Tag Archive for: West Fork

West Fork Mouth Bar Dredging Set to Start As TWDB Considers Grant to Extend Program

On December 30, 2019, the City of Houston issued a Notice To Proceed (NTP) for debris removal services. Specifically, that means the large silt deposit at the confluence of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston. The area is commonly known as the “mouth bar.” See below.

Mouth Bar of the San Jacinto West Fork looking upstream. Picture from 12/3/2019.

Mechanical, Not Hydraulic Dredging

The City hired DRC Emergency Services, LLC (DRC) under an existing contract to begin mechanical dredging of the mouth bar “this week,” according to Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin.

Mechanical dredging differs from hydraulic dredging. With hydraulic dredging, contractors continuously pump sediment from the river to a placement area onshore via long pipelines. With mechanical dredging, they scoop it out of the river and dump it on barges. Then they ferry the barges to the placement area where trucks transport the sediment to its final location.

Hydraulic dredging takes less time once started, but the prep can take months. Mechanical dredging takes longer, but can start immediately.

The City will begin the hydraulic dredging with $6 million of FEMA money left over from Hurricane Harvey debris removal funds. The Texas Division of Emergency Management and Governor Greg Abbott allocated that money specifically for Lake Houston and approved the remaining funds for mouth-bar dredging.

Two-Phase Grant

Next week, another $30 million should become available to extend the program. SB500 earmarked that money for dredging of the San Jacinto East and West Fork Mouth Bars. The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) will consider Harris County’s grant application. Approval is expected.

The grant application proposes removing sediment in two distinct phases:

  1. Near and at the mouth bar on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River
  2. In the East Fork of the San Jacinto River AND other locations in Lake Houston.
Mouth Bar on East Fork San Jacinto grew 4,000 feet since Harvey.

Phase-One Funding and Objectives

To complete Phase 1, Harris County proposed taking $10 million of the $30 million to provide a total $16 million for DRC dredging operations.

Phase 1 should remove a minimum of 400,000 cubic yards (CY) of material in eight to twelve months. The Army Corps of Engineers previously removed 500,000 cubic yards from the West Fork Mouth Bar for $17 million in about three months.

During Phase 1, the County will begin some activities for Phase 2. They include:

  • Hydrographic surveys of the West and East Forks, and Lake Houston
  • Development of plans and specifications
  • Identification and permitting of additional disposal sites
  • Competitive bidding

Since the TWDB grant money can only be used for dredging, Harris County will pay for the activities above out of the 2018 HCFCD Bond Program. The fund allocated $10 million for dredging in Lake Houston.

Phase-2 Funding and Objectives

The remaining $20 million from the $30 million TWDB grant will go toward Phase 2 dredging.

During Phase 2, Harris County, City of Houston (COH), HCFCD, SJRA, and Coastal Water Authority (CWA) will develop and execute a plan for the COH or CWA to assume all long-term dredging operations on Lake Houston.

The County does not intend to assume long-term responsibility for maintenance dredging of a City property, i.e., Lake Houston.

TWDB Meets Next Week to Approve Grant

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) will meet on Thursday, January 16, 2020, to approve the $30 million grant. “We are in the final stages of agency approval to continue dredging the lake and river,” said State Representative Dan Huberty. His amendment to SB500 last year dedicated the money for dredging this area. “By approving this amount, the legislature as a whole made a clear and concise statement that Lake Houston and the San Jacinto River are vital resources for the entire region and must be maintained.”

SB500 was a supplemental appropriations bill. The grant itself will technically come from the new Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund, created last year by SB7. Senator Brandon Creighton authored SB7.

Harris County Engineer John Blount submitted the grant application to TWDB in late December after receiving approval from County Commissioner’s Court.

“Due to the urgency of this issue, multiple entities worked together to craft a plan that could be executed immediately, allowing the first phase to begin as soon as possible,” said Huberty.

