Tag Archive for: USACE

Equity Myth Buster: “Rich Neighborhoods Get All the Flood-Mitigation Funding”

A myth being promulgated in Harris County Commissioners Court and certain low-to-moderate income (LMI) watersheds these days goes something like this:

  • The FEMA Benefit/Cost Ratio (used to rank grant applications for flood-mitigation projects) favors high-dollar homes.
  • That disadvantages less affluent, inner-city neighborhoods compared to more affluent suburbs.
  • Therefore, less affluent neighborhoods get no help and the more affluent neighborhoods get it all.

This post busts that myth. But it won’t stop activists from demanding more “equity.”

If you look at all flood-mitigation spending in Harris County since 2000, on average, less affluent watersheds already receive 4.7X more partner funding per watershed than their more affluent counterparts.

Analysis of data obtained via FOIA request

Myth Ignores Other Factors, Frequently Leaps to Wrong Conclusions

Like much of political discourse these days, the myth focuses on a narrow sliver of truth, ignores other factors, and frequently leaps to the wrong conclusions.

An analysis of Harris County Flood Control District data going back to the start of this century shows how far off the myth can be.

There are dozens of different ways to slice and dice the data. I’ve looked at most of them and validated “dollars invested” with aerial photography.

Today, I focus on partner grants because they represent such a huge percentage of the flood-bond budget and because there is so much misinformation floating around about them.

And I will look at partner funding from the standpoint of outcomes, not just processes (as in the myth).

Methodology for Analysis

For this analysis I obtained Harris County Flood Control District spending data between 1/1/2000 and 9/31/2021 via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. I requested the data by watershed, decade, pre-/Post Harvey, source of funding (local vs. partner), and type of activity (i.e., engineering, right-of-way acquisition, construction and more). I cross-referenced this with other data such as flood-damaged structures, population, population density, and percentage of low-to-moderate income (LMI) residents.

When considering grants, the percentage of LMI residents in a watershed takes on special significance. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants often require high percentages of LMI residents in the area under consideration.

In the charts below, you will see references to watersheds with LMI populations above and below 50%. Above 50% means more than half the residents in the watershed have an income LESS THAN the average for the region. Below 50% means more than half the residents earn more than the regional average.

Harris County has 23 watersheds. Eight have LMI percentages above 50% (less affluent). Fifteen have LMI percentages below 50% (more affluent).

When reviewing the charts below, pay particular attention to the italicized words: Total, Partner, and On Average. They represent three different ways to look at the same question: Do housing values disadvantage an area when applying for grants?

For this analysis, I focused only on the long term, since decisions on more than a billion dollars in flood-bond grants are still outstanding.

FOIA Analysis Contradicts the Popular Myth

One of the first things you notice when you look at watersheds above and below 50% LMI, is that the eight least affluent watersheds have gotten more than 60% of all dollars actually spent on flood mitigation since 2000.

Less affluent watersheds, despite being half as numerous, received 60% of all dollars since 2000.

Because the allegation was that partnership grants favored affluent areas, I then analyzed whether partner dollars went mostly to affluent or less-affluent watersheds. The answer is less affluent…overwhelmingly.

More than 70% of all partner dollars in the last 22 years went to the eight less-affluent watersheds.

The last observation by itself is telling. But because of the widely different number of watersheds in each group, I also wanted to calculate the average partner dollars per watershed in each group. This blows the “rich neighborhoods get all the grants” argument to pieces. Less affluent watersheds got, on average, 4.7X more.

Dividing the total partner dollars by the number of watersheds in each group shows that less affluent watersheds average 4.7X more than affluent ones.

This busts the myth. But digging even deeper into the data reveals two things: wide variation between sources of funding and within LMI groupings.

USACE Funding Skews Partner Totals

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) accounts for much of the partner funding. USACE has provided significant funding for projects in the Sims, Brays, White Oak, Hunting, and Greens Bayou watersheds. The Clear Creek watershed will also soon see work on a new USACE project. USACE has completed its planning process and proved positive benefits to national economic development. That made projects worthy of Federal investment. 

Halls Bayou: Digging Deeper

The Halls Bayou watershed also went through the USACE planning process, but the results did not show enough flood-damage-reduction benefits to outweigh the costs of the proposed projects. Thus, the Halls Bayou watershed currently has no USACE-funded projects.

