The Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 is the oldest federal environmental law in the United States. The Act makes it a misdemeanor to discharge refuse matter of any kind into the navigable waters, or tributaries thereof, of the United States without a permit; this specific provision is known as the Refuse Act. The Rivers and Harbors Act also makes it a misdemeanor to excavate, fill, or alter the course, condition, or capacity of any port, harbor, channel, or other areas within the reach of the Act without a permit. Although many activities covered by the Rivers and Harbors Act are regulated under the Clean Water Act, the 1899 Act retains independent status. The Rivers and Harbors Act is administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Approximately five months after the 1899 Rivers and Harbors Act was made law, U.S. Corps of Engineer Captain C. S. Riché sent a report to Washington concerning his observations of the San Bernard River.
Preliminary Examination of San Bernard River, Texas
United States Engineer Office
Galveston, Tex., July 24, 1899
GENERAL: In compliance with circular letter dated Office Chief of Engineers, March 15, 1899, I have the honor to submit the following report of preliminary examination of San Bernard River, required by the river and harbor act approved March 3, 1899:
The San Bernard River empties into the Gulf of Mexico about 10 miles southwest of Brazos River entrance. At its mouth is a bar on which the depth of water is but 4 feet. Above the bar the depth is from 8 to 9 feet, except at the Narrows (2 miles above the mouth where present day River's End is located), where the depth does not exceed 4.5 feet. The river meanders for 60 miles through one of the most fertile sections of the Gulf coast country, and it has no snags or overhanging trees to obstruct navigation.
Several settlements are located on its banks. There are numerous plantations nearby, and crops of all kinds are raised. The cotton crop alone amounts to between 25,000 and 30,000 bales annually.
Louisa. Schooner. Wrecked in a southeast gale on the night of November 24, 1864. Was found grounded on a bar at the mouth of the San Bernard River by the USS Chocura
The mouth (at present obstructed by the wreck of a schooner) is at all times subject to complete closing up by sand, particularly during the prevalence of strong northeasterly winds. The community does not consider the permanent improvement of the mouth of this stream practicable on account of its cost, but as a component part of a light draft inland navigation system (the Intracoastal Waterway, authorized by Congress in 1919), tributary by inland communication to Brazos River entrance and other harbors on the Texas Coast, this river is worthy of improvement, and $500 will be required for a survey and estimate of cost.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,