Kudos Go To…

“I would like to thank everyone who has worked to create the final grant program under the supplemental funds we received from the Legislature,” said Huberty. “It would have not been possible without Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Dennis Bonnen, former Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, State Senator Brandon Creighton, Chief Nim Kidd, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello, Harris County Commissioner’s Court, Harris County Engineer John Blount, Harris County Flood Control District Executive Director Russell Poppe, Harris County Flood Control District Deputy Director Matt Zeve, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin and many more.”

To View TWDB Board Meeting Live

Tune in to the live TWDB Board Meeting next Thursday, January 16, 2020 at 9:30 AM by visiting: http://texasadmin.com/tx/twdb/.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/8/2019

863 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 111 since Imelda

Multiple Mouth Bars Forming Around Lake Houston; Check out Walden’s

Yesterday’s second post about the wettest AND driest decade in our lifetimes helped explain something I’ve been puzzling about. Multiple mouth bars are forming around Lake Houston. The loss of tens of thousands of trees during the drought exposed soil. One massive storm after another then washed that soil toward the lake. Voila! Mouth bars.

Diversion Ditch Blockage

We already cleared the massive side bar that blocked the mouth of Kingwood’s diversion ditch.

The ditch (center left) that empties the entire western part of Kingwood at River Grove Park on the west fork of the San Jacinto was virtually closed off by this sandbar that formed during Harvey. An estimated 500+ homes above this point flooded.

West Fork Blockage

The Army Corps removed about a fifth of the West Fork mouth bar.

Army Corps at work removing a small portion of the West Fork Mouth Bar. Photo courtesy of BCAeronautics.

East Fork Mouth Bar

But an East Fork Mouth Bar grew 4000 feet during Harvey and Imelda. It’s now almost blocking Luce Bayou, just as the Interbasin Transfer Project is nearing completion.

Water flows left to right.

Walden Blockage

And other drainage ditches are now plugging up, too, such as the one at Walden. This is symptomatic of many ditches that empty into Lake Houston.

Walden drainage ditch now blocked by its own growing mouth bar.

Here’s what it looks like from a drone from a lower altitude and angle. Video courtesy of Jack and Greg Toole.

Still shot from Jack and Greg Toole’s video. Used with permission.

Cause of Mouth Bars

This is not surprising for a man-made lake that’s 65 years old. Dams have a tendency to hold back sediment. Sediment drops out of suspension where the moving waters in a ditch or stream slow down as they meet the still waters of a lake.

These mouth bars increase flood risk for everyone who lives near them. They form sediment damns that restrict the conveyance of the channels behind them. That forces water up and out of the channel into people’s living rooms.

Clearing the Way for Political Solutions

So how do we get rid of these mouth bars?

State Representative Dan Huberty is organizing another dredging program that should start soon. Primary targets will be the West and perhaps East Fork Mouth mouth bars. These smaller bars represent, believe it or not, a larger problem though. They fall into a jurisdictional quagmire. Does the water body they are on belong to adjacent property owners, the City, the County, or the State?

That will determine where the money for dredging comes from. And more importantly, whether the money that is already available can be used to attack the problem when a dredge is in the lake.

The bar is in an unincorporated section of Harris County. But the City owns the shoreline, and usually the first few hundred feet of channels.

Who will take ownership of problems like Walden’s? These details still need to be worked out.

HB1824 May Help

Ironically, HB1824, which I criticized because I believe it opens the door to river sand mining, may help in cases like Walden’s. The bill allows Harris County Flood Control to take sediment from the San Jacinto and its tributaries without obtaining a permit or paying a fee as long as HCFCD deposits the sediment on private land. (Remember: Lake Houston IS the San Jacinto River.)

I suspect the Walden ditch will become precedent for how such minor tributaries are treated. Walden’s nearness to the West Fork mouth bar would argue for making it part of any dredging program there.

A new year, new challenges!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/1/2020 with photo and video from Jack and Greg Toole, and BCAeronautics.

855 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 104 since Imelda

San Jacinto West Fork Before-After Photos Show Dramatic Conveyance Improvements from Dredging

After a year of dredging, the Army Corps and its contractors are gone. Even though they didn’t get all of the West Fork Mouth Bar, they made dramatic conveyance improvements on the West Fork as these before/after photos show.

