Army Corps Assists in Texas Gulf Coast Restoration Initiative (USA)
The Texas Gulf Coast is a national treasure from both an economic and environmental standpoint.
Attracting millions of tourists to the coastline annually, the Texas Gulf Coast also serves as an important hub for fishing, provides habitat for millions of migratory birds and is home to four of the top 10 ports in the nation, which generates 19 percent of the nation’s waterborne commerce, creates millions of jobs and pumps billions of dollars each year into the nation’s economy.
With the success of these enterprises hinging heavily on the environmental health of the region, the protection and restoration of these resources have never been more significant.
“Maintaining the environmental health of our coastal wetlands is crucial to ensuring the continued success of many of our nation’s vital industries,” said Commander Col. Christopher Sallese, USACE Galveston District. “Our coastal wetlands perform vital functions ranging from serving as a nursery for the commercial fishing industry to providing protection against flooding from storms and hurricanes. The Corps has a vested interest in the restoration of this ecosystem and we are committed to working with our partners to rebuild this system.”
Tasked with the mission of providing vital engineering services to strengthen the nation’s security, energize the economy and reduce risks from disaster, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District plays a part in managing the following ecosystem restoration projects along the Texas coastline: Coastal habitat protection and restoration; freshwater inflows; oyster reef restoration and threatened and endangered species and is responsible for making regulatory permit decisions involving proposed wetland impacts to ensure projects are carefully evaluated to protect these valuable resources.
Coastal habitat protection and restoration: Coastal wetlands are critical to the health of the Texas Gulf Coast, providing habitat for migratory birds; acting as nurseries for fish and shellfish; filtering water; reducing coastal erosion and often serving as a buffer against storm surge. The USACE Galveston District employs the following programs as part of its ecosystem restoration initiative:
Barrier island shoreline stabilization: To combat erosion, the USACE Galveston District is creating wetland and barrier islands along the Texas coast to replace shorelines that have been eroded over the decades. The stabilization of the shoreline and barrier islands will also continue to serve as vital habitat for nesting shorebirds as well as for the critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle and other sea turtles. The district continues to nourish beaches along the Texas coast as well as renourish eroding islands in Galveston’s West Bay. Additionally, the district will construct more beneficial use sites in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge during fiscal year 2013.
Beneficial use: Annually, the USACE Galveston District dredges (removes sediment from underwater locations and transports it elsewhere via a barge or pipeline) approximately 30 to 40 million cubic yards of material from Texas ports to ensure waterways remain open for commerce. While undertaking its mission of keeping America’s waterways navigable, the Corps uses the material to benefit local communities and improve eroded coastlines through beach nourishment and beneficial use programs to create marsh, restore sea grass and provide bird rookeries in Galveston Bay, Matagorda Bay, Corpus Christi Bay, the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and Laguna Madre.
Oyster reef restoration: According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, more than 8,000 acres of oyster reefs were lost in Galveston Bay during Hurricane Ike. With more than 50 percent of the oyster reefs in Galveston Bay impacted, the USACE Galveston District remains committed to working with its partners to construct more than 170 acres of oyster reefs in Galveston Bay and is planning to partner with the Nature Conservancy to create 12 acres of habitat at Half Moon Oyster Reef in Matagorda Bay in 2013.
Sea grass protection: Sea grasses provide an invaluable habitat for numerous fish species and contribute to the stabilization of recreational fishing grounds. The district contributes to the protection of sea grass by only dredging the Laguna Madre and other sensitive areas in the winter when the sea grasses are dormant and continuing to nourish the beds with a thin layer of beneficial use material derived from nearby dredging projects. Regulatory permits involving dredging and other work in sea grass beds adhere to stringent guidelines and require mitigation or restoration to maintain the values of these special aquatic sites.
Securing freshwater inflows: The district’s Wallisville Lake Project protects freshwater intakes on the Trinity River from saltwater intrusion during periods of low flow for the City of Houston and widespread agricultural interests. Regional water resource management within Texas also interfaces with Regulatory permits when water transfer projects are proposed in waters of the United States.
Threatened and endangered species: The Corps employs a variety of methods to minimize impacts to threatened and endangered species including the use of turtle trawling monitors and excluding devices on dredges to reduce turtle takes (kills) and scheduling dredging and construction projects around various seasonal time frames to minimize impacts to nesting birds and turtles. Additionally, the district applies these same requirements when issuing Regulatory permits to ensure minimal impact is made to the nation’s threatened and endangered species.
Wetlands: Wetlands serve as valuable nurseries for fish and wildlife and are also vital barriers during storms. Through permitting, the USACE Galveston District ensures that economic development in coastal areas can move forward while minimizing the impact on the environment. These wetlands have propelled the Texas Gulf Coast as one of the most important wintering and migration habitats in North America.
The district’s Regulatory Branch provides strong protection of the nation’s aquatic environment, to achieve a goal of no net loss of wetlands while balancing economic prosperity with environmental sustainability.
Way Forward: Continual erosion of the Texas coastline with specific impacts to wildlife areas, wetlands, barrier islands, and residential and commercial properties has caused significant environmental and economic impacts.
“In order to accurately assess the full extent of the damages, a three-year Coastal Texas Ecosystem Protection and Restoration Study will provide a complete body of data that will enable staff to recommend a comprehensive strategy for storm damage reduction and ecosystem restoration along the entire coastal area of Texas,” said Sallese.
While continuing to partner with governmental/non-governmental agencies and academic institutions, the district will also coordinate with the newly established Gulf Coast Inter-divisional Team (consisting of all USACE divisions that border the Gulf: Southwestern Division, Mississippi Valley Division and the South Atlantic Division) to find solutions to the Texas Gulf Coast restoration challenges.
“The Texas economy relies heavily on the Gulf Coast,” said Sallese. “As the 15th largest economy in the world, it’s imperative that we strike a balance between industry growth and the health of our ecosystem and work to ensure it can withstand and recover from future disasters.”
Press Release, September 6, 2012