Tag Archive for: update

Reminder: Floodgate Meeting at Kingwood Community Center on Thursday, July 8

On Thursday, July 8, Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin will host a pubic meeting to discuss the status of adding more floodgates to the Lake Houston Dam. Preliminary engineering finished earlier this year. In March, the Coastal Water Authority board approved Black & Veatch to begin final engineering.

Need for More Gates

The Lake Houston Area Task Force identified more and higher capacity floodgates as a key element in the area’s flood-mitigation strategy. The current gates have one-fifteenth the capacity of those at the Lake Conroe Dam. That makes it difficult to shed water from Lake Houston before people flood if Lake Conroe opens its gates as it did during Harvey.

During Harvey, Conroe released 79,000 cubic feet per second. That was one third of all the water coming down the West Fork between Humble and Kingwood. All by itself, that 79,000 CFS would have been the ninth largest flood in West Fork history. And that made the difference between flooding and not flooding for thousands of homes and businesses near the lake.

During Harvey, the peak flow over the spillway was five times the average flow over Niagra Falls. A wall of water 11 feet tall cascaded over the spillway above. Enough to fill NRG stadium in 3.5 minutes.

Lake Houston Dam During Harvey. The proposed crest gates would go in the far upper left of the spillway.

Floodgate Meeting Details

See the meeting details below.

Thursday, July 8, 2021
At the Kingwood Community Center (4102 Rustic Woods)
Doors Open 5:30 PM
Dredging Update Starts 5:45 PM
Gate Update Starts at 6 PM

Chief Recovery Officer, Stephen Costello, will provide a very brief update on Lake Houston Dredging operations at 5:45 p.m. before the Spillway Improvement Project program begins.

The program to discuss the Lake Houston Dam Spillway Improvement Project will start at 6:00 p.m. and conclude at 7:45 p.m. But don’t worry about sitting through a 2 hour meeting.

The main presentation by Black & Veatch, the project engineers, will be followed by a short Q&A session. The meeting will then transition into breakout sessions. Breakout tables will let residents engage with project management staff and engineers in small groups to ask more detailed questions.

Project Benefits

The Lake Houston Dam Spillway project will increase the outflow capacity of the Lake Houston Dam. The project proposes installing new crest gates in the existing uncontrolled spillway. This will allow for a rapid decrease of water levels in Lake Houston in advance of storm events to prevent or reduce upstream flooding. Engineers estimate the recommended alternative could help about 35,000 residents and 5,000 structures. It’s important for people to understand that if they flooded from streams or channels far from the lake during Harvey, this may not help them.


A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program provides $4.3 million for engineering and positions the city to receive another $42.7 million for construction.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/6/2021 based on info provided by Dave Martin’s Office

1407 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Pipeliners Vs. Sandminers: An Update

The expansion of sand mines into easements occupied by pipelines puts both the public and the pipelines at risk – not to mention sand mine employees. In the last week, we have seen two areas where erosion triggered by sand mining undercut and exposed pipelines. Here’s an update on how the industry and regulators have responded.

Pipelines in general are the safest form of transportation known to humankind, even though they often carry highly flammable gases or liquids. However, undercutting and exposing them increases the risk of explosions, leaks and fires. It felt comforting, therefore, to see that the pipelines were aware of the problems and working to address them.

Exposed and Threatened Lines at Triple PG Mine In Porter

After posting the story about the exposed natural gas pipeline at the Triple PG mine, I received three calls from Kinder Morgan managers between 12 and 3 a.m. Saturday morning. I received another at 8 a.m. on Monday morning.

This satellite image shows the relative locations of the gas and HVL pipelines that cross the Triple PG property. It also shows the progression of erosion after Harvey but before Imelda. See post-Imelda erosion below.

Exposed Pipeline Now Replaced by One Buried 75-Feet Deep

Hurricane Harvey first exposed the natural gas pipeline in question shortly after Triple PG started mining right next to it. Water flowed through the mine from Peach and Caney Creeks (top to bottom above) during Harvey. It created severe erosion that left the pipeline hanging in several places. See below.