Sand Island Before Dredging

The first was a blockage that dredging contractors nicknamed “Sand Island.” It sat in the middle of the river just downstream from River Grove Park in Kingwood. According to the Corps, it blocked 90% of the river.

Sand Island formed during Hurricane Harvey. Boats that drew 18 inches of water could not navigate upstream past this giant sandbar. Photo taken 9/14/2019.

Sand Island After Dredging

Sand Island is now Gone Island. Photo taken 12/3/2019.

The Corps removed approximately 15 feet of sand over a 15 acre area that was 566.7 feet wide at its widest point. An acre is about the size of a football field. So this would be like stacking sand on a football field 225 feet high (15×15)! And that doesn’t even include the sand they removed from the channels on either side of the island in the background.

Sand Island Dredging Profile.

Diversion Ditch Bar Before Dredging

A second huge sand bar deposited by Harvey blocked the Kingwood Diversion Ditch, also at River Grove Park. The Diversion Ditch empties the western third of Kingwood. Approximately 600 homes flooded above this one blockage. They were in Barrington, Kingwood Cove, Trailwood, Kingwood Lakes and Kings Forest.

Diversion Ditch (center left) was virtually closed off by a new sandbar deposited by Harvey. Photo taken 9/14/2017.

Army Corps measurements show that at its highest point this bar measured 10 feet about the water surface. It forced water coming out of the ditch to make a 90 degree left turn where it then hit another downstream blockage.

Diversion Ditch Bar After Dredging

Photo taken 10/2/2019 after dredging opened up the channel and reduced the downstream bar.
Photo of same area taken on 11/4/2019, but looking upstream.

The Corps dredged a channel 150 feet wide through this bar to a depth of 35 feet above sea level. That’s about 7.5 feet below the normal water surface elevation of the Lake. The channel narrowed to 50 feet wide where it meets the mouth of the ditch.

From the highest point on the bar to the target depth, the Corps removed 17.5 vertical feet of sand. From the mouth of the channel to the outer edge of the bar measured 750 feet.

Comparison in Satellite Images from Google Earth

Here’s how this section of the river looked from a satellite BEFORE dredging. The numbers refer to the discussions above.

Here’s how it looked AFTER. (Note this image was taken on 2/23/19 and the dredge was still removing sand island.

Altogether, the Corps removed approximately 2.3 million cubic yards of sediment. Even if the Corps didn’t finish the mouth bar, that’s a lot to be grateful for. Thank you, FEMA, Army Corps, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock and Callan Marine.

Have a merry Christmas!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/24/2019

847 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Approves TWDB $30 Million Grant Application for Dredging at Confluence of San Jacinto and Lake Houston

In the last legislative session, State Representative Dan Huberty sponsored an amendment to Senate Bill 500. The amendment earmarked a $30 million grant for additional dredging at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston. Last week, Harris County approved the grant application to the Texas Water Development Board. That will actually transfer the money so that it can be put to work.

How $30 Million Grant Would Be Spent

County Engineer John Blount explains how the money would be spent in his cover letter that accompanied the request to Commissioners.

“The approach to completing work under the grant,” says Blount, “would be for the County to receive the grant funds, make the City of Houston a subrecipient to start immediate dredging, and to develop a long-term plan for keeping the region’s raw water supply viable with adequate reservoir capacity. The County would be reimbursed from the grant for administrative and other related expenses incurred.”

County Plays Central Role In Coordinating Effort

Blount concludes, “If authorized, the County will work with the Flood Control District, Budget Office, County Attorney, City of Houston, and the State of Texas, to advance all necessary applications and agreements needed to initiate the dredging activities funded in the 2019 legislative session. Grant awards, if made, will be presented to Commissioners Court for consideration at a future date.”

Commissioners Court approved the motion unanimously in its Tuesday, December 17th meeting. And by Friday, the actual grant application had been sent to the TWDB, according to Matt Zeve, Deputy Executive Director of Harris County Flood Control. The TWDB board should consider the request at its first board meeting in January, tentatively scheduled for the 10th. Huberty expects quick approval because the Legislature earmarked the money specifically for this purpose.

