Tag Archive for: West Fork

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

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

First of Two Dredges Nearing Completion

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

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

Worker installing safety rails.

Same dredge showing where the dredge pipe will hook in.

Massive fittings weigh thousands of pounds

More dredge pipe arrives as the first dredge nears completion.

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

Miles of Dredge Pipe Being Welded and Weighted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safety Warning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on August 20, 2018 by Bob Rehak

356 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Mobilization in Full Swing For Army Corps Dredging Project

The countdown has begun to D-Day – Dredging Day. D-Day is still a month away, but things are changing on the ground. Finally. Mobilization has begun for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Emergency Dredging Project on the West Fork of the San Jacinto.

During the last week, the winning bidder has been out surveying the lake, planning the job, and ordering equipment and materials. Now the hard work has started.

Roads are being built to the staging area. Equipment is being installed. Pipeline is being laid. For all those who doubted this day would ever come, here are the pictures that prove it’s happening.

Building a road to the launch site. All photos courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineers

Grading the road.

Dock area shaping up.

Containers and heavy equipment arriving.

Generators in tow.

Heavy equipment and dredge pipe.

What to Expect When

Right now, crews are setting up the staging area. This week, pipeline arrives and crews will begin installing it. By August 18, two dredges will arrive in pieces by truck. Crews will then begin assembling and launching them.

On August 20, general debris removal will begin. By September 1, the dredges should be sucking sand out of the river and pumping it into placement sites. That process will continue until next April.

Phase Two?

At that point, unless funding has been approved to extend the dredging to include the mouth bar, the contractor, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock will begin removing its equipment from the river and cleaning up after themselves.

The cost of mobilization and demobilization – $17,900,000 out of approximately $69,800,000 – represents almost exactly 25% of the contract. The time also represents about 25% of the total time allotted.

For Your Own Safety…

For safety reasons, the Army Corps respectfully requests the public to stay away from the staging area. The amount of heavy equipment in use and the fast pace of work make this important. The Corps is not publishing details of the staging area’s location, though that will soon become apparent due to the increase in traffic. Just remember, these people have a large job to do and little time to do it. Please respect the demands on their time and respect the perimeter of the job site for your own safety. In the next eight months, they will move enough sand to fill up the Astrodome and then some.

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 31, 2018

336 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Clock Starts Ticking on Army Corps Dredging Project

Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced yesterday afternoon that representatives from Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, LLC of Oak Brook, IL, met with Corps’ contracting and project managers for a pre-construction conference. The meeting finalized project requirements for the $69,814,060 dredging and debris removal emergency operation and the clock has started ticking on the project.

The easterly limit of the U.S. Army Corps’ emergency dredging project on the West Fork of the San Jacinto.

The FEMA-funded project covers about two miles of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River near the West Lake Houston Parkway and Lake Houston. FEMA guidelines limit the operation to restoring pre-Harvey conditions.

Beginning of First Phase

“This is the beginning of the first phase of a very challenging project,” said Al Meyer, a USACE Galveston District administrative contracting officer.  “This project involves dredging and debris removal of 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment that has contributed to recent flooding in that area.”

The Focus for Next Week

He said the community should start to see activity within the next two-weeks. According to Corps Colonel Mark Williford, next week  teams will be engaged in:

  • Pre-dredge hazard surveys
  • Before-cut surveys
  • Disposal-area surveys
  • Staging-area set up

Meyer, a professional engineer with more than 35 years’ experience with the Corps, says the conference allowed project team members to interact with Great Lakes representatives to ensure a complete understanding of contract requirements.

“The clock starts today; our contractors have 270 days to complete the project that will work to reduce, but not eliminate flooding, and return the area to pre-Harvey conditions.” said Meyers.

Less than 4 Months from Survey to Dredging

This will be one of the first projects initiated as a direct consequence of Hurricane Harvey.

Corps surveying began in April to determine sediment levels within the West Fork of the San Jacinto River after FEMA responded to a State of Texas request under the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Act of 1988. Since then, the Corps has developed models based on their survey findings, evaluated several different dredging plans, finalized specifications, bid the project, vetted the bids, awarded the job and started mobilizing for it.