Despite that, Halls has received more partner funding than 16 other watersheds since 2000. Only two watersheds in the affluent group of 15 received more partner funding. See the table below.

Total and partner spending by watershed since 2000 arranged in order of highest to lowest LMI percentages.

USACE also evaluated the more affluent Buffalo Bayou; results showed that costs outweighed the flood-damage-reduction benefits there.

Despite Halls having the highest percentage of LMI residents in Harris County, Halls has received more total funding and 2.5X more partner funding than Buffalo Bayou in the more affluent group.

FEMA Considers More than Home Values, Not All Grants Come From FEMA

While it’s true that FEMA considers housing values as a factor in benefit/cost ratios, benefit/cost ratios (BCRs) also consider factors such as:

  • The number of structures damaged
  • Threats to infrastructure
  • Proximity to employment centers
  • Need for economic revitalization
  • Percentage of low-to-moderate income residents in an area
  • Number of structures that can be removed from the floodplain by a project.

And not all grants come from FEMA. For instance:

So don’t settle for soundbites. They often mislead.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/30/2021

1584 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Three More Major Projects on Greens Bayou Completed Recently by HCFCD, Army Corps

Tuesday, I posted about three Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) floodwater-detention projects in construction on Greens Bayou. But HCFCD and the Army Corps recently completed three more. All three in the latter category started in 2015 – before the flood bond.

Magnitude of Recent Mitigation Investment on Greens

Looking at all six (in construction + recently completed) helps one understand the magnitude of investment in this watershed during the last six years.

The combined cost of all six projects totals more than $222 million.


The map below shows the locations of the recently completed projects in black; those still in construction are red. This post will focus on #4, #5 and #6 below.

#4, #5 and #6 represent three projects started in 2015 and recently completed.

#4: Greens Bayou Federal Flood Risk Management Project

The Greens Bayou Federal Flood Risk Management Project, also known as the Antoine Stormwater Detention Basin, lies just east of the Cutten Basin, discussed Tuesday. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District (Corps) and Harris County Flood Control District broke ground in 2015. Phase I cost $58 million. Phase II cost $21.4 million. And channel improvements cost $5.7.

Location of stormwater basin shown in yellow. Cutten basin is to left. Orange brackets show scope of channel improvements.

Phase I included approximately 3.7 miles of channel conveyance improvements from Cutten Road to Veterans Memorial Drive and approximately 108 acres of stormwater detention storage near the intersection of Antoine Drive and Beltway 8.

Phase II construction began in late 2016. It included completion of the north cell of the basin, located north of West Greens Road and excavation of the south cell, which is located south of West Greens Road.

From Google Earth Pro. Most recent satellite image is from 2/11/2019. For more recent construction shots, see below.

The Corps designed and built the project. It also planted trees, shrubs, and grasses on disturbed areas. These features will improve stormwater quality, support wildlife and provide opportunities for recreational benefits.

West Greens Drive bisects the Antoine basin, dividing it into two parts. However, box culverts connect them and they function as a single detention pond. The completed basin holds approximately 1,650 acre-feet, or 538 million gallons of stormwater. To put that in perspective, it holds a foot of rain falling over a 2.5 square mile area, or half a foot falling across 5 square miles!

Looking SW at the Antoine Stormwater Basin on Greens Bayou. Greens Drive bisects the project. Beltway 8 North is in background. Greens Bayou flows diagonally through the frame from right to left. Photographed on 4/22/2021

As part of a cost sharing arrangement, the Flood Control District purchased the 138-acre detention basin site. HCFCD also acquired other property and easements, and relocated utilities. The District will maintain the basin and channel in perpetuity.

#5: Kuykendahl Stormwater Detention Basin

Kuykendahl Stormwater Detention Basin sits on a 288-acre property near Kuykendahl Road and Ella Boulevard along an unnamed tributary of Greens Bayou.

The Kuykendahl Basin is the top purple area.

Contractors removed 3.61 million cubic yards of soil from the site. It holds 2,325 acre-feet, or 757.6 million gallons of stormwater. That’s a foot of rain falling across 3.6 square miles, or half a foot falling across 7.2.

2019 satellite image from Google Earth Pro of Kuykendahl Basin still under construction.

Following construction, contractors planted 22.19 acres of native tree and shrubs, and 12.79 acres of stormwater quality-treatment wetlands. They also created 14.04 acres of other wetlands to replace those impacted by construction.