Water Supply, Not Just Flood Mitigation, An Issue

Dredging affects more than flood mitigation. It also affects water capacity for Lake Houston. The lake supplies drinking water for 2 million people. The Interbasin Transfer Project will soon bring 500,000 gallons per day from the Trinity River. But a growing East Fork mouth bar could soon block Luce Bayou. That’s where the water will enter the lake to be used by the Northeast Water Purification Plant.

As a result of sediment deposited during Harvey and Imelda, the East Fork Mouth Bar grew southward 4000 feet and now has almost reached the point where Luce Bayou and water from the Trinity River will enter Lake Houston. Photo taken 12/3/2019. Water flows from left to right.

West Fork Also Plays Role in Water Transfer

That’s also why the West Fork must remain clear. It brings water, when needed, from Lake Conroe.

Looking south across the mouth bar of the San Jacinto West Fork toward Lake Houston. Photo taken 12/3/2019.
Reverse angle. Looking northwest toward the San Jacinto River and the West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge. Note the submerged sand about to break through the water surface around the mouth bar. Photo taken 12/3/2019.
Kayaker RD Kissling standing in less-than-knee-deep water 700 yards south of the West Fork Mouth Bar. Photo taken November, 2019.

Like icebergs, sand bars mostly exist below the surface. What you see above water is a small percentage of what exists below water.

These photos illustrate why more dredging is essential. The mouth bars form dams behind the dam that block the free flow of water and decrease reservoir capacity.

Exploring Most Cost-Effective Options for Future

Between June when the Legislature approved the money and now, the City, County and State have explored ways to work together to ensure they spend the money cost-effectively. The county hired a consultant to explore the merits of do-it-yourself dredging vs. hiring a contractor. At the moment, the partners lean toward the contractor approach. It offers long-term flexibility as they explore future needs around the lake.

In addition to the $30 million from the State, the City of Houston allocated $6 million from money left over from Harvey disaster recovery funds. The County also allocated $10 million in its flood bond for dredging.

Initial Disposal Site Already Approved

The Army Corps approved Barry Madden’s property as a disposal site for the spoils. Madden’s property is opposite River Grove Park. That puts it miles closer to the Mouth Bar than previous placement areas used by the Corps. That should reduce costs by reducing the need for booster pumps and fuel.

The pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/23/2019

846 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 95 since Imelda

Don’t Dig Near Pipelines: A TACA Safety Moment

The Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association (TACA) brags that its members uphold the industry’s highest standards for safety. Or did they mean daring? Let’s have a safety moment.

Myth Meets Reality on the West Fork

To shine a light on the difference between the myth and reality, I’ve taken up a new hobby: sand-mine photography from a helicopter. On my December flight up the West Fork of the San Jacinto, I flew over this mine. Note the wetlands and utility corridor in the middle. Also note the trench leading through the trees on the right to that open gap in the tree line along the utility corridor.

I was curious about that gap. So I asked the pilot to go closer and got the photo below. How strange, I thought! The pipeline corridor has washed out, like at the Triple PG Mine. But this was a little different. The mine appeared to be draining the wetlands. Note the river of muck in the photo below.

Enlargement Shows Makeshift Supports

Someone had rigged “supports” under five pipelines. See the enlargement below. I put supports in quotes because they don’t seem to be working very well; note the sagging. Some look more like clotheslines than pipelines under pressure.

Pipelines Carry Highly Volatile Liquids

Investigation showed this is the SAME utility corridor bisecting the Triple PG mine miles to the southeast in Porter. These are the same five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids (HVL). This mine, however, lies on the West Fork of the San Jacinto in Conroe near 242.

The channel under the five pipelines is up to a 100 feet wide.

Historical Images in Google Earth Show How This Happened

An investigation of historical satellite images in Google Earth shows that erosion has been a problem in this area at least since 1995 – the date of the earliest available image. Water overflowing the wetlands tried to make its way to the river on the other side of the utility corridor. The problem was manageable, however, as long as the land was flat. That was until 2014.

