Tag Archive for: vegetation

“…Care Will Be Taken to Protect All Vegetation…”

This is a story about implying you will do one thing and then doing the opposite. Like saying you will “take care to protect all vegetation” when you really intend to remove it all.

From the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan for the Laurel Springs RV Resort approved by the City of Houston.
Laurel Springs RV Resort as of 12/5/2021

Weasel Words as Getaway Vehicles

To pull off this feat of verbal legerdemain, some developers and engineers use “weasel words,” which are their “getaway vehicles.”

“Weasel words” are qualifiers that help to create a legal defense.

The developers of the Laurel Springs RV Park promised Houston Public Works that they would take care to protect natural vegetation, but attached two dependent clauses:

  • “Where practical…”
  • “…that does not need to be removed for construction purposes.”

Then they removed every tree, shrub and blade of grass on the site.

A Deceitful Charade

Developers all over Houston use this deceitful charade. And it’s time it stopped. If a developer has no intention of preserving any natural vegetation, the focus of stormwater pollution prevention plans should shift to other measures.

These developers DID promise to use silt fencing. And they actually installed some, but only on one side of the site.

So what’s to stop sediment carried by overland sheet flow from washing downhill into the beautiful cypress ponds that represent the signature feature of Harris County Precinct 4’s new Edgewater Park?

Laurel Springs RV Resort. “Look out below.”

Becoming Rule Rather than Exception

Developments like this have turned into the rule rather than the exception.

“The Preserve at Woodridge” in the Ben’s Branch Watershed.
Woodridge Village sheet flow contributed to flooding Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest twice in 2019. In the Taylor Gully Watershed.

This is death by a thousand clearcuts.

Not one of these developments would be fatal by itself. But taken together, we’re sowing the seeds of the next big flood. Trees consume rainwater and also slow runoff, reducing flood risk.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/6/21

1560 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.

Perry Homes Apparently Violating Montgomery County Development Regulations, Too

On September 26th, the City of Houston fired off a Cease-and-Desist Letter to Perry Homes regarding its Woodridge Village development just north of Elm Grove. The letter warned Perry and its subsidiaries to stop sending sediment into Houston storm drains. Now it appears the Perry gang is violating Montgomery County regulations, too. Let me call your attention to page 28 of the Montgomery County Subdivision Rules and Regulations. The sediment section reads (and I quote verbatim):

“IV. SEDIMENT CONTROL AND SEDIMENTATION PONDS. The subdivider shall provide effective sediment control measures in the planning and construction of subdivisions. Practical combinations of the following technical principles should be applied: 

  1. No more than ten acres of land in road right-of-way shall be exposed at any one time during development, without prior approval of the County Engineer. 
  2. When land is exposed during development, the exposure shall be kept to the shortest practical period of time. 
  3. Temporary vegetation and/or mulching shall be used to protect critical area exposed during development. 
  4. Sediment basins and traps shall be installed and maintained in properly designated places to remove sediment from runoff waters on land undergoing development. 
  5. Provisions shall be made to accommodate the increased runoff caused by changed soil and surface conditions during and after development. 
  6. The permanent final vegetation and structures shall be installed as soon as practical in the development. 
  7. The development plat shall be fitted to the topography and soils so as to create the least erosion potential.”

Let’s compare these principles with Perry’s practices.

Strike One

Shall provide effective sediment control measures in construction?

Photo taken shortly after May 7th flood on southern section of Woodridge Village.

Strike Two

No more than 10 acres of land shall be exposed at any one time?

How about 268 acres?

Strike Three

Land exposed for shortest practical period of time?

Drone footage of Woodridge Village southern section from May 9.
Shot of same area (from different angle) six months later.

Strike Four

Temporary vegetation?

Photo taken 11/4/2019, months after land was clearcut AND after two major floods.

Strike Five

Provisions to accommodate increased runoff?

Block after block of Elm Grove residents dragged their lives to the curb after being inundated by increased runoff from May 7th and Imelda.

Strike 6

Final structures installed as soon as practical? Let’s look at detention ponds…that aren’t there…despite months of ideal construction weather.

The N1 Detention pond should have been installed in the foreground months ago.
The N2 Detention Area (green triangle excavated by MoCo in 2006) was supposed to be expanded, but was not.
The N3 detention pond was to stretch from Taylor Gully in the bottom of the frame, almost to the tree line at the top. But nothing has been done.