What the Kuykendahl Basin looks like today, complete with picnic area.

Native, woody, riparian vegetation stabilizes banks, shades water, and creates habitat for birds.

FEMA awarded $39.2 million to the Harris County Flood Control District, under the Hurricane Ike Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), for construction of this and another stormwater detention basin (see #6 below). The Flood Control District contributed matching funds for both projects. 

Ceres Environmental Services Inc. constructed the two basins for $63.7 million. Combined, they were the largest construction contract ever managed by the Flood Control District up to that time. The two basins reduced or removed flooding risks and damages from more than 1,100 structures along Greens Bayou. “Avoided damage” exceeds $90 million in every flood. 

Both projects (#5 and #6) are part of Progress Greens, a suite of flood damage reduction projects in the Greens Bayou watershed. All projects under the Progress Greens umbrella will function together to reduce flooding risks and damages for residents and businesses within the 213 square miles of the Greens Bayou watershed.

#6: Glen Forest Stormwater Detention Basin

The Glen Forest Stormwater Detention Basin lies southeast of the Kuykendahl Basin on a 160-acre site east of Interstate 45 and slightly north of Beltway 8. See P500-08-00 in the map below.

The Glen Forest project is at the purple location on the right.

The Glen Forest Basin project removed approximately 2.15 million cubic yards of soil in three connected cells. The completed basin holds approximately 894 acre-feet, or 291.3 million gallons of stormwater. That’s 1.4 square miles one foot deep or 2.8 square miles a half foot deep.

2019 satellite image from Google Earth Pro of Glen Forest Detention Basin at Beltway 8 North and 45 while still under construction.

Basin design included 2.75 acres of native tree and shrub plantings and 0.81 acres of stormwater quality treatment wetlands. 

Natural-channel design features, such as those in #5 above, provide environmental and water-quality enhancement.

The finished project today. Looking WNW from Imperial Valley Drive and Greens Road toward I-45 in background.

Regulation Vs. Mitigation

Areas both up and downstream from these ponds have extremely high-density commercial, industrial and residential development. Drive up Kuykendahl or Imperial Valley, for instance, and you will find mile after mile of apartment complexes. There’s little room for water to soak in during rainstorms.

More sensible development regulations that mandated onsite detention ponds when this area was being built might have prevented a lot of flood damage and heartbreak. Mitigating flood issues is always far more expensive, difficult and time consuming than preventing them. And many times, mitigating them after the fact is not even possible because of the shortage of land.

Value of Coalitions and Cooperation

Projects like the three above don’t happen without the combined efforts of elected representatives at the county, city, state and federal levels, plus community groups such as the Greens Bayou Coalition (GBC).

According to Jill Boullion, former director of the GBC, “The GBC advocated for $55 million in USACE funding from 2009 to 2015 for the Antoine Basin (Project #4) alone. We made many trips to DC, Galveston and Dallas to meet with elected officials, US Army Corps, Office of Management and Budget, and others. The Obama administration finally approved the funding! That was my first advocacy project and, boy, did I learn a LOT!!!”

The moral of that story: never underestimate the value of coalitions and cooperation in moving these projects forward.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/22/21

1332 Days since Hurricane Harvey

FEMA Concludes Partial Mouth-Bar Dredging

Over the weekend, Rachel Taylor, a Lake Houston area resident who lives near the mouth bar sent me the video below. It shows an idle dredge near its starting point. The video, plus reports from boaters, fueled speculation that the mouth bar dredging had concluded. That fact was confirmed this afternoon by Houston City Council Member Dave Martin. His office issued a press release stating that FEMA had finished dredging 500,000 cubic yards of sediment from the San Jacinto West Fork Mouth Bar.

Lake Houston area resident Rachel Taylor shot this video of the Great Lakes Dredge on 9/8/2019. The dredge had returned to its starting point, fueling speculation that it had completed its mission assignment.

FEMA Concludes Dredging Addtional 500,000 Cubic Yards

Said Council Member Dave Martin, “The Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) mission assignment modification to address partial removal of the San Jacinto River West Fork mouth-bar has concluded.” The mission assignment authorized the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to remove an additional 497,400 cubic yards of debris from the West Fork near its confluence with Lake Houston. As of September 3, 2019, USACE removed 500,000 cubic yards of debris from the mouth-bar.