In 2014, when the mine first started excavating next to the corridor, a process called headward erosion started. Water flows from top to bottom. Notice how much deeper and wider the erosion is below the corridor than above. See explanation below.

In 2014, two things happened. The mine started excavating right up to the edge of the pipelines (just as Triple PG did).

Next, three back-to-back-to-back monster storms in 2015, 2016 and 2017. They were “perfect storms” where the right combination of circumstances came together: Heavy rain. Exposed, loose soil. Steeper gradient.

How “Headward Erosion” Happens

The fact that miners had excavated up to the pipeline corridor with some very deep pits created a steep drop at the edge of the pipelines. That meant water crossing the corridor tended to accelerate and erode the sandy soil beneath the pipelines faster. The soil then sagged into the pit, much as you see in the pictures above. This process is well documented and has a name: headward erosion.

Here’s an illustration of how the process of headward erosion works

Here’s a 43-second YouTube video showing the process in action in a table-top flume experiment.

Makeshift Repairs Not Working All That Well

Trying to make the best of a bad situation, it appears that either the miners or the pipeliners tried to shore up their pipelines with supports. But it’s not working. They keep trying to plant grass. They keep using erosion control blankets. The supports keep sinking. And the pipelines keep sagging. Here’s an even bigger blowup.

It looks as if some of these supports are anchored in quicksand. Notice the extreme difference in their heights. The cross braces supporting the weight may be adjusted as the supports sink. But not on this day.

Another factor here: What if a tree washes down this chute during a torrential rain? It happens. Regularly.

I have a hard time imagining the stress on these pipelines. An engineer calculated a range of weights for me. He made some assumptions about the thickness of the pipes and the weight of liquids inside them. Then he calculated the weight of 100 feet. The range: 20,000 to 30,000 pounds. No wonder they’re sagging. That’s more than I weigh after a dinner at Carrabbas!

Probably No Imminent Danger, But Just in Case…

They’re probably not an imminent danger. But what happens in the next big storm? We’re overdue. It’s been more than two months!

Hundreds of thousands of gallons of flammable liquids. Under high-voltage electric lines. Pipes under stress. Erosion that widens with every storm. This should be a wake up call. But…

TACA has resisted all attempts at sensible regulation. They don’t even want to define and publish best practices. And it has long been known that you can’t legislate common sense. So I guess we are just stuck living on the edge with connoisseurs of edge work.

Where to File Complaints

If you would like to complain to someone, these people may be willing to listen.


Mine Safety and Health Administration (this puts miners at risk)

Texas Railroad Commission (responsible for pipelines in Texas)

US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

Location of exposed pipelines: 30º11’56.63″N, -95º21’57.78″W

Office on 18214 East River Road in Conroe, TX

Highly Volatile Liquid (HVL) Pipelines Involved:

  • Plains Pipeline – Red Oak Pipeline (20”) moving crude
  • Enterprise Products Operating – Chapparral System (12.75”) – HVL Liquid (probably crude)
  • Mustang Pipeline – GLPL System (6”)  – HVL Liquid
  • Enterprise Products Operating – Texas Express Pipeline System (20”) – HVL Liquid
  • Phillips 66 Pipeline LLC – 8″ Products Pipeline

That concludes our safety moment.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/9/2019 with help from Josh Alberson

832 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 80 since Imelda

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.

Liberty Materials Sand Mine Built in Floodway, Floodplains, But Flooding Not Likely Cause of Breach

A Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) investigation into the mysterious white water on the West Fork, focused on sand mining upstream. TCEQ cited Liberty Materials for allegedly discharging 56 million gallons of milky-white water into the West Fork.

The mine’s manager said he “didn’t have a clue” about when, why, or how one of the mine’s pits lost 4 feet of water. A water sample showed nearly 25 times the normal amount of dissolved solids.

West Fork on November 4, 2019. It angles from left to right. Spring Creek, by contrast comes from top to bottom.
Color of the water on November 4, 2019 on the West Fork San Jacinto, about a half mile upstream from US59.

