Process begins to form best practices for sand mining companies in San Jacinto River Basin

sand mining San Jacinto River APO Kingwood
Advocates are fighting for sand mining companies to restore and reclaim sites after companies are done. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Advocates are fighting for sand mining companies to restore and reclaim sites after companies are done. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality began a yearlong process in mid-November to form more rules for sand mining in the San Jacinto River Basin. Environmental advocates hope this process will reduce downstream flooding, limit sediment runoff and minimize pollutants discharged from the mines into waterways.

During the TCEQ’s virtual stakeholder meeting Nov. 10, Jill Boullion, executive director of the Bayou Land Conservancy, said the number of sand mining companies located in the flood plain along the West Fork of the San Jacinto River between I-45 and Hwy. 59 increased 31% between 1995 and 2017—from about 1,300 occupied acres to almost 5,500 acres. The nonprofit aims to preserve land in the flood plain in the Greater Houston area to reduce flooding effects.

“What we're advocating for is that standards be developed that provide a broader regional benefit while maintaining consistency and predictability," Boullion said. "We want to keep sediment in place through flood plain preservation and mine reclamation. Sediment transport in this watershed is a huge deal because these rivers are made of sand and they're delicate ecosystems. If we don't protect them, they will degrade, and that has an adverse impact on us as people, not just the environment.”

At the Nov. 10 meeting, organizations and state and local officials gathered to weigh in on best management practices for aggregate production operations—also known as APOs or sand mining companies. The state of Texas does not currently have uniform best management practices for all sand mining companies.

The stakeholder meeting took place because two organizations—the Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative and the Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association—filed petitions with the TCEQ with proposed rules for sand mining. Over the next year, the TCEQ will receive public comments, propose drafts rules and finalize best management practices, said Rebecca Villalba, stormwater team leader of the TCEQ's Water Quality Division.


Differing opinions

The Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative, or FPI, formed after Hurricane Harvey hit in August 2017, and it is focused on various areas of pollution and flood prevention, FPI representative Bill McCabe said.

McCabe said the organization worked with TACA for two years to form best practices, but they disagreed on several main points, leading them to file the petitions in June with the TCEQ. He said the FPI wants best management practices to be mandatory.

“Voluntary guidelines are no guidelines at all,” he said.

McCabe said FPI also believes APOs should operate 1,500 feet from the waterway but no closer than 200 feet, and there should be more restoration and reclamation requirements when companies exhaust resources at a site and relocate. TCEQ currently requires APOs to submit remediation plans, but FPI claims there are no repercussions if an APO does not follow through with the plans.

Boullion agreed, saying APOs should be required to restore sites after use.

“We understand that we're not going to stop the industry from doing its business, and we don't seek to do that, but we feel that as Texans we should advocate to give back something when we're using the natural resources of the state,” Boullion said.

Meanwhile, TACA President and CEO Josh Leftwich said his association believes APOs should be able to choose which best management practices they want to implement. He said many APOs are operating appropriately, and commercial and residential developments in the area are more to blame for stormwater runoff into the water supply.

“Mining has been going on there in the San Jacinto waterway for over 50 years,” he said. “There’s been much growth around the area that has contributed to ... issues that have led to more potential runoff from these other areas coming into these sand mines and to the San Jacinto River area, too.”

The petitioners also disagreed on which parts of the San Jacinto River Basin the rules should apply to, as the basin is comprised of streams, tributaries and water bodies in Harris, Montgomery, San Jacinto, Grimes, Waller and Liberty counties, according to the petitions.

FPI wanted the TCEQ’s rules to apply everything north of Lake Houston, while TACA wanted the rules to apply only to companies along the East and West forks of the San Jacinto River and their tributaries, between Lake Conroe and Lake Houston.

Proposed rules

The original petitions included 42 proposed best management practices, most of which FPI and TACA agreed on. The best management practices cover maintenance, stormwater discharge and land restoration, to name a few.

During the meeting, TCEQ officials proposed language that would require APOs seeking new permitting or renewed permitting from TCEQ to adopt as many best management practices as feasible, but APOs must only adopt a minimum number practices. This proposed language more closely aligned with TACA's proposed language on the item.

Boullion and McCabe pushed back against the language, saying that APOs should be required to adopt all the practices; however, they said companies could then apply for waivers from the TCEQ for specific rules that would not be applicable to the site.