However, Martin never accepted the amount of debris included in the mission modification and continues to fight that number to this day.

Running, Year-Long Argument Over Volume

Council Member Martin and the City of Houston, through Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello, argued for almost a year to remove more sediment, believing that 500,000 cubic yards was much too low. But their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

According to Martin, FEMA cannot explain how 497,400 cubic yards was calculated, even while the City of Houston has provided verifiable scientific data showing the volume deposited by Harvey near the mouth bar was 1.4 million cubic yards.

During a meeting in June, 2019, FEMA representatives verified the City’s estimate was sound. That lead Martin to believe another contract extension was feasible. In August, FEMA representatives again stated, “Your (City of Houston) data is NOT bad data”, leaving Martin with lingering questions as to why no additional modification had been granted.

Comparison of Two Reports

The analysis that FEMA used to justify their number (497,000 cubic yards) is a four-page table top study that does not begin to answer questions that were asked of the City of Houston by FEMA, which produced a 94-page comprehensive report. I previously analyzed and compared these two reports and believe there are major flaws in the Corps’ analysis which they tried to keep secret for months.

How You Can Help

As a result of the most recent meeting held in Austin, Texas, with representatives from FEMA, USACE, Texas Division of Emergency Management, City of Houston, and Governor Greg Abbott’s office, Council Member Martin along with Mayor Sylvester Turner have sent a letter to our Federal Congressional Delegation requesting action be taken to address the Hurricane Harvey debris remaining in the mouth-bar. This letter urges Senator John CornynSenator Ted CruzChairman Kevin Brady, and Congressman Dan Crenshaw to continue to support recovery of our area through requesting an additional mission modification from FEMA. It would enable dredging another one million cubic yards of sediment related to Hurricane Harvey.

Overall, dredging in the San Jacinto removed more than 2 million cubic yards of sediment. That will help reduce the effects of potential future flooding, but it will not restore the conveyance of the river.

Granting a second mission modification allows the use of existing pre-positioned resources as well as an estimated savings of nearly $20 million for mobilization.

The City of Houston has secured a third disposal site, Barry Madden’s property south of the river, that has already received USACE permits for another 500,000 cubic yards of sediment disposal.

Request from Council Member Martin

Martin asks residents who support the request for additional dredging to contact their federal representatives. Martin says he remains committed to removing additional sediment in the mouth-bar and will continue to fight for additional dredging at that location.

Why We Still Have A Problem

Last weekend, boaters, canoeists and kayakers reported that water depth in the mouth bar was only 3-5 feet deep. Even though the Corps has so far refused to release its plans or survey results, that’s very close to the estimate I calculated when dividing 500,000 cubic yards by the acreage within the dredge area.

However, boaters also report the water upstream from the mouth bar is almost 40 feet deep in places.

This will herd water into an underwater box canyon.

As water hits that wall, it will also slow down, dropping more sediment out of suspension faster. That, in turn, will accelerate re-deposition and quickly fill in the area that FEMA just spent $90 million dredging. What a tragic waste of tax dollars!

Benefits of Additional Dredging

Creating a consistently wide and deep channel through the mouth bar that connects upstream areas with the Lake beyond FM1960 will reduce flood damages to properties regionally and provide for increased resilience to transportation systems, water treatment systems, public/private utilities, emergency response facilities, petrochemical industries, and other critical infrastructure, in the West Fork, San Jacinto River Watershed, plus Harris, Montgomery, and Liberty Counties.

Last year, the Corps estimated the flood protection benefits to be on the order of $200 billion.  

FEMA regulations allow the agency to restore a river to a prior good condition if a risk to health and human safety exists.

Given that petrochemical industries in the region produce a significant amount of the nation’s petroleum-based energy products, reducing flood risks to these plants and their workers who reside in flood-prone areas will provide greater resiliency and a National security benefit. 

Environmental benefits include reduced risks to water treatment plants from flooded sand mines and chemical spills which are threats to human health and safety. Non-monetary benefits include reduced risks to life, especially among residents with insufficient means.

Start writing. It’s your home and your community.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/10/19

742 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Houston Council Member Dave Martin Issues Mouth Bar Update

Houston City Council Member Dave Martin announced today that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has authorized the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to remove sand and siltation from the Lake Houston mouth bar.  

