Cause of mysterious white water in San Jacinto River identified

In early November, the San Jacinto River turned a mysterious bright white color at the west fork near Humble.

A month later, we’re getting answers from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality about a possible cause.

A weeks-long investigation by TCEQ revealed three sand mines along the San Jacinto had breaches that allowed the unauthorized release of process water to leak into the river.

The investigation reveals that Liberty Materials, Inc. was the source of millions of gallons of that water.

Photos of milky white water were captured via helicopter by Bob Rehak the first week in November. A month later, Rehak got back in the chopper and captured a stark difference in the river’s appearance.

“The first thing I noticed was gone. We won’t have a white Christmas thanks to the mines," he said.

RGI Materials, also known as the Hallett Mine in Porter, received a visit from TCEQ investigators after Rehak's photos showed two large levee breaches.

However, company executives tell FOX 26 they reported and repaired their breach as soon as they were aware of it. They also say photos clearly indicate their retaining pond was not the source of the white water.

“Had it been our location, it would not have been white upstream from us—obviously. That’s kind of elementary," said Tim Mallicoat.

Upstream is Liberty Materials in Conroe.

The TCEQ investigation revealed this levee breach at the sand mine dumped millions of gallons of unauthorized process water into the river.

“They allegedly emitted 56 million gallons of that milky white substance that was in their pits," Rehak said.

The breach at the sorters eagle mine was deemed authorized because it was related to equipment installed by the army corps.

But what does the pollution consist of?

“We don’t know exactly what it is. The TCEQ didn’t identify it. They just labeled it ‘total dissolved solids’ in their report," said Rehak.

Liberty Materials declined to go on camera, but said they fixed the breach at their mine as soon as TCEQ alerted them to it. They released the following statement in response: 

"Liberty Materials, Inc. (LMI) is aware of the issues related to the unexpected breach of one of its berms that resulted in a release of water containing excess amounts of silt into the West Fork of the San Jacinto River.  The breach occurred as a result of an unanticipated and very substantial amount of water flowing from upstream properties under the control of a developer – property not owned or operated by LMI -- onto LMI’s property and into its retention ponds during a flooding event.  The whitish color of the water from the breach was caused by naturally occurring silt (not chemicals or any other pollutant).

LMI takes every matter related to the environment, safety and its good neighbor policies very seriously, and understands the urgency of all such matters.  LMI's dikes and berms are consistently and regularly maintained and inspected.  Any identified condition that may compromise the integrity of a berm or dike is immediately addressed - in this case repair was completed in less than 3 hours after the breach was identified.  LMI will continue to take steps necessary to avoid any future similar occurrences, and will cooperate fully with the TCEQ in finalizing the event report in a timely manner."

The investigation reports by the TCEQ can be viewed below:

TDEQ Investigation Report into Woodlands Plant

TDEQ Investigation Report into RGI Materials

TDEQ Investigation Report into Eagle Sorters, LLC

TDEQ Investigation Report into Liberty Materials, Inc.