Exposed by erosion during Harvey and Imelda, this pipeline at the Triple PG sand pit in Porter is now “abandoned.”

After Harvey, the company immediately stopped the flow of gas through that pipeline and spliced in a new 2,000 foot section. It now runs 75-feet beneath Caney Creek and the erosion. Kinder Morgan filled the old section with inert gas and covered it up. However, Tropical Storm Imelda uncovered it again. But the pipe above has technically been abandoned. It no longer poses any danger to the public.

Kinder Morgan has not re-buried the pipeline because the Triple PG owners have not repaired the road to the pipeline.

At this mine, erosion has not yet reached the other five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids (HVLs). But it is close.

Looking NW shows how close erosion and pits are to both sides of pipeline corridor.
Looking southeast at Triple PG mine and the massive erosion that occurred during Harvey and Imelda. Note pipeline corridor in bottom left.

During Harvey and Imelda, this erosion extended more than 1,700 feet (approximately 1/3rd of a mile) toward the HVL pipelines. The next large storm could take it across the corridor, exposing more pipelines.

Exposed and Undercut Pipelines in Conroe

Farther northwest in Conroe – up this same utility corridor – the HVL pipelines HAVE become exposed through headward erosion.

Mining here has moved toward the utility corridor in the foreground from the San Jacinto West Fork in the background.

Liberty Materials operates this mine. That’s the same company cited by the TCEQ for allegedly discharging 56 million gallons of a milky white substance into the West Fork from another mine last month. The other mine is about a mile south of this one. These are just two of nine facilities that Liberty operates in the area according to the TCEQ.

Looking south across the utility corridor and one half of the mine toward the West Fork. Notice water and sediment trying to drain to the river. See close up below.
Stormwater running across the utility corridor has undercut and exposed five pipelines. This process started in 2014 when the operator mined next to the utility corridor and triggered headward erosion..

Railroad Commission Response

In Texas, the Railroad Commission regulates pipelines. Jennifer Delacruz of the Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC) received several complaints and is aware of this situation. She told Josh Alberson, one of the complainants, that four of the five pipelines are interstate and therefore regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. TRRC forwarded the complaints to them.

Wide shot of same area looking south across utility corridor to southern half of mine.

Mustang operates the one intrastate pipeline. According to Alberson, Delacruz had already discussed the situation with Mustang before he and she talked. Delacruz told Alberson that Mustang and the other operators had filed a lawsuit against the mine operator for damages and repairs, but it seemed to be going nowhere. The pipeline told her that it and the other pipeline operators are currently working together to protect the pipelines. They plan to start construction of earthworks or a concrete bridge in January. TRRC intends to closely monitor this going forward.

However, the depth of the pits on either side of the corridor may make bridging the erosion difficult because of soil instability. See below.

Note depth of newly excavated pit on north side of corridor.

As the northern pits get deeper and approach the utility corridor in the middle, the erosion under the pipelines will also get deeper. This seems like a losing battle for the pipelines. And there’s no guarantee that another area won’t wash out.

Industry Response

A pipeline manager at one of the world’s largest oil companies looked at these photos and said, “You could try to limp along with supports and erosion control, but Mother Nature will eventually ruin most anything that can be installed.” He felt that temporarily shutting the lines down and drilling under the mine would be the safest alternative, much like Kinder Morgan did at the Triple PG mine.

Legislative Response

Given the wholesale expansion of sand mining on the West Fork, and the unwillingness of the mines to keep a safe distance from pipeline easements, pipelines need to figure out a new strategy. To date, the state has refused to impose any meaningful setback regulations on sand mining.

TACA, the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association, killed legislation that might have done that earlier this year. They lobbied heavily against developing best practices for sand mining. The bill died in committee. As a consequence, we now have worst practices.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/11/2019 with help from Josh Alberson

834 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.

Army Corps Releases New Video of West Fork Dredging Highlights

Two minute video that looks back on the Emergency West Fork Dredging Project. Project should be completed within the next three weeks.

Last week I reported that Great Lakes finished dredging its segment of the San Jacinto West Fork. Their dredge is currently docked, but is not yet undergoing demobilization.

