Five years ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District, and Port of Bay City partnered on the study and new construction of an east jetty at the Mouth of the Colorado River to stabilize the shallow draft navigation channel and reduce maintenance dredging requirements.
Today, that infrastructure plays an integral part in saving taxpayers approximately $200,000 annually in dredging costs and keeps a segment of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway open for navigation.
Jetties, also known as stone breakwaters, minimize wave action along the shoreline and prevent sediment from filling the entrances to ship channels along the Texas coast as well as reduce dredging maintenance cycles.
Throughout the year, sediments within the water column will settle and accumulate within the channel, a process that is known as shoaling. If the shoaled material is not removed then the shipping channel will eventually become restricted or even unusable.
According to Chief of Project Operations Karl Brown, USACE Galveston District, in the case of the Mouth of Colorado River, a federally authorized shallow draft navigation channel located in Matagorda County, Texas, shoaling had become an ongoing issue that required immediate attention for both safety and economic reasons.
“While a weir jetty system was put in place in the early 1980s to stabilize the inlet and provide access to the Gulf of Mexico, our research found that the weir jetty’s configuration was ineffective in minimizing shoaling,” said Brown. “This shoaling required the removal of 590,000 cubic yards dredged material annually to maintain the navigation channel, which was twice the design estimate.”
To reduce dredging frequency, save taxpayers’ dollars and keep the waterway open for safe commerce and navigation, the two agencies worked together to find a long-term solution to the constant shoaling and dredging cycle that often caused the channel to become navigationally unreliable.
“This is a great success story,” said Mike Griffith, Chairman of the Port of Bay City Authority. “Working together we were able to reprogram federal hurricane relief money to study, model and design a new east jetty system and through our combined efforts we received $22.5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funding for construction, with a local match from the Port of Bay City for $1.3 million.”
While investments in infrastructure often require substantial funding upfront, Brown adds that projects such as this one pay off in the long term and notes that the district continues to seek partnering opportunities to cost share coastal projects and studies.
“The district is hosting a series of public scoping meetings this month to gather input and feedback that will help identify coastal storm risk management and ecosystem restoration problems and opportunities along the Texas coast,” said Brown. “The Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Reconnaissance Study will determine the federal interest in conducting feasibility studies to identify potential shoreline erosion control, storm damage reduction, environmental restoration and protection and related improvements along the Texas Gulf Coast, from the mouth of the Sabine River to the Rio Grande – home to more than five million people, three of the nation’s top 10 deep-draft ports and 40 percent of the nation’s petrochemical industry.”
Alternatives that may be considered during the next study phase could include structural solutions such as seawalls, levees, groins and beach nourishment, non-structural solutions such as buy-outs and flood proofing and nature-based solutions such as preservation or restoration of marshes, dunes, barrier islands and oyster reefs.
Brown added that the district offers a variety of federal programs to assist the public with the preparation of comprehensive plans for the development, use and conservation of water and related land resources. These programs are either available free of charge or offered on a 50 percent federal/50 percent non-federal cost-shared basis and include the Flood Plain Management Services Program; Hydrologic Studies Program; Monitoring Completed Navigation Projects; Planning Assistance to States Program and the Regional Sediment Management Program.