Tag Archive for: West Fork Mouth Bar

Three Years Later, Above-Water Portion of West Fork Mouth Bar Virtually Gone

Hurricane Harvey deposited a giant sand bar at the mouth of the San Jacinto West Fork that formed a dam behind the dam. More than 3000 feet long and 3000 feet wide, it backed water up into thousands of homes and businesses. Ever since then, removing it has become a major focus of flood mitigation efforts in the Lake Houston Area.

As of this morning, virtually all of the above water portion was gone. So were there two excavators working on it last month. The portions that remain are so narrow that they are starting to crumble into the lake. The remainder of the job will likely have to be performed from pontoons. See the pictures below, all taken on 11/5/2020.

Looking downstream toward FM1960 Bridge. At the start of the current phase of dredging, the little island on the left used to fill the entire foreground and stretch from one edge of the frame to the other.
As the mouth bar crumbles into the lake, workers needed railroad ties to stabilize the land long enough to get their excavator onto a pontoon.
Looking upstream toward the West Lake Houston Parkway bridge. The Mouth Bar used to fill the whole area in the foreground.
Contractors should finish in the next week or so at the rate they have been working. There’s perhaps 50-100 feet in length and 10 feet in width left.

What you see in the photo above is the last of an estimated 400,000 cubic yards that the City of Houston is removing.

With the above water portion of the bar removed, it will be more difficult to visualize the problem from now on. But sand bars are like ice bergs. The majority of them lurks beneath the surface. And an underwater plateau still remains. It stretches from the foreground in the photo above almost all the way to the bridge in the background.

The graph below shows what it looks like. The blue line represents the water level. The gold line represents the deepest part of the channel from where the Corps finished hydraulic dredging in September 2019 down to the FM1960 bridge.

Data compiled by RD Kissling and Tim Garfield use sonar and a 14 foot pole. The plateau stretches 3 miles. Removing the entire thing would be impossible, but a channel could be dredged through it that reconnects the river and lake.

Stephen Costello, the City’s flood czar, is working to formulate plans for the next phase of dredging and hopes to announce them this month. FEMA has said that it will pay for dredging an additional million cubic yards from the mouth bar area.

Current Spoils Going to Good Use – Expanding FM1960

Currently, the spoils are being moved upstream to Berry Madden’s property on the south side of the river, opposite River Grove Park in Kingwood. Madden has plenty of room for more. See below. He says that TxDoT will use spoils currently stored on his property to widen FM1960. That project should start in the next few days. He also says that TxDoT estimates they will use spoils at the rate that dredgers are currently bringing them to his property.

Mouth bar spoils on Berry Madden’s property between West Fork and FM1960

That should create even more room for storage on Madden’s property.

Next Dredging Targets

In addition to dredging a channel through the mouth bar, the City still needs to open up the mouths of several streams and drainage channels around Lake Houston. Rogers Gully, for instance, has formed it’s own mouth bar. See below.

Rogers Gully Mouth Bar
Rogers Gully Mouth Bar. Photo taken July, 2020.

The City also needs somehow to address the dramatic growth of an East Fork San Jacinto Mouth Bar that grew 4,000 feet during Imelda.

Looking north at East Fork Mouth Bar south of East End Park. The blue water tower in the background is on Kingwood Drive.

Kudos to Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin, State Representative Dan Huberty, State Senator Brandon Creighton, and U.S. Congressman Dan Crenshaw who have worked tirelessly to address these issues since Harvey.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/5/2020

1164 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Above-Water Portion of Mouth Bar Could Be Gone by Christmas

At the current rate that crews are removing sand from the West Fork San Jacinto Mouth Bar, the remainder of the above-water portion of this once-behemoth sand bar could be gone by Christmas. See the two pictures below. The first taken after Harvey and the second taken today.

These two shots show the West Fork mouth bar two weeks after Harvey and todaymore than three years later.

Much Yet to Dredge

Of course, even when the above water portion of the Mouth Bar is removed, that will still leave a huge portion below the surface. However, all progress is welcome.