Callan Marine, a subcontractor to Great Lakes on the job is still hard at work clearing the Kings Harbor area. Over the next 30 days, the Army Corps forecasts that Callan will remove an additional 125,000 cubic yards of material from the West Fork,” said Alton Meyer, Corps Project Manager.

Callan Marine Dredge still hard at work in Kings Harbor area.

Unless FEMA, Army Corps, City of Houston, Harris County and State of Texas can strike a deal to remove the giant sand bar at the mouth of the West Fork, demobilization will begin in early May, roughly two weeks from now. For now, Great Lakes is standing by, waiting for that decision.

Dredging Highlights To Date

The video above shows some of the highlights of the current project. The Army Corps produced it.

As of April 11, 2019, the Corps and contractors had removed 652 tons of woody debris and 1,547,000 cubic yards of sand from the river.

The Corps estimates that by the completion date, 720 tons of woody debris and 1,684,000 cubic yards of sand will be removed from this 2-mile stretch of the San Jacinto.

The project began September 20, 2018, and should finish by the end of May, 2019.

Mouth-Bar Considerations

Planners now need to determine whether to extend the project by dredging the mouth bar. That would keep the crew and equipment working. And that could save, at least in theory, approximately $18 million in remobilization fees compared to pulling out now and coming back later.

Planners are evaluating:

  • How much sediment Harvey deposited in the mouth bar area
  • The cost to remove it
  • Where to place it.

All three variables affect each other. That makes costing the alternatives complex. For instance, the further upriver you pump the sand, the higher the cost for any given volume. That’s because you need additional pipeline, booster pumps, fuel, pontoons and crew.

Of the three variables, decidingwhere to place the sediment is the most time consuming. By Federal law, permitting the placement site requires two mandatory 30-day public-comment periods.

Great Lakes’ early finish pressured planners to evaluate Placement Area #2 (south of Kingwood College on Sorters Road) as an alternative placement area. Because it is already permitted, it would not require the lengthy public comment periods. And because the land owner is selling the sediment placed there, it is not filling up as quickly as Placement Area #1.

Thus, it may be technically possible to keep the equipment working and save remobilization fees – if FEMA can make a decision quickly enough.

A third possibility: using a combination of two placement areas, as in the current project.

While FEMA and the Corps weigh their options and costs, Great Lakes is repairing its equipment and inspecting pipeline. Mouth-bar dredging already has support of the City of Houston, Harris County and the State.

A decision could come in the next week or two.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/15/19

594 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Cambio, Zeve and Gilman Update Pachyderm Club on Lake Houston Area Flood Mitigation Efforts

Three local luminaries updated residents on the status of various flood mitigation issues and projects Monday night at the March meeting of the Lake Houston Pachyderm Club.

  • Kaaren Cambio, is the field representative for Congressman Dan Crenshaw and a board director for the SJRA.
  • Matt Zeve is the Deputy Executive Director for the Harris County Flood Control District. His team is responsible for managing $2.5 billion dollars worth of projects approved last year as part of the Harris County Flood Bond.
  • Chuck Gilman is the Director of Flood Management with the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA).

Each talked for about 20 minutes.

HUD Homeowner-Grant Update

Cambio explained the holdup for homeowners who may have recently applied for HUD grants from funds that became available in January. Grant restrictions require that at least 70 percent of the money goes to people with low to moderate incomes (LMI). But not enough LMI households have applied yet to reach the 70% goal. As a consequence, applications for the other 30% are being held up.” If you think you may be eligible for assistance, but have not yet applied, check out the State of Texas General Land Office’s Recover Texas website. This will help point you in the right direction no matter where you live.

Mouth Bar Dredging

Cambio also addressed the FEMA/Army Corps Dredging Project on the West Fork and the possibility of extending it to the mouth bar. Cambio said the City has not yet refiled a permit request for long-term storage of the spoils. The original permit request last April was reportedly kicked back. The Corps required more information about the volume of sand to be removed from the mouth bar and the method of storage. The landowner was invited to refile when the information about the volume of sand due to Harvey was determined. However, Tetra Tech has not yet supplied the City with the results of its core sampling study. So the permit request has not yet been refiled and the entire project is at a standstill. “The Corps is still waiting on the permit application,” said Cambio.