The USACE Galveston District was established in 1880 as the first engineer district in Texas to oversee river and harbor improvements. The district is directly responsible for maintaining more than 1,000 miles of channel, including 250 miles of deep draft and 750 miles of shallow draft as well as the Colorado River Locks and Brazos River Floodgates.

Posted 7/19/2018 by Bob Rehak

324 Days since Hurricane Harvey

TCEQ Approves SJRA and City Plan to Temporarily Lower Lake Conroe

This morning, I received a press release announcing that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had approved the joint decision by the City of Houston and the San Jacinto River Authority to temporarily lower the level of Lake Conroe during the peak of hurricane season. The lake will be lowered by two feet from 201 mean feet about sea level (msl) to 199 msl between mid-August and the end of September. This will provide buffer against flooding while the Army Corps of Engineers removes excess sediment from the West Fork deposited by Hurricane Harvey that is exacerbating flooding. Because this has legal implications and the Lake Conroe Association fought the lowering, I’m reprinting the entire text of the press release below…with special thanks to Houston City Council Member Dave Martin, Mayor Sylvester Turner,  and SJRA Board Members Kaaren Cambio and Mark Micheletti who lobbied long and hard for this. Also to all the Lake Houston and Lake Conroe residents who made the trek to testify about this issue to the SJRA board.

Text of Press Release


Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will use “enforcement discretion” if flood mitigation releases for Lake Houston and Lake Conroe exceed annual water rights

HOUSTON, TEXAS – Hurricane Harvey deposited tremendous amounts of silt in the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. The silt physically changed the river’s ability to safely pass flows during storms and created the need for a significant dredging project to restore the river’s capacity. As a temporary flood mitigation solution, the City of Houston and the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) proposed a temporary, joint reservoir operations strategy for Lake Houston and Lake Conroe. The temporary flood mitigation would be in place for up to two years or until the dredging project is completed.

The proposed strategy involves the pre-release of water from Lake Houston immediately prior to certain storms and the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe’s water level during the Spring and Fall.  

A significant hurdle to final consideration of the proposed temporary strategy was a decision by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on how releases of water from the two reservoirs would be “accounted for” by the state. TCEQ issues permits that limit how much water can be diverted each year from water supply reservoirs like Lake Houston and Lake Conroe.

The proposal from Houston and SJRA highlights the difficulty of balancing the state’s long-term need for reliable water supplies with the short-term goal of protecting public health and safety while emergency measures are implemented to reduce flood risks.

In a letter to the City of Houston and SJRA on Friday, June 15, 2018, the TCEQ expressed its intent to use enforcement discretion to allow the two agencies to move forward with finalizing their temporary flood mitigation strategy.

The letter states that “if flood mitigation releases . . . result in an exceedance of the annual permitted amounts for diversion or release by SJRA of the City of Houston, the TCEQ Executive Director will exercise enforcement discretion with respect to such exceedance.” The TCEQ’s decision acknowledges the importance of accounting for all diversions from the state’s water supply reservoirs, but it also recognizes the emergency nature of the flood mitigation work being conducted in the San Jacinto River.

The City of Houston and SJRA express their sincere appreciation to the leadership and staff at the TCEQ for their thoughtful consideration of the unique flood challenges that our region is facing. We look forward to finalizing the details of our proposed joint reservoir operations strategy. Additional details on the project including a timeline will be provided as they become available.


Houston Public Works (www.HoustonPublicWorks.org) is responsible for streets and drainage, production and distribution of water, collection and treatment of wastewater, and permitting and regulation of public and private construction covering a 627-square mile service area. Houston Public Works is accredited by the American Public Works Association. Facebook & Twitter:@HoustonPWE


Created by the Texas Legislature in 1937, the San Jacinto River Authority is a government agency whose mission is to develop, conserve, and protect the water resources of the San Jacinto River basin.  Covering all or part of seven counties, the organization’s jurisdiction includes the entire San Jacinto River watershed, excluding Harris County.  SJRA is one of two dozen river authorities in Texas, and like other river authorities, its primary purpose is to implement long-term, regional projects related to water management and development. For more information, visit www.sjra.net.