Like an iceberg, most of a sand bar exists below the waterline. Photo taken 10/26/2020. I can’t say with certainty that this is submerged sand, or water stirred up by dredging. It seems too uniform to be the latter. Compare the picture below looking toward the WLHP bridge from a slightly different position and note how irregular the stirred-up sediment looks. Also note that the picture above was taken upstream from the current dredging.

At the start of October, the above-water (sub-aerial) extent of the mouth bar was down to the width of one excavator. Two excavators are now working toward the middle from each end. See below.

Looking WNW toward the West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge and Kings Harbor. Taken 10/26/2020.
From the wet mark on this excavator’s arm, it looks as though they are excavating up to 10 feet below the waterline. The 10-foot estimate closely agrees with the profile chart below. Taken 10/26/2020.

Like an Iceberg, Most of a Sand Bar Exists Below Water

That’s significant progress given what we started with. But much sand remains below the surface.

Tim Garfield and RD Kissling, two leading geologists now retired from one of the world’s largest oil companies, mapped the depth of the river using sonar and depth poles. They found an underwater plateau exists in this region of the river. See chart below.

The blue line represents the water surface. The gold line indicates the deepest part of the channel as you move downstream from the WLHP bridge to the FM1960 bridge. Numbers on the left scale indicate water depth. Numbers on the bottom scale indicate distance in feet downstream from the WLHP bridge.

Plans for Next Phase Still Not Revealed

FEMA has approved dredging another million cubic yards. And Dan Huberty’s amendment to SB500 in the last legislature dedicated $30 million for dredging the West Fork Mouth Bar. The City is drawing up plans, but they have not been announced yet. The last time I talked to Stephen Costello about this, he said the City was leaning toward dredging a channel somewhere south of the mouth bar. But many details remained to be worked out, such as:

  • Method of dredging (hydraulic vs. mechanical)
  • Exact location
  • Channel width
  • Finding qualified contractors
  • Bidding
  • Determining a suitable placement area, etc.

More news when its available.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/26/2020

1154 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.

West Fork Mouth Bar Now Down to Width of One Excavator For Most of Its Length

Aerial photos of the West Fork Mouth Bar show that the above-water portion on this once-massive sand bar is now down to the width of one excavator for most of its length. A mouth bar is a sand bar where the mouth of a river or stream meets a standing body of water, such as Lake Houston. As water slows when it reaches the standing water, sediment carried downstream drops out of suspension.

The Before Shot

The first photo below shows the West Fork Mouth Bar immediately after Harvey and before any remediation work took place.

Looking south toward Lake Houston and the FM1960 Bridge from Kingwood. Photo of West Fork Mouth Bar taken on 9/15/2017, about two weeks after Harvey.

At that point in time, the mouth bar extended five feet above water in places. It was 3/4 of a mile wide and a half mile from the northernmost part to the small island in the channel south of the bar. But the part you can’t see, below water, is even bigger.

This massive blockage backed water up throughout the Humble/Kingwood/Atascocita area, and contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses.


I took the shot below on Sunday night, 10/4/2020. While the camera position and lens perspective are slightly different, they are close enough to show the progress made in removing the blockage, or at least the portion above water.

Photo of West Fork Mouth Bar taken on 10/4/2020. The white dots appear to be ducks.

Close comparison of these two photos shows several smaller islands beyond the mouth bar that the Army Corps removed a year ago. At the completion of the Emergency West Fork Dredging Program (2018/19), FEMA agreed to dredge 500,000 cubic yards (CY) of sediment in a 600-acre area between the mouth bar and Atascocita Point in the upper right of the photos. After dredging the 500,000 CY, the Corps increased the average depth of that area to 5.5 feet. However, within weeks, Imelda filled much of that back in.

This year, the City of Houston started excavating the above-water portion of the mouth bar. The bar is now down to width of the excavators used for mechanical dredging. To fund this effort, the City used money left over from Hurricane Harvey cleanup.

This low-level shot facing west shows just how narrow the mouth bar now is.

Biggest Part Remains Below Water

But like icebergs, most of the sediment in sand bars lies below the surface. So even when there’s nothing left for me to photograph from the air, most of the blockage will remain. Two local geologists recently measured several cross sections of the river. The river’s profile looks like this.

Compiled by RD Kissling and Tim Garfield using sonic depth finders and measurement poles.

