky-White Waste Water Goes Unnoticed

At Liberty Materials, TCEQ investigators found a 6′ deep by 30′ wide berm breach still discharging process wastewater when they arrived. The initial burst of wastewater had spread out more than 90 feet and had matted down vegetation for 850 feet. The water then entered a gully which emptied into the West Fork. Investigators say the discharge was milky white in color. They also say that water marks indicate the process pond had dropped approximately 3 to 4 feet!

Unauthorized discharge of white process water by Liberty mine on 11/6. Photographed by TCEQ.

Surprisingly, investigators had to notify the operator of the breach. He professed ignorance of it.

The TCEQ cited the mine for unauthorized discharge of pollutants. Their 124-page report makes interesting reading. The investigators collected numerous samples of water and tested for total dissolved solids.

They found one sample contained almost 25X more than the standard limit for dissolved solids in that part of the river.

From Page 100 of the TCEQ investigation of Liberty Material’s Moorhead Plant on 11/6/2019.

They also estimate that a four-foot water drop in the process pond would have dumped more than 56 million gallons of pollution into the West Fork.

“Not Sure. Don’t Know. No Clue. Duh!”

A “must-read” is the interview with one of the mine’s managers on pages 113-114. Some excepts:

  • When did the berm breach occur? Answer: Not sure.
  • How did it occur? Answer: Not sure.
  • Do you have maintenance logs for berm repairs? Answer: Don’t keep them.
  • What happened to the berm of the missing pond? Answer: No clue.
  • When did the berm go? No clue.
  • How did the berm go? No clue.
  • How much did you discharge? Not sure.

Are we really to believe that a competent manager would not notice the loss of four feet of water in his process pond?

Incident Highlights Two Problems

Nowhere does the report say that the milky white discharge that I photographed further downriver two days before this investigation came from this mine. In that sense, the findings of these investigations probably will not satisfy the public’s passion for closure.

But they do shine a spotlight on two problems.

Problem #1:

This was the sixth alleged violation for the Liberty mine on Moorehead in 2.5 years. They allegedly dumped 56 million gallons of pollution into the West Fork without noticing it and played dumb when investigators caught them in the act. They just do not fear the penalties which have averaged $800 per incident statewide since 2011. At that rate, pollution becomes part of miners’ business plans.

Problem #2:

TACA kills almost all attempts at reasonable regulation by bottling the proposals up in committee every legislature.

Business Friendly Vs. Resident Hostile

I cannot understand how state government allows such flagrant behavior to continue. A teenager who got caught breaking into cars six times in 2.5 years would be heading to Huntsville. Dump 56,000,000 gallons of pollution in a public drinking-water source and you get the equivalent of a speeding ticket. All you have to say to the judge evidently is, “Duh!”, and you’re right back in business.

Go figure. Why does “business-friendly” have to mean “resident-hostile”?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/1/2019 with thanks to the TCEQ

824 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.