Stephen Costello, the mayor’s flood czar did not return inquiries about the delays. In mid-January, he said that he expected results by the end of that month. In the meantime, two local geologists developed a reliable way to estimate the volume without core sampling.

The giant sand bar at the mouth of the West Fork that is backing water up throughout the Humble/Kingwood area during floods.

Dam Gates and Upstream Detention

Cambio also briefly addressed upstream detention and additional gates for the Lake Houston Dam. “Future projects are determined by the watershed studies that are underway,” she said. “Those projects need to be based on knowledge. Potential upstream detention is something we are hopeful for. But we need the San Jacinto River Basin STUDY currently underway to make sure we do the right projects in the right places. We need to base the study on projected development for the next 50 years.”

“Dam gates could be done with HUD CDBG-DR money if the rules allow. But we don’t have HUD requirements yet for how the money can be spent. We also don’t have the permits required.”

Flood Bond Project Prioritization

Matt Zeve addressed several misperceptions regarding project prioritization for flood bond projects. He emphasized that:

  • No projects are being eliminated, and in fact, some may be added.
  • The county is not shifting money from rich areas to poor.
  • LMI data is no longer part of the formula being used to determine which projects kick off first.

“The worst projects will be handled first.” Zeve then went on to define how he defined worst. He used the example of homes that experienced a 100-year level of flooding on a two -year rain. Compared to a neighborhood that experienced a 100-year level of flooding on a 50-year rain, the area that flooded on the smaller rain would be handled first.

To see the current formula for prioritizing projects, see the HCFCD website.

More Than Half of Flood Bond Projects Already Started

Zeve also emphasized that 134 out of the 237 projects in the flood bond have already started and that they are broadly distributed throughout the county. He said the county is “looking far beyond Harvey” with the flood bond money. He’s addressing projects that were needed before Harvey as well as projects that will help with future floods still decades away.

Zeve stated that the bond fund contains money set aside to help fund gates once they are designed. (Editorial comment: …assuming that the San Jacinto River Basin study determines they are needed.)

Huffman-Area Drainage Survey Kicking Off

Finally, Zeve addressed a study being kicked off in the Huffman area.  It was approved in November 2018, The project will include an engineering investigation into the sources of flooding and offer options for reducing flood damages. Here is a link to the scope of work document. To view the entire scope, click here.

Seasonal Lowering of Lake Conroe

Gilman said that the SJRA board voted for the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe again this year. He explained how that should help mitigate flooding somewhat until other mitigation measures can be put in place. For details of how the plan works, click here.

He also discussed four key pieces of legislation. SB7 and HB13 which would establish resiliency funds to help jumpstart mitigation projects in the future. Case in point: it took FEMA almost a year to approve a $2 million watershed study that could affect additional dredging, detention and gates. The project is just now kicking off and will take another year to 18 months to complete.

I previously reported on SB7 when it was called SB695. The bill was renumbered when it became one of the Lieutenant Governor’s Top Twenty picks for this legislative session, according to Cambio. That greatly enhances its chances of success. HB13 is a comparable house bill, currently in the Natural Resources committee. If both pass, they would go to a conference committee to iron out differences.

Here is the current text of SB7 and a legislative summary of the bill. The Water and Rural Affairs committee heard testimony on it yesterday.

Gilman also urged the public to support SB6. It relates to emergency and disaster management, response, and recovery. SB8 relates to state and regional flood planning.

The Pachyderm Club plans to have another flood-related meeting in May. It will feature Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle addressing readiness for hurricane season which starts on June 1. Most hurricanes that make landfall in Texas occur in August and September with the statistical peak occurring on September 11. But it’s never too early to get those hurricane kits ready.

Major Unanswered Questions Remain

All in all, there was a lot of encouraging news last night. But…

Like a lot of things related to flood mitigation, the more you know, the more questions you have. For instance, why hasn’t Tetra Tech collected the mouth bar core samples that Costello says are so crucial? How will that affect $18 million in remobilization fees if the Corps leaves the river before the mouth bar project is approved? $18 million could go a long way toward dredging the mouth bar. This is far from pocket change. It’s major bank. Taxpayers deserve to know.