Mark Your Calendar: Meet U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Monday Night

On Monday, June 11, two representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will meet Kingwood residents to discuss dredging of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. The meeting, sponsored by the Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative, will start at 6:30 PM at the Kingwood Community Center. The emergency dredging will be one of the first flood mitigation projects related to Hurricane Harvey to be implemented in the entire Houston area.

Some Details Known, Many Yet to be Revealed

The Corps finished survey work for the West Fork Dredging Project in April. Since then, Corps members have been busy evaluating their findings, determining project specifications, soliciting bids, and planning logistics. Initial estimates indicated they would move enough sand to fill the Astrodome two and a half times.

The Corps currently expects to open bids within a week of the Kingwood meeting and quickly make a selection. Bidders have been notified that they must start the project within five days. They must also staff the project so that they can finish within six months.

Bid documents indicate dredging will extend from River Grove Park to slightly past the West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge. Residents have raised questions about additional dredging in other areas, including near Lake Houston and on the East Fork.

The Corps has identified two disposal sites for the sand. Both are existing sand pits. The first is south of the river and east of US59; the second is north of the river and west of US59. Details pertaining to mobilization, removal methods, and the extent of dredging have not yet been revealed. At the time of bidding, two removal alternatives were under consideration: mechanical and hydraulic dredging.

Meet Two Corps Representatives

Featured speakers include two representatives from the Corps who will present details of the project and field questions from residents. They are Eduardo Irigoyen, the Project Manager, and Michael Garske, a hydraulic engineer and certified floodplain manager. Both are with the Corps of Engineers’ Galveston District office.

Eduardo Irigoyen, Project Manager

Eduardo Irigoyen, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager

Eduardo (Eddie) Irigoyen currently serves as the Emergency Dredging Project Program Manager for the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, which is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Irigoyen has served as a Project Manager within the Corps since May 2015. He has extensive experience within USACE ranging from programs to construction management, operations and maintenance.

His current duties include managing the planning, scope, development, design, construction, and direction of several projects along the Texas Gulf coast.

Irigoyen is a native of Brownsville, Texas. He received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas at Brownsville in 2004.

Michael Garske, Hydraulic Engineer

Michael Garske, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hydrologist

Michael Garske has served as a Hydraulic Engineer and Certified Floodplain Manager for USACE since September 2014.

As one of the District’s lead hydraulic modeling engineers, he’s produced inundation mapping for White Oak, Brays, and Buffalo Bayou projects, helping local officials make accurate flood mitigation decisions.

He provided critical emergency modeling data during the Tax Day, Memorial Day and Harvey floods. He has also helped design dredging templates, ecosystem mitigation banks, and water storage systems; and demonstrated their effects on flood levels.

Garske grew up in Clear Lake. In 2014, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Maritime Systems Engineering and an Associate of Arts degree in Maritime Administration from Texas A&M University-Galveston.

Boating Safety Measures During Project

Boaters need to be aware of dredging activities. Ultimately, the project will restore navigation on the river to pre-Harvey conditions and allow the boat launch at River Grove Park to reopen. However, until completion of the project, boaters need to avoid work sites and dredging lines for their own safety.

Agenda Including Other Speakers

The meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. at the Kingwood Community Center 4102 Rustic Woods and last until 8. It will include:

  • Mark Micheletti, one of the two new SJRA board members from Kingwood, giving updates about SJRA flood mitigation projects.
  • Bill Fowler, co-chair of the Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative and a real-estate tax expert, will talk about revised valuations from the Harris County Appraisal District.
  • Bob Rehak, host of ReduceFlooding.com, (or a representative from Harris County Flood Control) will give a brief overview of the upcoming Harris County flood bond.
  • Irigoyen and Garske will make brief presentations and take questions from the audience. Please attend and show the Corps your appreciation for their hard work and long hours on this project.
  • A representative from FEMA will also be there to answer questions about how communities can extend projects like dredging over the long term.

The meeting is free and open to the public, so please plan to attend.

Do Not Confuse This with Flood Bond Meeting

Please note: there has been some confusion between this meeting and the Harris County Flood Bond meeting because of their dates. The County Flood bond meeting, originally scheduled for June 14, is being rescheduled for July so that County Judge Ed Emmett can attend. A new day for that meeting has not yet been determined. The meeting with the Army Corps will happen as planned on Monday evening, June 11.