History of Project

In 2018, USACE first began removing debris deposited during Hurricane Harvey from the San Jacinto River under FEMA Mission Assignment (DR 4332). The assignment directed USACE to restore the river to pre-Harvey conditions.

DR 4332 has removed debris from three out of four identified sections of the San Jacinto River. Contractors should finish the last segment (shown in blue below) in May.

Original segments identified by USACE. The orange and green segments are complete. The blue segment should be finished with another week or so. And the purple segment is the one yet to be done – including the mouth bar.

FEMA did not approve the fourth section, in the original scope of work for DR 4332.  Last month, the City of Houston filed an application for mouth bar removal as well as an additional dredge material disposal site. FEMA and USACE have been reviewing it since then, according to Council Member Martin.

The State of Texas, the City of Houston, as well as multiple stakeholders from the Lake Houston area, requested FEMA to expedite authorization of a Mission Assignment for debris removal and dredging of the mouth bar while the equipment is still in the river. The hope: to save taxpayers the cost of a second mobilization effort. Mobilization for the first assignment cost approximately $18 million.

FEMA Issues Directive of Mission Assignment

At a meeting last week in Austin, FEMA issued a directive of Mission Assignment to USACE for dredging of the mouth bar at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston.

The City requested removal of 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment. It is unclear at this time how much FEMA will fund, exactly where it will be stored, and whether matching funds will come from other sources. FEMA, TDEM, City of Houston, and USACE are still working to determine the amount of silt deposited by Hurricane Harvey.

Dredging of Final Segment To Begin Within 30 Days

 Martin hopes the calculation will be finalized next week, and expects dredging to begin within 30 days. 

The Great Lakes Dredge is still docked at the USACE Command Post while it awaits FEMA and USACE to finalize mouth bar dredging details with the City and State.

Kudos to Mission Team

In his press release, Martin issued “a huge thank you to our federal partners Congressman Dan Crenshaw, Field Representative for Congressman Crenshaw, Kaaren Cambio, Congressman Kevin Brady, Senator Ted Cruz, and Senator John Cornyn for their support as they have all been meeting regularly with FEMA and discussing this project.”

“This is a huge project for our area,” said Martin, “and it would not be possible without the on-going support and push from Governor Greg Abbott and Chief Nim Kidd, Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM), as well as Mayor Sylvester Turner and Stephen Costello, Chief Recovery Officer – City of Houston.” 

Martin also gave additional thanks to Jenna Armstrong and Mark Mitchell from the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce for coordinating a letter writing campaign.

Breathing a Bit Easier Tonight

During floods earlier this year, I noticed a ten foot difference at times at gauges on either side of the mouth bar. It is acting like a dam behind the dam.

With the start of Hurricane season on June 1, residents of Kingwood and Humble will breathe a little easier tonight. Hopefully, the Corps and its contractors will be able to at least dredge a channel through the mouth bar area before the peak of the Atlantic season from mid-August through September.

The SJRA has agreed to continue lowering Lake Conroe during that period by 2 feet versus its normal level as an additional buffer against flooding.

My thanks to Council Member Dave Martin for pushing this project so tirelessly, and to Kaaren Cambio and Mark Micheletti for leading to effort to lower Lake Conroe again this year. Neither effort has been easy. Finally, kudos also to Tim Garfield and R.D. Kissling, two local retired geologists for their efforts in helping people understand the dangers posed by the mouth bar.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 26, 2019

605 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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

Manlove Changing High-Rise Website, but Problems Remain

Last night, I posted about some problems with the copy in the new website for the high-rise Kingwood Marina project. This morning, The Manlove Agency started changing the copy in many of the FAQs without explanation. Their disclaimer did not change, however.

I have screen captures of the original text. If anyone wants to see it, please email me.

Rather than do an hourly critique of the website, I’m going to give them a day or two to vet their facts. Then I will revisit it. Use extreme caution in the meantime. For instance,:

  • Their video still says they will have slips for 800 boats. But the Army Corps’ public notice states 640. A huge “disconnect”!
  • The copy still states that Romerica Group will now develop the property. The Texas Secretary of State has no listing for a Romerica Group. The phone number listed in their website is disconnected. And their name appears nowhere on the permit application.
  • The copy still says the development will be 364 acres although the Corps Public Notice states 331.
The developer has acquired all of the property in red, but only the portions marked Project Area are included in the current project.

