Located approximately 18 miles northeast of downtown Houston, constructed in 1954, Lake Houston is the primary surface water storage facility of untreated water. The San Jacinto River’s west and east forks drain into Lake Houston.
- Sediment from the river has been accumulating in the lake since its construction, especially during an extreme upstream rainfall event. This significant sediment accumulation has reduced the storage capacity of the lake.
Based on bathymetric surveys, below water surface, by the Texas Water Development Board, the storage capacity has been reduced by approximately 22,000 acre feet since 1994. Average annual accumulation is approximately 384 acre-feet or 619,000 cubic yards. The sediment accumulation has also reduced the conveyance capacity of the river upstream of its confluence with the lake.
The occurrence of Hurricane Harvey, in August 2017, exposed the ramifications of this annual sediment accumulation. Thousands of homes and businesses boarding the lake and along the river experienced severe flooding for the first time.
Recovery from Hurricane Harvey began immediately as residents and business owners cleaned out flooded structures by removing debris from the neighborhoods. Then, in April 2018, FEMA issued a mission assignment to the Corps of Engineers to dredge the sediment deposited by the hurricane.
- Approximately 2.3 million cubic yards of sediment was removed from the West Fork of the San Jacinto River costing over $89 million dollars. Supplementing the federal recovery project, Governor Abbott granted the City $50 million dollars, a portion of which was utilized to cover the local match cost (10%) of the federal project and to continue additional dredging downstream.
The 86th legislature passed Senate Bill 7 which provided an additional $30 million dollars to Harris County to fund additional dredging and to develop a comprehensive long-range dredging plan to address sediment accumulation. The City of Houston is the sub-recipient of these grant funds. To date nearly $10 million dollars of the grant funds have been spent on dredging activities and the city is currently procuring consultant services for the long-range plan development.
Finally, FEMA has recently approved another recovery dredging project downstream from the 2018 project at the confluence of the Lake Houston and the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. The estimated cost to remove an additional 1.0 million cubic yards is $40 million dollars. During negotiations with FEMA, federal staff members posed numerous questions how the city will protect the federal investment of nearly $130 million dollars.
During the 87th Legislative Session, State Representative Dan Huberty and Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin worked to pass House Bill 2525, which would have created a Lake Houston Dredging & Maintenance District to implement the comprehensive long-range plan and serve as an essential safeguard necessary for protecting the integrity of the lake as a vital drinking water source. While the bill passed the House, it was stalled in the Senate. The most important part of the legislation was for the ability to continue ongoing dredging while planning for future maintenance.
Adding to the urgency, Mayor Pro Tem Martin, along with every member of Houston City Council, signed a support letter in favor HB 2525. However, the bill was not granted a hearing in the Senate.
State Representatives Armando Walle and Dan Huberty worked together with Senator Brandon Creighton to insert the following provision into Article IX of the State Budget:
“Sec. 17.42. Accumulated Siltation at Lake Houston. In addition to amounts appropriated elsewhere in this Act, $50,000,000 in General Revenue is appropriated to the Water Development Board in Strategy B.1.1, State and Federal Assistance Programs, in fiscal year 2022 for the purposes of removing accumulated siltation and sediment deposits throughout the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston, with particular attention to the many inlets, coves and tributaries around the reservoir, in order to prevent future flooding and preserve the capacity of this vital asset. Any unexpended balances remaining as of August 31, 2022, are appropriated for the same purposes in the fiscal year beginning September 1, 2022.”
This funding will allow for the ongoing dredging as well as implementation of a long range study.
The City of Houston again thanks Senator Creighton, Representative Huberty, and Representative Walle for their work in securing these funds.