I received an official letter from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality today.
When the whole damn dam issue first popped up (for background info, click here and here), and I was desperately trying to find some city, county or state agency that gave a hoot or had jurisdiction over issues like this, I spoke to a man there, Joe, who was sympathetic but admitted his agency probably had no jurisdiction because of the height of the dam and of what was downstream...or rather, what was not downstream. He gave me some other names and numbers to try, wished me luck and said to call back if I felt he could help.
So, on a long shot, when the dam kept growing and growing, well above the 6 foot mark he gave me, I gave him a call. I might have sent him photos, but I've contacted so many different peoples and agencies, that I really can't be sure. Anyway, last week he called to say he was going to be in this area and planned to stop by our neighbor's property and take a look for himself. Tom and I had reached the point of resignation - the dam is built and we really don't expect anything to be done about it. But...the mention of this visit out of the blue was like one little flickering flame of hope. Surely, he would see for himself this towering wall of top soil just waiting for the inevitable Big Rain and Flood that always follows a drought to come tumbling into our pond-bed (this isn't just random paranoia, but actual fact-based dread based on facts from "Ponds - Planning, Design, Construction" published by the United States Department of Agriculture. Another outraged neighbor who has lived along this creek for more than twenty years loaned us a copy, and then we found it online.)
Well, we should have known better than to light that little candle...
"Dear Ms. Shallue,
On September 21, 2009, members of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's (TCEQ's) Dam Safety Program visited the dam under construction on the property own by Mr...., adjacent to the north of your property. The investigation was conducted in response to your complaint." (yeah, about six weeks after the fact!)
"Based on field measurements, additional information supplied by Mr. ...'s engineer, Mr. ..., (I think our neighbor hired him from the always amazing Craig's List! I saw his listing!), and our hydraulic/hydrologic analysis, it appears that this dam is not under the jurisdiction of the TCEQ because the relatively small amount of water impounded (and the height of the dam) make it exempt from TCEQ Dam Safety jurisdiction. Should this dam breach (should? This should read "when"...see above about the US Dept. of Agriculture's standards), the effects of the breach would not adversely impact any roads, residences, or buildings downstream.
We appreciate your contacting the TCEQ concerning this dam. Please let me know if you have any additional questions..."
Well, I realized I do have several additional questions...
Question #1: Does Texas care about its land?
Question #2: How high is too high? Tom (look hard - he's in the green) is 5'9". Joe told me anything over 6" is in their jurisdiction. I wonder where they took their measurements?
Question #3: Why is the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality concerned about roads, residences and buildings that are downstream, and not a natural creek and the land surrounding it?
Questions #4, 5, 6, & 7: Did you notice the trash that is strewn all over our neighbor's land , that has been there over a month, and that he is aware of and yet hasn't bothered to clean up? What about that whole "Don't Mess With Texas" thing? Isn't this an Environmental Quality issue? Wouldn't you have concerns about living downstream from someone like this? (photo taken in August...thanks to wind, rain, wild animals, etc. it's really spread out now.)
Question #8: Is there any agency in Texas with jurisdiction or concerns over the environment - one that is concerned about a natural creek and the land surrounding it, since obviously it isn't the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality? Hello? Anyone out there? That's what I was afraid of...
You know, I used to be proud of being a Texan.
Now I'm just going to put that candle away and stick my head back into the ground. Even knowing we'll be able to say "We told you so!" one day doesn't help this time. The saddest thing is knowing we'll never really be "neighbors" in the true sense of the word - not without a miracle, anyway. And I do believe in miracles, so I won't totally rule one out.
Several of you sent me information about how your state protects its natural beauty and handles environment concerns like this one. Would you please give it to me again? I realize it won't help us, but just knowing there are still some states that protect the natural environment (without involving lawyers) will help.