Posted June 8, 2018 by Bob Rehak

Thanks to Dianne Lansden and Jacque Havelka for Planning this Meeting

283 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Where did all the sand come from?

Our San Jacinto River is clogged with sand that impedes the flow of water and contributes to flooding. Where did all the sand come from? When? Under what conditions? Are there ways to reduce the volume of sand coming downstream? As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares to dredge the San Jacinto for the first time, we should ask ourselves these questions.

The river has eight tributaries that affect the Lake Houston Area: Spring Creek, Cypress Creek, Lake Creek and the West Fork on the west; and Peach Creek, Caney Creek, Luce Bayou and the East Fork on the east. All produce sand naturally.

They send sand downstream at different rates at different times, depending on the location of rainfall within the watershed, the volume of flow, the speed of flow, and management of the flood gates at Lake Conroe.

San Jacinto River Watershed Map. Tributaries affecting the Humble/Kingwood area include: Cypress Creek, Spring Creek, Lake Creek, West Fork, Peach Creek, Caney Creek, East Fork, and Luce Bayou.

Other factors include the percentage of sand content in soil and the health of vegetation along stream banks. Vegetation retains and slows runoff, reducing erosion.


The Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA produced this soil map of Montgomery County. Blue colors indicate highest percentage of sand; red colors indicate the lowest. Note huge concentrations of sand on Spring Creek and West Fork.

The map above helps us understand why so many sand miners chose to locate along the West Fork – lots of sand. The West Fork is also sparsely populated compared to Spring Creek as you can see in the satellite image below. It shows the sand mines around the Humble/Kingwood area highlighted in red. One is located on Caney Creek (right); the rest are on the West Fork (left).

Satellite image from Google Earth with sand mines around Kingwood outlined in red. Image dated 10/28/2017.

While sand has been coming down the river and streams for thousands of years, rapid sedimentation in the West Fork between Humble and Kingwood didn’t become an issue until the growth of sand mining on the West Fork in the late 1980s.

Notice how most of the areas in red above are filled with natural vegetation in the 1985 image below.

Satellite photo of Kingwood area in 1985 before rapid growth of sand mining. Compare areas in red to previous image.

Today, mines expose approximately 20 square miles of loose sand on the West Fork alone between I-45 and US59.

Aerial photo taken on 9/14/18 of sand mining operation on West Fork.

Dikes around the mines are supposed to keep sand from being discharged into the river. However, Harvey inundated the mines.

Harvey’s floodwaters topped the dikes of sand mines. Image taken 8/30/2017.

An analysis of satellite images before, during and after Harvey shows massive loss of sand from stockpiles within many of these mines.

During floods like Harvey when the SJRA releases water from Lake Conroe, dikes are overtopped and broken. I suspect that sand then comes down the West Fork in tremendous volumes that dwarf Spring Creek’s contribution.

To test this hypothesis, I looked at USGS flow data for both tributaries. I also reviewed all my aerial photos and Google Earth’s historical images.

Under normal conditions, Spring Creek flows at 80 cubic feet per second (cfs) and the West Fork of the San Jacinto at 150 cfs. These are not sufficient flow rates to suspend sediment the size of sand. (For an excellent discussion of sedimentation, see Fundamentals of Sediment Transport at Fondriest.com.)

However, during Harvey, Sring Creek flowed at 78,200 cfs; and the West Fork at  55,000 cfs. Then the San Jacinto River Authority opened the gates at Lake Conroe. That flipped the ratio dramatically. With the flood gates open, Spring Creek still flowed at 78,200 cfs, but the West Fork increased to 130,000 cfs. Flow rates that high can (and did) move houses off their foundations.

Four hundred and fifty aerial photos in the gallery of this web site show a bright, white trail of sand between sand mines and the sand clogging the East and West Forks around Humble and Kingwood. Flood waters swept that sand from a to b. The giant sand deposits at River Grove Park and elsewhere grew exponentially during recent floods.