Fixing One Problem Creates Another

Yesterday, I pointed out that raising the property to 57 feet would not make them flood safe. Manlove revised yesterday’s copy to suggest that the buildings will now have an additional five feet of fill beneath them. The developer will now raise them 17 feet above their current elevation, not 12 as stated in the original permit application. This would result in the loss of more than 1800 acre-feet of floodplain storage capacity and could impact surrounding communities.

Offending Copy About Permit Approval Removed

Manlove removed the copy about the City, County and Corps permitting the site for construction after finding no impact on surrounding communities. I confirmed with Harris County Flood Control that they never issued a permit for the property. The Corps is currently evaluating a permit. Hence, this public comment period. I’m confirming whether the City issued a permit to begin excavation.

No Public Meeting

The developers have refused to meet with the community to address the many concerns surrounding this project. I have personally tried SIX times to set up such a meeting. They agreed to have a private meeting with me. I said I would agree if I could videotape it. They refused. So the private meeting was cancelled, too.

As always, the content of this post represents my opinions on matters of public policy. Those opinions are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.

Posted on February 13, 2019, by Bob Rehak

533 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Army Corps Permit Evaluation Process

The post about the proposed high-rise development in the floodplain/floodway of the San Jacinto River received thousands of views and hundreds of comments. I’ve also received lots of advice including two presentations by concerned residents. The presentations linked below discuss the Corps’ permit evaluation process.

Warning: NOT for the feint of heart. Together they contain more than 300 pages! Frankly, permit evaluation is far more complex than I imagined.

Site of proposed marina after Harvey. Fresh sand deposits reached almost five feet in height. River Grove Park is beyond this, to the right of the giant sand bar which the Army Corps just dredged through. The drainage ditch it blocked drains the western third of Kingwood.

Plea for Expert Advice

I’m publishing the presentations here because thousands of engineers, project managers, and lawyers with technical backgrounds live in the Lake Houston area. With your help, I’m hoping we can sort through the material and determine a productive response to the Corps’ Public Notice.

As you review these, keep in mind what the Corps wants: “to solicit your comments and information to better enable us to make a reasonable decision on factors affecting the public interest.” The Public Notice goes into great detail about the scope of the project but focuses largely on the environmental impact of introducing “68,323 cubic yards of fill material into 42.35 acres of wetlands and an estimated 285 cubic yards of fill material into 771 linear feet of streams adjacent to the West Fork San Jacinto River.”

Key Elements of Solicitation

Other key points to consider in the Public Notice include:

  • “A preliminary review of this application indicates that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is not required. Since permit assessment is a continuing process, this preliminary determination of EIS requirement will be changed if data or information brought forth in the coordination process is of a significant nature.”
  • They say, “Our evaluation will also follow the guidelines published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pursuant to Section 404 (b)(1) of the Clean Water Act (CWA).”
  • “The TCEQ is reviewing this application under Section 401 of the CWA and in accordance with Title 30, Texas Administrative Code Section 279.1-13 to determine if the work would comply with State water quality standards.”
  • “The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the proposed activity on the public interest.”
  • They then define the public interest as: “All factors, which may be relevant to the proposal, will be considered: among those are conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historic properties, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shore erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food and fiber production, mineral needs and, in general, the needs and welfare of the people.”

Background Information on Corps’ Permit Evaluation Process

The first presentation sent to me describes the Corps permitting process and requirements to the Society of American Engineers.

The second goes into additional detail about the Corps regulatory program and how they make decisions. They developed it for a TxDOT conference.

I pray that people, their property, and their safety count for as much as birds and fish in this process. However, I’ve talked to several birders lately who are abuzz about eagle spottings near the project site.

All of us are smarter than any one of us. Please help!

Submit Comments

Remember comments are due by January 29, 2019. If no comments are received, the Corps will assume there are no objections to the project. To submit comments: Reference USACE file number, SWG-2016-00384, and send to: 

  • Evaluation Branch, North Unit 
  • Regulatory Division, CESWG-RD-E 
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 
  • P.O. Box 1229 
  • Galveston, Texas 77553-1229 
  • 409-766-3869 Phone 
  • 409-766-6301 Fax 
  • swg_public_notice@usace.army.mil 

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/30/2018

488 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Additional Dredging on the Horizon in 2019

Reprinted verbatim from Council Member Dave Martin’s announcement:

The “Mouth Bar,” a giant sand bar that blocks the West Fork of the San Jacinto, backing the river up into Kingwood and Humble. Water depth is generally 1-3 feet around this bar. Max channel depth in places is just 5 feet.