The Liberty Materials mine, like virtually all of the mines on the West Fork, sits in the floodway and floodplain. It’s a mile and a half wide and almost three miles long. About a 1000 acres altogether.

San Jacinto West Fork is white ribbon cutting diagonally through image. Floodway = Cross-hatched area. 100-Year Flood Plain = aqua. 500-Year Flood Plain = Brown. Source: FEMA’s national flood hazard layer viewer.

That’s a lot of sand and sediment exposed to the ravages of floodwater.

But the irony in this case is that there was no flood immediately before the breaches.

The gage at State Highway 242 near the Liberty mine shows 2.4 inches of rain during a 3 day period starting six days before the white-water incident.

Rainfall at SH242 and San Jacinto West Form from October 27 through November 3, 2019. Source: HarrisCountyFWS.org.
Late October rainfall caused the West Fork to rise about 3 feet, but the river had another 18 feet to rise before flooding.

That amount of rainfall caused the river to rise about 3 feet. But it was still 18 feet away from flooding!

Alternative Breach Scenarios

So if flooding didn’t do it, how did the water get out of the mine? One possibility is that the terrain funneled rainwater into the pond and caused it to overflow. The overflow then started a fissure which widened into the Grand Canyon of the West Fork.

Several mining engineers suggested other alternative scenarios:

  • Industrial sabotage by a disgruntled employee
  • Liquefaction of the sand around the perimeter of pits as they filled with rainwater
  • A heavy truck driving over sand about to liquify
  • They needed to clean out the pond and intentionally lowered the level
  • Needed purer water to create acceptable frack sand
  • “The Boss Made Me Do It”, possibly related to one of the two points above

I’m not saying there was a deliberate breach, but we’ve seen it happen before.

“Dunno What Happened!”

The mine manager interviewed by the TCEQ claims he doesn’t know when, why, or how the breach happened. Yet it caused a four-foot drop in the level of a major pond for more than a week.

To paraphrase the famous quote from Hamlet, “Methinks, the man professes ignorance too much.” By that I mean, the denials cause him to lose credibility. If your swimming pool suddenly dropped four feet, wouldn’t you want to know the cause?

His responses hint that something else is going on here. We may never know what. Despite tens of millions of gallons of pollution being poured into the West Fork, these cases rarely go to trial.

All the more reason to establish greater setbacks from rivers for sand mines.

The state legislature needs to make it more difficult for “accidents” like these to happen.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/2/2019

825 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Fox 26 Finds San Jacinto West Fork Still Flowing White; Source of Pollution Still Not Identified

Last Monday I photographed white water in the West Fork. Alarmed by what I saw, I sent photos to the TCEQ and SJRA. Then I posted about it last night. Fox 26 saw the post and decided to do some of its own investigating.

San Jacinto River running white has the Hallett sand mine on the West Fork. Photo taken on 11/4/2019.

Fox News Investigates Further

Today, Fox called for an interview. The reporter, Ivory Hecker, also called the TCEQ, the San Jacinto River Authority and Houston Public Works Department. Everybody, it seems is now investigating. Chuck Gilman of the SJRA says he has never seen anything like it.

Meanwhile, the river is still running white. Not AS white, but nothing like its normal color. Fox sent its own helicopter up today and documented a definite discoloration.

Here’s a link to Ms. Hecker’s segment on Fox. I include it here not because it contains an interview with me, but because it contains the results of her own investigation and interviews with others. It also has helicopter footage taken this afternoon showing that the river is still running white, albeit a dirtier white.

So far this week, the TCEQ, SJRA, and City of Houston have all launched investigations. None has reported results yet.

What Causes Color in Water

China has a Yellow River. Wyoming and Utah have a Green River. Colorado has a Blue River. And of course, Texas and Oklahoma share a Red River. Here’s an article about what makes water different colors. They include runoff, chemical spills, reflected light, color temperature, suspended particles, dissolved minerals, you name it. But the article never once mentions WHITE.