River depth upstream near Kings Harbor and downstream near the 1960 Bridge is more than 22 feet. Between those two points (which lie about three miles apart), the deepest part of the channel is only about 6-7 feet. Not far from the main channel, however, the river gets much shallower. It’s one to three feet in most places.

In other words, at this point in the West Fork, we still have an underwater plateau – extending three miles – that continues to restrict the conveyance of the river.

The continued presence of this plateau will slow water down and trap more sediment, undermining the effectiveness of earlier efforts.

RD Kissling’s knee. Kissling, a kayaker is standing in 1-2 feet of water about three hundred yards south of the mouth bar. The homes in the background are in Atascocita Point across the river. Photo is looking west.

More Dredging Slated

Restoring the conveyance of the river after decades of deferred maintenance will require much more dredging after the above-water mouth bar is gone.

Luckily, FEMA has agreed to dredge another million cubic yards, according to Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin. State Representative Dan Huberty also secured an additional $30 million in funding in the last legislature to continue the effort.

Stephen Costello, the City’s Flood Czar, is currently working on developing a next-phase plan, but has not yet announced it.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/5/2020

1133 Days since Hurricane Harvey

FEMA to Fund Additional Million Cubic Yards of Dredging from West Fork Mouth Bar Area

Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin announced today that FEMA will fund the dredging of an additional million cubic yards of sediment from the area around the San Jacinto West Fork Mouth Bar. The giant sand bar partially blocked the mouth of the West Fork during Harvey and backed water up. It contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses in Kingwood, Humble and Atascocita.

Only a skeleton of the above-water portion of the mouth bar remains. But water remains shallow on both sides of it. Note all the trees and little islands poking up between the bar and camera position. Photo taken 8/20/2020.

Ending a Three-Year Debate

The City and FEMA debated for almost three years about how much sediment Harvey deposited in the area between Kings Point and Atascocita Point. The disaster declaration following Harvey only allowed FEMA to fund dredging of sediment deposited by that storm, not to pay for any deposits there previously.

Back before Great Lakes removed its hydraulic dredge, the City commissioned TetraTech to determine the quantity. In April 2019, the City submitted TetraTech’s ninety-four-page report. Based on core sampling, TetraTech estimated that Harvey deposited approximately 1,012,000 cubic yards of sand/sediment. 

However, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) disputed the TetraTech’s conclusion. USACE pulled the Great Lakes dredge from the river on September 3, 2019, after dredging only 500,000 cubic yards from that area.

Now, FEMA has reversed course. It concurs with the City’s findings, thanks in part to Martin’s persistence. Martin is “elated” with FEMA’s ruling.

Before Dredging Can Begin…

Removal of this debris is pending:

  • Project identification in the Federal/State grant portal
  • Preparation of construction documents
  • Identification of disposal site(s)
  • Selection of the method of dredging
  • Cost estimates and construction bidding.

The City will finalize the timeline as it develops the documents above.

How Various Dredging Projects Add Up

FEMA’s initial Emergency West Fork dredging contract in 2018 resulted in the removal of 1,849,000 cubic yards of sand/sediment between US59 and the Mouth Bar. Subsequently, FEMA authorized removal of an additional 500,000 cubic yards near the Mouth Bar itself. That brought the total up to 2,349,000 cubic yards.

Subsequently, Martin, Senator Brandon Creighton and Representative Dan Huberty gained support from Governor Greg Abbott to provide a $50 Million grant for additional debris removal. Approximately $7 Million went to dredging the mouth bar land mass, a project which is still underway.

Huberty’s amendment to Senate Bill (SB) 500 set aside another $30 Million for Harris County for dredging at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston. The City is currently a sub-recipient of approximately $10 Million of those funds. Dredging will continue until the City exhausts the funds. According to Martin, the money should cover approximately 242,000 more cubic yards.

Then the FEMA money for the additional million cubic yards will kick in.

Said State Representative Dan Huberty, “After two years of showing FEMA the data, I am thrilled that we are allowed to continue this project due to the hard work of Mayor Pro Tem Martin and Mayor Turner. The funds we secured from the State during the last budget cycle to continue where FEMA left off are nearly depleted. This new funding source will let us complete this necessary and critical project. It is great news for our community. It also recognizes how important the Lake Houston Watershed is to our region.”