TCEQ officials said comments will be taken into account to form the proposed draft rules. Stakeholders can submit comments on the proposed best management practices to the TCEQ until Nov. 24, Villalba said. Emails can be sent to macayla.coleman@tceq.texas.gov.

A public meeting will be held in December to receive further comments. The TCEQ will then create draft rules of the best management practices between this December and March 2021, which will also include responses to public comments. The rules have to be approved by commissioners throughout the process, but Villalba said they hope to adopt the final rules in November 2021.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that TACA President and CEO Josh Leftwich had said developments put pollution runoff in the water supply. Leftwich was actually referring to stormwater runoff. This article has been updated with the appropriate language.

Correction: The original version of this article misspelled Jill Boullion's last name.
By Kelly Schafler

Editor, Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood

Kelly Schafler is the editor for the Lake Houston, Humble and Kingwood edition of Community Impact Newspaper, covering public education, city government, development, businesses, local events and all things community-related. Before she became editor, she was the reporter for the Conroe and Montgomery edition for a year and a half.



MOST RECENT

At a Jan. 15 emergency court hearing, officials came up with a plan to try to reduce the inmate population at the Harris County Jail that centers on hosting more bail reduction hearings. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)
With open beds dwindling, officials look for ways to reduce Harris County jail population

The inmate population at the Harris County Jail is rising, and officials are looking for ways to quickly ease the pressure as concerns grow over the ability to quarantine and restrict the spread of the coronavirus.

Bocca Italian Kitchen serves seasonal, Italian-inspired dishes, such as polenta and various pastas. (Courtesy Marco Torres)
Italian eateries open in Generation Park; Houston bike lane fines enforced and more local news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

The independent pharmacy went through 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine in nine days. (Eva Vigh/Community Impact Newspaper)
Magnolia Pharmacy aims to open volunteer-run COVID-19 vaccine clinic Jan. 22

If everything goes according to plan, the clinic could administer 200-400 doses per day to those who qualify, regardless of their county of residency.

Humble Mayor Merle Aaron announced in January that he would not seek re-election in May. (Courtesy Merle Aaron)
UPDATED: Humble Mayor Merle Aaron announces retirement, will not seek re-election in May

Prior to serving as mayor, Aaron was elected to City Council in 2005 to complete an unexpired term as council member. He resigned 10 years later to run for mayor.

Humble City Council Member Allan Steagall, left, who served on the council for 18 years, officially retired Jan. 14. Steagall was joined at his last meeting by his wife, Juanita, right. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Humble City Council Member Allan Steagall retires after 18 years serving community

Steagall served 18 consecutive years on Humble City Council, during which he never ran opposed for his seat.

Minute Maid Park
Houston Health Department vaccine appointments fill up in 16 minutes

The department will administer 5,000 doses at Minute Maid Park on Jan. 16 and 17.

Man riding bike in city
Houston’s grace period for bike lane parking fines ends

Houston residents now face a $100 fine for parking in bike lanes.

The new plant was completed ahead of schedule. (Courtesy Entergy Texas)
Entergy Texas power station in Montgomery County achieves commercial operation

The plant, located in Willis, was originally slated to come online in the middle of this year.

Commissioner James Metts speaks in support of creating two courts at law for Montgomery County. (Screenshot via Montgomery County livestream)
Montgomery County commissioners begin discussion to add 2 courts in 2021

Montgomery County commissioners wish to gather more information about court needs before approving at least one court at law.

As cases rise countywide, both New Caney and Humble ISDs have seen increased active coronavirus cases across their campuses. (Community Impact staff)
Humble, New Caney ISDs' COVID-19 cases continue to rise

As cases rise countywide, both New Caney and Humble ISDs have seen increased active coronavirus cases across their campuses.

Despite a global pandemic, Houston home sales broke records in 2020 and saw 10% more sales overall compared to 2019. (Courtesy Houston Association of Realtors)
Report: Houston home sales surpassed 2019 volumes despite pandemic

2020 single-family home sales surpassed 2019’s volume by more than 10%.

La Cocina de Roberto launched its second eatery in The Woodlands area in January. (Courtesy La Cocina de Roberto)
La Cocina de Roberto restaurant opens in The Woodlands and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Greater Houston area.