In happier times – Pre-Harvey – I drove to the Arctic Circle and photographed spectacular scenery along the way. In Alberta, Canada, I photographed some of the most intensely blue water I have ever seen anywhere. Given the pristine alpine location, you might think the lake in the photo below was naturally blue.

It’s not. Water is a clear colorless liquid. Things IN it give it color. The intense blue in the water below comes from the way suspended “rock flour” from the glaciers refracts light. Still, I’ll take it over San Jacinto white water any day.

In the mountains above Canmore, Alberta.

Best Theory so Far

According to Fox, Houston Public Works suspects the color is caused by suspended sediment from a sand mine. Although both of the mines I flew by on Monday were discharging water from their pits directly into the river, we just need to wait and see what water tests show and whether the discharges I witnessed had been permitted by the TCEQ.

The water was also white upstream from the two mines I photographed – just not as white. So it’s possible those two mines were not even involved. We should not jump to conclusions.

Better Ways to Monitor

Several things are certain at this point, however. Flyovers once every two years by the TCEQ are insufficient to catch issues like this. LandSat flies over Houston 18 times a day. It’s hard for taxpayers to understand why the TCEQ doesn’t use the satellite imagery that the federal government is already collecting anyway. It could provide a higher level of protection at a lower cost. I posed the same question last November to the TCEQ and never received a satisfactory answer.

Second, I have been told that there are ways to monitor the Total Suspended Solid (TSS) concentration in water above and below sand mines. Such gages would make a great way to narrow down the source of pollution and stop it quickly. The SJRA could and should demand such monitoring as part of the price of mining sand near its river banks.

Parting Thought

It’s also hard for people who pay sky-high, City-of-Houston water bills to understand why we allow people to dump things in the drinking water of two million people that raise our treatment costs. It just doesn’t seem right regardless of your politics.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11.8.19

801 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post are my 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.

The Day That the San Jacinto West Fork Turned White

On Monday, November 4, I flew up the San Jacinto West Fork in a helicopter and was shocked by what I saw. The West Fork had turned milky white. Here are a series of shots starting at the confluence of the West Fork and Spring Creek and heading upstream. Spring Creek angles off to the top of the frame; the West Fork goes right.

Starting at the 59 Bridge…

Note the difference in color between Spring Creek and the West Fork, angling off the right side of the frame. Also note for contrast the normal looking browning water going into the West Fork from the woods at the bottom.
As we turned up the West Fork, I took this shot. Note the color of the pond at the top of the frame for comparison.
This is the first sand mine going upstream. Note the difference in the water heights between the pit (top) and the river bottom. Also note the pipe sending mine wastewater into the West Fork.

Moving North Past the First Mine

A little farther upstream, though, the water was still white.
I debated on adjectives: chalky or milky?

At the Hallett Mine North of Northpark Drive

The Hallett pond on the west side of the river was emptying into the West Fork. Hallett is north of Northpark Road off Sorters.
On the northern side of the Hallett Mine, we spotted this giant breach that had also been open in October. Notice the eroded shoreline opposite the breach. Water must have shot out of that pit with some force.
This was as far north as we went: the northernmost part of the Hallett Mine. Note the color of the pond on the right for contrast. The water looked less white than farther downstream, but still far from its normal brownish color that you see in the pond.

TCEQ Investigating White West Fork

I don’t think we ever found the source of the whitish discoloration although we found several mines contributing to it. When we got to the northern part of the Hallett Mine, time, fuel and air traffic restrictions dictated that we break off the exploration. So…

These photos were sent to the TCEQ and SJRA for investigation. This is the major source of Houston’s drinking water, folks!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/7/2019

800 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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.

New Union Pacific Railroad Bridge over San Jacinto Will Have Wider Spans

Many readers have asked what the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) is doing to its bridge over the San Jacinto near US59. According to the Houston Chronicle, UP is widening the spans to reduce the potential for catastrophic damage in the event of another storm like Harvey.

If you have children or grandchildren that love trains, cranes and building things, you’ll want to share this post with them. It’s a real life example of a massive (re)construction project in the middle of difficult circumstances and a testament to the kind of brainpower and brawn that built this country.

