KINGWOOD, Texas - The San Jacinto West Fork is white like milk in photos captured by a citizen in a helicopter flying over the Kingwood area Monday. He reported the strange color to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
An agency spokesman told FOX 26 that TCEQ is investigating the origin of the white-colored water which stretches several miles upstream.
“I saw the weirdest thing,” said Bob Rehak, who captured the photos and shared them on his blog. “It was like a two-tone river.”
The contrasting water colors were most noticeable at the confluence of San Jacinto West Fork and Spring Creek in Kingwood.
“The water coming off of Spring Creek was a natural-looking kind of brownish color, but the water coming off of the West Fork was almost pure white,” said Rehak. ”I was shocked. I had never seen that before in 35 years of living here.”
Rehak flew his helicopter upstream to see where it was coming from.
“It extended up-river for several miles,” said Rehak. ”We eventually had to break off the pursuit of the source because of air traffic control and time and fuel.”
A flyover by SkyFox on Friday shows the color of the water coming from the San Jacinto West Fork is not as white, but is still distinctively lighter in color than that of Spring Creek.
Chuck Gilman, director of the San Jacinto River Authority, told FOX 26 he’s also never seen anything like the milky white river that Rehak captured on camera Monday. SJRA officials told FOX 26 they were expecting to hear an update on TCEQ’s investigation of the origin of the white color in the river in the coming days.
Rehak said he questions whether a sand mine is to blame for the color. Several of the mines are located very close to the riverbank upstream from the fork.
“I saw a couple of sand mines that had very similar looking whitish color, and there were pipes and breeches in the dikes of those sand mines, so they were discharging wastewater into the San Jacinto,” said Rehak.
The San Jacinto West Fork drains into Lake Houston which is a source of City of Houston drinking water.
City of Houston Public Works sent this statement to FOX 26:
“Houston Water is concerned about the safety and quality of the water in the San Jacinto West Fork, and relies on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to regulate sand mines statewide.
Houston Water believes the white discoloration is caused by heavy sediment in the river from sand mines upstream. FEMA, the State of Texas and Houston Water are all working together to remove sediment from the San Jacinto River at the upstream end of Lake Houston. Houston Water and its partners continuously monitor the water quality in and around Lake Houston. At this time, it is not impacting water quality."
For real-time water quality reports visit: www.webapps.usgs.gov.