Houston, TX – Council Member Martin would like to make District E residents aware that the City of Houston continues to make progress towards Harvey Recovery with both state and federal agencies. Over the last fifteen months Council Member Martin has been working diligently with Chief Resiliency Officer Stephen Costello, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Governor Abbott, Chief Nim Kidd, as well as the offices of Senator Ted Cruz and Senator John Cornyn towards several initiatives that would have a positive impact on the Lake Houston Area.

Most recently the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has completed the bathymetry study of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River for the City of Houston. Data from this study has been given to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to determine the amount of sediment that resulted from Hurricane Harvey. This information is useful because this study identifies underwater topography allowing the City to understand where the additional sediment brought in by Hurricane Harvey has been deposited in the river and lake as well as changes in depth.

The TWDB continues to survey the entire lake for the Coastal Water Authority (CWA), the agency that contracts with the City for management of the Lake Houston Spillway Dam. The schedule for the TWDB to complete their survey of Lake Houston is Summer 2019. In addition to conducting a bathymetric study the City of Houston is currently reviewing data collected by the ACOE during a recent Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) study which uses light in the form of pulsing lasers to measure the distance from the water’s surface to the bottom of the river and lake. Capacity losses due to sedimentation in the lake as well as East and West Forks of the San Jacinto River will be determined using the LIDAR data along with the completed bathymetric study once the TWDB has completed their survey and report.

The LIDAR study allows the City to map changes in shoreline as well as make digital elevation models. It is this data that is assisting the City and ACOE in determining the amount of sediment that needs to be removed from locations along the West Fork of the San Jacinto River like the “mouthbar” that is located just south of the Deerwood Country Club. The LIDAR Study results will also be used by the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) for the creation of new flood insurance rate maps because of the changing rainfall patterns published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The flood insurance map study will utilize updated LIDAR surveys of the entire county and will take several years to complete, however HCFCD is already hiring consultants to assist with this work.

On October 11, 2018, Council Member Martin met with Governor Abbott’s Executive Staff, TDEM, FEMA, and ACOE in Austin where a lengthy discussion was had about the amount of sediment deposit that will still remain in the San Jacinto River after the current emergency dredging project is completed. The current emergency dredging contract is not scheduled to be complete until the end of April 2019. At this meeting the City’s consultant estimated that after the completion of the existing dredging project that there will be approximately 500,000 cubic yards of additional sediment that needs to be removed from the river known in the community as the “mouthbar”.

This estimate however was based on a comparison between the LIDAR study completed by the ACOE this year and a bathymetric study completed by the TWDB in 2011. The important takeaway from this meeting in October is that FEMA agreed that the additional sediment qualifies as Harvey debris however, the estimate of 500,000 cubic yards was not a true amount directly associated with Hurricane Harvey. The City does not have survey data that is immediately pre and post-Harvey which would provide us a true amount of residual sediment that is a direct result of Hurricane Harvey. The City is currently waiting on the ACOE to complete its analysis of the City’s data.

At the meeting in Austin the ACOE indicated that an additional disposal site would be needed in order to remove the additional material. As a result the City of Houston has been proactive in identifying a site, thanks to the assistance of a local landowner that has property on the south side of the West Fork of the San Jacinto. The land owner has retained an environmental consultant to determine any possible wetland issues that may prevent use of the property for disposal. As of right now it appears the property is a viable site and a formal permit was filed with the ACOE this week.

In summary, the process to have the “mouthbar” removed from the West Fork of the San Jacinto River has been an arduous one. All parties from local, state, and federal agencies have been working together to accurately define the area needed for additional removal so that capacity can be restored to the river and reduce the effects of future flooding. The removal of the “mouthbar” cannot begin until the existing emergency dredging along the West Fork of the San Jacinto River is completed. Since this is a reality the City is doing all that it can to be proactive in securing land as well as permits for the “mouthbar’s” removal once the existing project is completed by the ACOE in April. This will allow the ACOE to keep equipment and crews in place without the need for demobilization and remobilization, saving roughly $18 million.