Strike 7

Plat fitted to soils to create the least erosion possible?

Wetlands abounded on this property.
But Perry contractors filled in natural wetlands and streams.

Seven Strikes and You’re Out?

Not if you’re Perry Homes. Because when I first complained to the TCEQ about sediment flowing from the site in May, the TCEQ referred the investigation to Montgomery County. Then Montgomery County referred it to LJA Engineering. Perry Homes, of course, hired LJA to do the engineering on this site. So LJA was investigating itself and its client. Surprise, surprise, everyone called the problem fixed after installing some silt fencing in May. But it wasn’t fixed. Five months later, even more people flooded during Imelda than on May 7.

With the exception of some work on detention pond S2 last summer, Perry has not bothered to:

  • Expand detention capacity
  • Plant vegetation
  • Install sediment basins
  • Reduce runoff
  • Compensate for the wetlands and streams they filled in

Perry has done nothing in SEVEN months that reduced flood risk to Elm Grove. The work they did last summer didn’t prevent flooding in September. And they haven’t done anything since.

Yet Kathy Perry Britton, Perry Homes CEO, talks about the value of character, integrity and decisive action. The value of practicing good corporate responsibility. And Perry Homes’ commitment to excellence and distinguished reputation.

News flash, Ms. Britton. Going 0-7 doesn’t show a commitment to excellence. And suing flood victims certainly won’t establish a distinguished reputation. Although it may put you in the Hall of Shame with Montgomery County Commissioners who refuse to enforce their own regulations.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/12/2019, with thanks to Jeff Miller

805 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 54 since Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public policy and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Sand Mining Best Management Practices: Vegetation

Sand mining best practices throughout the country and the world urge operators to leave vegetation in place until they are ready to mine an area. The reason: to reduce erosion. However, approximately 60 acres of the sand mine below on the East Fork of the San Jacinto where it meets Caney Creek and White Oak Creek was cleared but not mined – just in time for two 500-year floods.

Approximately 65 acres of this mine were cleared before two five-hundred year floods, contributing to downstream sedimentation in the East Fork, even though only about three acres of the area was mined.

Removing Vegetation Risks Sedimentation Downstream

The cleared area lies totally in the 100-year flood plain and was inundated. Satellite images of the area downstream from the cleared land show a sudden buildup of sand. While the sand did not all come from the cleared area, one wonders how much sedimentation could have been prevented by following best practices.

The following sequence of images shows the rapid removal of vegetation.

The white outlined area will be totally cleared before Harvey. On April 8, 2014, it was all dense forest. 

By March 3, 2016, most of the area was cleared.

By January 23, 2017, just before Harvey, the area was entirely cleared.

Risk from Flooding

This FEMA flood hazard map shows that the entire area lies within with 100-year flood plain (aqua) and adjacent to the floodway (cross-hatched area).

Before and After: Results

This image from 2014 shows the area in question when it was still forested. Note how little sand is in the river downstream from the mine.

Here’s the same view after vegetationwas cleared and the area was inundated by Harvey in 2017. Note all the sediment in the river downstream.

Much of the sand and sediment washed downstream is invisible to satellite photos because it’s under dense forest canopy. This area (downstream the sand mine being discussed) was once wetlands. A boardwalk through those wetlands had to be excavated from several feet of sand after Harvey.

Here’s what part of the same trail looked like before it was excavated. Approximately 30 acres of the park were blanketed with dunes up to 10 feet tall after Harvey. Every trail in the park required repairs. Total cost: approximately $200,000 to Kingwood residents.

A bird’s nest that was ten feet up in a tree is now knee high. Many of the trees along the Eagle Point trail in East End Park are buried under so much sand that they are dying. 

An Ounce of Prevention

It’s impossible to tell how much of the sand above resulted from the removal of vegetation?  Previous posts showed how the mines stockpile also eroded. The river itself contributed sediment. However, if the mine were not in the flood plain and if the miners had not removed so much vegetation so far in advance of mining, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

So why do miners favor the floodplains and floodways? Why to they remove vegetation years before it will be mined? Is it all about the relentless pursuit of efficiency at the expense of safety?

Tomorrow, we will look at economics, taxation and how some well-intentioned laws passed in the late seventies to protect family farms helped fuel a boom in sand mining.

Posted September 24, 2018

391 Days since Hurricane Harvey