This tells me that when discussing the origins of the sand, we need to primarily evaluate the river during floods. More water is moving faster under greater pressure. That’s when erosion and deposition happen quickly. That’s when the river overtops and ruptures dikes. And that’s when twenty additional square miles of exposed sand surface on the West Fork make their major contribution to our sediment and flooding problems.

We can’t control sand coming down rivers naturally. However, with better sand mining practices, we may be able to reduce mankind’s contribution to our flooding problem, not to mention the related cleanup costs borne by taxpayers.

In upcoming posts, I will discuss my research into sand mining best practices.

Posted May 22, 2018 by Bob Rehak

266 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Army Corps Finishes Sedimentation Survey Field Work on First Leg of West Fork

Below is the official press release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the field work for the sedimentation survey they completed on April 9.

“HOUSTON (April 10, 2018)

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District began surveying levels of sediment deposits last weekend within the West Fork of the San Jacinto River in response to a State of Texas and FEMA request.”

“To determine the level of shoaling and silt accumulation within the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, a New Orleans District Corps survey crew and vessel began collecting GPS and sonar data near Humble and Atascocita from Apr. 6-9 along a five-mile area between Hwy 69/59 and West Lake Houston Parkway

“Corps Surveyors operated a 20 foot Xpress Boat with survey grade GPS and a sonar transducer to determine sediment deposition,” said Alicia Rea, an emergency management response official with the Galveston District.

“FEMA responded to a request from the State of Texas and under Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Act of 1988, FEMA directed the Corps to begin the initial assessment of the conditions. Army Corps Hydrologists will utilize the survey data and use hydrologic modeling to determine the best course of action.

“County and City officials conducted a site visit to the locations on April 10, 2018” said Rea.

“We believe this is the most prudent action to take to better define the scope of work,” said Rea. “The USACE and FEMA are working diligently to expedite the process.”   (END OF PRESS RELEASE)

Results of Survey Available Soon

Sources tell me (Bob Rehak) that the results of the Army Corps survey may be available as early as next week. This is good news with hurricane season just six weeks away.

However, there is still a lot of work to do before dredging begins. Everyone must agree on specs for the job. Bidders must be identified. A location to store or dispose of the dredged material must be found. Bidders must have time to prepare their bids. An environmental survey must be conducted. They must allow time for a comment period. The bid must be awarded. Crews must be mobilized.

Some steps can happen in parallel but others must happen sequentially. Sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it could take a month or two before dredging begins – more likely two than one.

We hope that while that work is underway, preliminary work can begin on subsequent legs of the river to further expedite completion of the entire job.

At Least Four Major Blockages on West Fork

Here are four photos from the West Fork that I took shortly after Harvey. They show some of the major blockages between 59 and the lake that we hope the Army Corps addresses. The first two were taken upstream of the West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge. The second two were taken downstream. Approximately 70% of the Kingwood homes that flooded were downstream from the bridge.

The new sandbar deposited by Hurricane Harvey now forces water coming out of the drainage ditch in the background on the left to make a 90 degree left hand turn before it can reach the river. This slows the velocity of runoff and backs up water into subdivisions, like the Barrington in the background. While the sandbar looks gentle from the air it is up to 15 feet high near the ditch.

South of the Kingwood Country Club’s Island Course, Hurricane Harvey deposited several feet of sand that is filling in the back channels and expanding the islands of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, thus reducing its carrying capacity.

Looking north toward Kingwood’s Kings Harbor subdivision, a popular entertainment district that was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. The West Lake Houston Parkway bridge is on the left. In the foreground, sand now reaches the tree tops and is virtually as high as the bridge itself. Water used to flow under the bridge and through the area in the foreground during floods. Now it is forced north.

A giant sand dune has formed near where the east and west forks of the San Jacinto join, inhibiting the flow of the river. Engineers say that sediment is not being carried out into Lake Houston (background) as expected. Areas beyond these dunes experienced far less flood damage from Harvey than the areas behind them. That’s the FM1960 Bridge in the background.

Here is link to an Army Corps Facebook post about the project that shows 20+ additional pictures of the survey crew at work on the west fork.

By Bob Rehak

Posted April 11, 2018, 225 days since Hurricane Harvey.