Other Lake Houston Dredging Projects

Approximately $10 Million of local funds are earmarked for the dredging activity within Lake Houston south of FM 1960. The City plans to coordinate with Harris County Flood Control District to utilize a portion of the $10 Million to remove the mouth bar obstruction at Roger’s Gully.

Rogers Gully Mouth Bar
Rogers Gully Mouth Bar

However, it won’t happen anytime soon. Based on the bond priorities pushed through Harris County by Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis, County funds will not be available until July 2021 at the earliest. And maybe not until March 2022.


Mayor Pro Tem Martin, Congressman Dan Crenshaw, State Representative Dan Huberty, State Senator Brandon Creighton, Texas Division Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd,  Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello have all worked together to make these projects happen.

Another view of the slowly disappearing San Jacinto West Fork mouth bar.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/21/2020

1088 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Long-Term Lake Houston Dredging Plan in Development; West Fork Mouth-Bar 60 Percent Completed

In January, the City hired DRC Emergency Services, LLC (DRC) to begin mechanical dredging of the San Jacinto West Fork Mouth Bar. I’ve provided periodic updates on that. According to Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin, DRC has now officially completed 60% of that project.

In the meantime, other related dredging projects, including East Fork dredging and long-term Lake Houston maintenance dredging are reportedly taking shape. Here’s how pieces of the puzzle fit together. But one piece is still missing – long-term funding to pay for the maintenance dredging.

Two-Phase Program

DRC’s scope of work has two distinct phases:

  1. Phase One will remove accumulated materials near and at the mouth bar on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River.
  2. Phase Two will remove accumulated materials in the East Fork of the San Jacinto River AND other locations in Lake Houston.
West Fork Mouth Bar as of late June 2020.

During Phase One, 400,000 cubic yards of material will be removed over twelve months. To date, DRC has removed approximately 240,080 cubic yards of material. (See photo above.) That’s 60% in approximately 60% of the allotted time, so that part of the project is on schedule.

East Fork Mouth Bar as of May 2020. This areas went from 18 to 3 feet deep during Imelda, according to boater Josh Alberson. The above-water portion of this sand bar has grown three quarters of a mile since Harvey.

Phase Two of the project will consist of:

  • Hydrographic surveys of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, the East Fork of the San Jacinto River, and Lake Houston to determine dredge material volumes
  • City of Houston advertising and awarding a dredging contract to the lowest responsive bidder

Phase Two will run simultaneously with Phase One to expedite dredging. 

Dave Martin, Houston Mayor Pro Tem

Mayor Pro Tem Martin did not provide an update on where Phase Two currently stands. But residents have reported seeing survey boats on Lake Houston, and the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto.

Mouth bar forming at Rogers Gully on Lake Houston. Example of kind of projects being considered for Phase 2. Photo late June, 2020.

Long-Term Dredging Plan in Development

Additionally, during Phase Two, City of Houston and its partners will develop a long-term dredging plan for Lake Houston. City of Houston or the Coastal Water Authority will execute the plan.

The intention: to fund dredging operations in perpetuity.

This phased approach will obligate the full grant funding before the 87th legislative session in 2021. This grant funding was made possible thanks to State Representative Dan Huberty (District 127) through the passage of Senate Bill 500.

Mayor Pro Tem Martin credits Huberty for his dedication to the long-term maintenance dredging activities on Lake Houston. “Representative Huberty has been a champion for his residents and a great ally in seeing these additional dredging efforts come to fruition,” said Martin.

$40 Million Project

The total project is valued at $40 million (except for the perpetuity part). Funding for the immediate dredging projects comes through a combination of:

  • City of Houston Harvey Disaster dollars provided by Governor Greg Abbott
  • Grant dollars from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB)
  • Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) Bond Program.

Harris County Engineer, John Blount submitted the grant application for this project to the TWDB. But the City of Houston became a “subrecipient” and is now managing the project.