In observance of Thanksgiving the District E office will be closed Thursday, November 21 and Friday, November 22. The District E team will return to the office on Monday, November 26. Council Member Martin would like to wish all District E residents a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday. For more information regarding this release, please contact Council Member Martin’s office at (832) 393-3008or via email at districte@houstontx.gov.


By Dave Martin’s Office on 11/21/2018

449 Days Since Hurricane Harvey

First Dredge Moving Into Starting Position Sunday

All of the equipment for dredging the West Fork is now reportedly in the river and the first dredge should move to it’s starting position on Sunday.

Keith Jordan, a Kingwood geologist, flood-mitigation activist, and avid boater, sent me pictures today taken from the West Fork. They show dredging prep work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Great Lakes Dredge and Dock. It appears, according to Keith, that they have now loaded all of their dredging equipment into the San Jacinto River and are ready to start actual dredging Sunday or Monday.

I know this must be a sweet moment for Keith. He was one of the first in Kingwood to raise the alarm about sediment in the river. He authored one of the early Post-Harvey presentations on sedimentation issues called “Dig It.” And he testified before the Texas House of Representatives committee looking into the causes of flooding during Harvey.

Keith generously agreed to share his images with the Lake Houston community. I’m not sure what each of these shows, but together they show a lot of hustle and heavy equipment.

Tender boat pushing pontoon with mechanical debris removal equipment

One of two dredges being made ready.

One of two dredges making ready

Dredge pipe on West Fork, part of USACE Emergency Dredging Project. The Corps and its vendor, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, have welded hundreds of 40-foot sections into 1000 foot strings that will convey dredged material back to the placement sites.

Stay tuned. More news to follow. The first dredge will be moved into position Sunday, weather permitting, with actual dredging operations beginning on Monday. The starting point: West Lake Houston Parkway, near Chimichurri’s,

They will then move west, upstream, to River Grove Park, which is the westerly limit of dredging.

The Corps’ objective is to restore the West Fork’s carrying capacity to pre-Harvey conditions by opening up the channel. The project should last through next April.

They intend to remove 1.8 million cubic yards of sand and sediment, more than enough to fill up the Astrodome.

Posted by Bob Rehak (and Keith Jordan) on September 15, 2018

282 Days Since Hurricane Harvey







Dredging Almost Ready to Begin

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should begin dredging the West Fork of the San Jacinto River next week. The Corps expected to begin dredging this week, but a part failure for one of the dredges caused a slight delay. A replacement part is being remanufactured and shipped to the command site. The replacement part will help hold the dredge in place during operations and should arrive within days.

First dredge has been moved into river and is awaiting one final part.

With the exception of the replacement part, the first dredge is now virtually completed. It is 27 feet wide, 90 feet long and weighs 270 tons.

Second Dredge Also Now In the Water

A second dredge is also nearing completion. It is electrically powered and has also entered the river for final assembly. No pictures of it are available at this time. In the meantime, the rest of the operation is proceeding as scheduled.

4.5 Miles of Pipe

Workers have welded and weighted 4.5 miles – or almost 24,000 feet – of 24-inch dredge pipe made from 40-foot sections. The pipe will pump sand and sediment back to storage pits (placement sites) on both the north and south sides of the San Jacinto river. Each string of pipe is 1000 feet long. Booster pumps will connect the strings to keep sediment moving up-river and uphill.

Dredge pipe being moved into the West Fork of the San Jacinto in preparation for the start of dredging. Each of these strings is 1000 feet long. They weigh hundreds of thousands of pounds. These 24-inch-diameter pipes will eventually move more than 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment to two placement areas. 

A tender boat moves dredging pipeline into place along the banks of the San Jacinto river. Approximately 4.5 miles of 1,000 – foot  sections of High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) Pipe is being positioned for use next week when dredging should begin.

Even though the start date has been delayed, the date for completion has not.

Dredging Safety Warning

Jet skiers and recreational boaters have been sighted in the vicinity of the dredge command site. Dredging safety officers are asking West Fork San Jacinto recreational boaters to stay clear of submerged pipes and dredge platforms.

Stay away from this section of the river for your own safety. Even though you may be able to see operators, they may not be looking out for you as they struggle to move equipment weighing hundreds of tons. Operators are focused on their job, not you.

As the operational tempo of this project increases, so will the risk of accidents. So please keep your distance.

Posted September 8, 2018 by Bob Rehak

375 Days since Hurricane Harvey