A New Bridge Rises from the Old

These photos taken on Monday of this week (11.4.2019) illustrate how a new Union Pacific bridge is rising in the same place as the old one. With wider spans, the bridge will now also require different construction.

Wider concrete supports and a steel bed will replace the old tubular supports. UP constructed a temporary bridge next to the new bridge to hold the construction cranes.
This wide shot taken on 11/4/2019 shows how much wider the new spans are compared to the old.

Problems with Old Union Pacific Bridge

Back in 2017, the supports of the old bridge caught many trees swept downstream by Harvey. As you can see in these photos, the old bridge had two or three times the number of supports. David Seitzinger, a Kingwood resident, identified the supports and the trees they caught as a contributor to flooding in this analysis of water levels, flows and timing during Hurricane Harvey.

Photo from September 14, 2017. Harvey knocked out the old bridge. It took weeks to repair and shut down northbound rail traffic.
During Harvey, those old supports caught debris floating downstream that partially dammed the river and destroyed the railroad. Photo from UP report on flood.

A Marvel of Engineering Ingenuity

Current photo shows how the narrow spacing of supports for the temporary bridge are still catching debris floating downstream.
When complete, the bridge will border Harris County Precinct 4’s new Edgewater Park (lower right).
The wider spans should help protect the commercial areas south of the river from flooding.

This presentation explains the importance of railroads to the region’s economy and damage that Harvey did to UP.

The progress of this construction is another encouraging sign of recovery from Harvey.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/6/2019 with thanks to the Union Pacific Railroad

799 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Crenshaw, Brady, Cruz and Cornyn Ask FEMA to Dredge More of West Fork Mouth Bar

On October 24, 2019, Congressman Dan Crenshaw, along with Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and Representative Kevin Brady (TX-08), sent a letter to Acting FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor. The letter requested FEMA’s swift approval of the City of Houston’s new plan to dredge more of the San Jacinto river mouth bar.

Letter in Response to New Request Filed by City

The letter came in response to the most recent request from the City for FEMA aid on or about October 11, 2019.

While FEMA has already completed its initial 500,000 cubic-yard debris-removal mission, sediment brought by Hurricane Harvey still exists in the San Jacinto river mouth-bar. To protect Houston, Kingwood, and Humble residents from future flooding, it is imperative that the remaining debris is removed, said Congressman Dan Crenshaw.

“The City of Houston recently filed a Project Worksheet (PW) for debris removal as Category A work under the Public Assistance program,” the group of legislators wrote. “We urge you to use any and all necessary FEMA resources to expeditiously review and approve the city’s PW. Delay will only increase costs and prevent FEMA from fully leveraging presently available dredging assets.”

To see the complete letter, click here.

Great Lakes Packing Up

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock has finished its Army Corps assignment at the mouth bar. I photographed workers continuing to dismantle the company’s dredge this afternoon.

Packing it in. Great Lakes Dismantles its dredge after a little more than a year on the West Fork. Photo taken 10/26/2019.
The command post opposite Marina Drive in Forest Cove was a behind of activity this afternoon.
Note the sections of dredge pipe stacked up in the background. It is no longer connected to the dredge.
Crew and survey boats, cranes and other heavy equipment still remain to support a future dredging effort…but not for long.

The last line of the letter (“leveraging presently available dredging assets”) refers to assets other than the dredge itself. Such assets include the command post opposite Forest Cove, a second launch point in Atascocita, pipe, cranes, and other assets that could soon be removed. See photos above.

TDEM to Forward Request to FEMA

As of yesterday, according to Houston City Council Member Dave Martin, TDEM still had not forwarded the request to FEMA. However, this reportedly falls within TDEM’s normal processing time for such requests. I wouldn’t read too much into it yet. But let’s hope they hustle up. Those crews at the command site were working late into Saturday night. I’m guessing that represents overtime.

You can clearly see from the pictures above how much equipment it takes to support a dredging operation. And remember, each 40-section of dredge pipe weighs 4,000 pounds and there are about 10 miles of it! This request should not be taken lightly.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/26/2019

788 Days since Hurricane Harvey