Long Term Funding – Still A Missing Piece of Puzzle

Lake Houston, a City of Houston asset, is losing capacity. Everyone has recognized that fact for decades. But as silt filled the rivers, inlets and lake, maintenance was deferred, reportedly for budgetary reasons. In 2017, during Harvey, the problem became so big that no one could ignore it anymore. Flooding was the immediate problem. But loss of water capacity is an even bigger, longer-term problem.

It’s one thing to have a long-term maintenance dredging plan and another to put it into action. But where will the money come from?

A tax on sand mines? Won’t work. Most aren’t in the City. Or even in Harris County.

Some have suggested creating a taxing district for lakefront homeowners. That won’t work either. Not enough of them. And it would create a stampede for the Oklahoma border. Moreover, it hardly seems fair; the lake is part of a City system that provides water to two million people and generates revenue.

The logical solution seems to be increasing the cost of water. Adding just a fraction of a penny per 1000 gallons should do it. Dredging isn’t just about reducing flooding. Or preserving views for lakefront homeowners. It helps preserve the lake’s capacity. And that benefits everyone.

As we develop a long-term dredging plan for the lake, we also need to consider a sustainable source of financing.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/12/2020 based, in part, on a release by Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin

1079 Days after Hurricane Harvey

West Fork Mouth Bar: Going, Going…

It’s not quite gone yet. But the West Fork Mouth Bar, which forms a dam behind the dam, is getting smaller every day. Every time I fly over it, I can see how mechanical dredging has shaved more off of it . Excavators take one row after another. At this point, it appears that about half of the above-water portion of the bar has been removed.

Mouth Bar Photos from Flyover on 4/21/2020

I took this series of photos taken on 4/21/2020.

Looking northwest, towards Foster’s Mill across the slowing diminishing West Fork Mouth Bar.
Excavators load up a waiting barge.
Looking west, upstream, you can see how the excavators remove one row of sand after another.
After excavators load up pontoons, tugs shuttle them upstream to Berry Madden’s property.
Once at Berry Madden’s property (opposite River Grove Park), more workers offload the sediment and carry it out of the floodway.

Goal of Project Still Not Made Public

When contractors remove the last of the island sticking up above water, it’s not clear what the plan will be for the rest of the sand bar below water. Like icebergs, that’s where most of the mass is.

Conveyance improved somewhat last year when the Corps removed 500,000 cubic yards of sediment from the broad area between the mouth bar and Atascocita Point. This project should improve conveyance even more.

But the Corps did not dredge a channel that connected the upstream portion of the West Fork with Lake Houston. And it appears that this effort will not re-establish a channel either.

The end result will be a plateau or mesa 3-5 feet below the surface. The channel immediately upstream where the Corps finished dredging is approximately 25 feet deep. That means water coming downstream in a flood will still hit a wall.

Top Geologist’s Perspective

Tim Garfield was the top geologist for one of the world’s largest oil companies. He lives behind the mouth bar and had this to say about it.

“Although it likely represents some progress, shaving off the subaerial (above water) portion of the mouth bar seems more cosmetic than useful for flood mitigation. The reason: the Corp’s dredging two years ago trenched a channel roughly 400-500’ wide and 20-25’ deep that extends downstream of West Lake Houston bridge. It ends a few hundred  yards upstream of the Mouth Bar. This greatly increases flow conveyance in the channel. But that ends abruptly at a sand pile where water depths are less than 5’ deep,” said Garfield.

“That’s a 15’ – 20’ high, underwater sediment dam during floods,” he continued. “That will result in a significant hydraulic backwater effect causing overbank flow and upstream flooding. These points are illustrated in diagram below.”

Top and side views of West Fork show how the current will still run into an underwater dam even if the part above water is removed. Graph by Tim Garfield and RD Kissling.

Conclusion: Hydraulic Model Needed

Garfield concluded, “We really need an extension of the Corps’ dredged channel profile through the 1960 bridge opening to where Lake Houston water depth equals the channel depth of 22’-25’.  That work requires an up to date bathymetric map of the area and a hydraulic model to confirm optimal channel configuration and location.”

“That plan should be made public so that we can verify that the vast sums of public funds being spent are effectively reducing the flood risk we are still exposed to,” said Garfield.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/27/2020 with thanks to Tim Garfield and RD Kissling

972 Days after Hurricane Harvey