It's on us. Share your news here.

West Fork Sand Mine Sending Sediment Downstream from Settling Pond

Picture taken 5/17/24, at the confluence of the West Fork, Spring Creek and Cypress Creek. Cypress joins Spring slightly upstream on the left. The branch on the right is immediately downstream from 20 square miles of sand mines between US59 and I-45.

Posted on May 20, 2024

The Hallett sand mine on the San Jacinto West Fork appears to have dug a trench across the maintenance road of its settling pond to lower the pond’s level. Murky wastewater is draining into the West Fork while the SJRA is currently releasing 10,875 cubic feet per second (CFS) from Lake Conroe in the wake of yesterday’s heavy rains.

Sediment released from the mine is being picked up by the Lake Conroe water and carried downstream. Note below how sediment has discolored the West Fork.

Where The Sludge is Coming From

In the last few weeks I’ve posted extensively about how the West Fork has breached the dikes of a pit formerly owned by Hallett. As of this afternoon, the river continues to run through that pit. No attempt has been made by the new owner to re-establish the dikes. And that certainly contributes to downstream sedimentation.

But this afternoon, I discovered an additional source of sedimentation thanks to a tip from a nearby fishermen who stumbled across a breach in Hallett’s settling pond. See video below.

It’s hard to get a sense of the location from the close up, so here’s the location of the breach in a satellite image from Google Earth.

General location of breach and path to river in red oval.

And here’s a more detailed look at the path the water took on its way to the river.

Looking N. Silty water leaves Hallett’s settling pond through a trench dug in the tree-line. From there it flows through an abandoned sand mine and then through another breach into the West Fork.

Reverse angle shows silty water flowing out of Hallett settling pond into abandoned neighboring mine.

Detail cropped from shot above shows how heavy equipment worked the area.

Looking S downstream. Abandoned mine on left, West Fork in middle and breach through another pit on right.

Timing of Release Should Raise Eyebrows

The timing of this release is suspect: Friday afternoon just before regulators headed home for the weekend.

I’ve documented a history of breaches from this pond dating back to 2019 and the fishermen say they’ve seen breaches before that.

Hallett flushed water from this and other ponds after the January floods in 2024 but via different routes.

Lest you think I’m picking on Hallett, it isn’t the only sand mine emptying its settling pond into the West Fork.

I also documented an instance when the West Fork ran white from a release at the LMI Moorhead Mine upstream from Hallett. TCEQ estimated they released 56 million gallons of sludge into the river. That pond dropped 3-4 feet according to the TCEQ.

Regular Occurrence

The montage below shows the confluence of the West Fork and Spring/Cypress Creeks from different angles on different days. In all cases, the polluted branch was the West Fork. I took these shots while photographing West Fork sand mines from a rented helicopter.


A former West Fork mine operator and a former water quality manager for the City of Houston tell me that releasing sediment-laden water under the cover of floods is standard operating procedure for many mines on the West Fork.

Who Will Bear the Cost of Clean Up, Dredging?

Think this doesn’t affect you? It affects your water quality and the cost of cleaning it up. Lake Houston supplies drinking water for more than two million people.

And if you live between the mines and Lake Houston, it probably will affect you another way.

Most sediment moves during floods. During Harvey, the West Fork swept through 20 square miles of sand mines between I-45 and I-69. According to the Army Corps, deposited sediment blocked the West Fork by 90%. That reduced the conveyance of the river and caused water to rise into homes and businesses. Almost 20,000 flooded in the Humble/Kingwood area.

Since then, taxpayers have spent more than $200 million on dredging. And the City is getting ready to launch another $34 million dredging program.

However, that program won’t address the mouth of the Kingwood Diversion Ditch at the River Grove Park boat launch.

KSA has obtained bids north of $800,000 to dredge the blocked area. Spending that kind of money will be necessary to keep the KSA boat launch open. It has become badly blocked by sediment during two floods since the start of the year.

Here’s what that area looked like yesterday afternoon when the SJRA release rate was closer to 1500 CFS. Water level in river was still up about a foot above normal.

Living with sediment is all part of life on the river. But dredging intervals at River Grove have gone from 8 years before Harvey to 4 to 2 years since Harvey.

If this continues, KSA may be forced debate whether it can afford to keep the boat docks open.

Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, PE is trying to work with upstream authorities to reduce sedimentation that can lead to flooding. But it’s an uphill slog. No pun intended.


It's on us. Share your news here.
Submit Your News Today

Join Our
Click to Subscribe