To See Video of Meeting

The Pachyderm Club streamed the video of their meeting. To view it, click here. The HCFCD portion begins at the 30:20 mark on the video. SJRA begins at 42:00.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/12/2019

560 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Dredging Update: First Dredge Being Assembled, Miles of Pipe Being Welded

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Command Site for its San Jacinto West Fork Emergency Dredging Project is a beehive of construction activity. I spent two hours at the site this morning at the invitation of the Corps. Now I can see why the prep is taking as long as it is. I had no idea so much was involved. Last week, I posted pictures of dozens of trucks arriving with equipment and pipe. This week they are assembling the first dredge of two and welding miles of dredge pipe…even as more arrives every hour.

First of Two Dredges Nearing Completion

Because of their size, two dredges are being delivered to the site in pieces and assembled there. Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, the contractor, brought in a 300-ton crane last week to lift the biggest pieces to the water’s edge. At the moment, two smaller 70-ton cranes are completing the work – lifting pumps, motors, stabilizers and other equipment into place.

Two seventy-ton cranes lift the remaining pieces of the first dredge into place at the command post south of the river.

Worker installing safety rails.

Same dredge showing where the dredge pipe will hook in.

Massive fittings weigh thousands of pounds

More dredge pipe arrives as the first dredge nears completion.

One of the impellers that will force dredged material into the dredge pipe. These are bigger than the pallet they sit on and are made from solid steel. They are actually considered a disposable item in the dredging process because they wear out. They are  the rotor located inside the case of a pump. it increases or decreases the pressure and flow rate of a fluid. 

Miles of Dredge Pipe Being Welded and Weighted

As workers assemble the first dredge near the water’s edge, other workers weld miles of dredge pipe together from 40-foot sections in a separate staging area. Each section weighs about 4,000 pounds. And each string is 1,000 feet long – about a fifth of a mile. These longer sections will then be put together with booster pumps to pipe spoils directly from the river to placement areas.

Acres of 24-inch HDPE pipe have arrived at the job site and are being stored in a massive pipe farm. Walls of the pipe are one inch thick. Each 40-foot section weighs about 4000 pounds.

Already five larger 1000-foot sections have been assembled. That’s nearly a mile of dredge pipe.

Welding machine shaves off the end of each pipe so the joints will be clean and even.

Next the welding machine heats up the ends of each pipe to 450 degrees and fuses them into one continuous piece.

This is what a completed weld looks like. It’s as strong as the pipe itself.

Next the pipe will be weighted with these steel collars to make sure it remains submerged during dredging operations. This is important because one pump might stop temporarily during dredging while other pumps continue to pull water through. The now partially filled pipe could become buoyant and a hazard to navigation.

To attach the collars, first, two halves are chained together then sledge-hammered into place.

Then the halves are welded together to form a permanent bond. This process is repeated over and over hundreds of times until each 40-foot section has its own collar/weight. The black screen is a safety device to protect the eyes of people nearby who may not have welding goggles. The flame from welding can be as intense as looking directly into the sun. 

Safety Warning

Do not attempt to visit this site. Stay away for your own safety. Huge construction equipment is moving about the site. Operators have limited visibility and they’re focused on balancing their loads, not looking out for unauthorized visitors.

Actual dredging should start in about ten days. When it does, it won’t be safe to be in a boat between the US59 and the West Lake Houston Park Bridges.

The pipe you see above will be submerged and marked with these buoys.

Safety buoys mean submerged dredge pipe is in the area. Stay away for your own safety. Do not attempt to boat, water ski, fish, or swim in the vicinity of dredging operations. Pipe can move swiftly and without warning. 

Dredging operations will continue 24/7 until completion. There is no safe time of day or day of the week to be in this section of the river.

Pipe will extend from wherever the current dredging is to one of two placement areas. One is south of Kingwood College and the other is between the river and Townsend east of US59.

Posted on August 20, 2018 by Bob Rehak

356 Days since Hurricane Harvey