While discussions of how to protect our coastal communities on the Upper Texas Coast is nothing new, the Hurricane Season of 2017 has strengthened the need and rhetoric around providing protection from ever-increasing storms and its surge impacts.
For years, the silver bullet coastal barrier option has centered around the coastal spine – commonly known as the Ike Dike – and what could be one of the costliest public infrastructure projects in U.S. history. Recent articles in the Houston Chronicle and the Galveston Daily News outline the lauded benefits and challenges of these "grey" infrastructure projects, but little attention has been given to the alternative solutions that integrate the need for our protection with nature's own barrier systems.
Those of us living on or near the coast know that great rewards sometimes come with its own risk. Living along the Gulf of Mexico provides immediate access to the beauty and bounty that our coastal waters, Bayfront and barrier islands provide. However, living within floodplains, wetlands and storm surge zones pose significant challenges, making each of us vulnerable to the impacts of water and wind.
Despite these challenges, there are ways we can live in harmony with what mother nature has provided and our own built environment. This balanced approach does not necessarily require an engineered solution – but the willingness to be creative and implement multiple methods that protect our communities and the ecosystem we rely on.
By working with – rather than against – nature, we can keep people out of harm’s way and sustain our coastal communities into the future.
Twelve organizations from the Greater Houston-Galveston region have come together to recommend guiding principles for the protection of people and property from flooding and storm surge. This three-tiered strategy for a Sage Alternative includes: Public, Private and Corporate Responsibility; Preservation and Restoration of our Coastal Lands and Barrier Islands; and, the Minimization of Hard Infrastructure - particularly, dams, dikes and raised roadways.
To date, we have only seen our decision-makers seriously consider alternatives with a heavy emphasis on new construction. These proposals pose not only a significant risk to the ecosystem of the Island, but also our pocketbooks as each of these carry a heavy price tag that taxpayers will bear the brunt of maintaining.
If past is prologue – the preservation of natural resources has historically and consistently proven to protect our economic and social values. We are no longer in the era of unprecedented storms – we need to be prepared. Engineered alternatives, like the Ike Dike, are costly and come with significant risk. Working with, and reinforcing, natural systems provide a cost-effective, feasible alternative that will protect people from the effects of storm surge, but also safeguard those natural areas we love around Galveston Bay.
Jordan Macha is the Executive Director of Bayou City Waterkeeper
Supporting organizations to the Guiding Principles include: Artist Boat, Bayou City Waterkeeper, Christmas Bay Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, Galveston Bay Foundation, Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council, Gulf Restoration Network, Lower Brazos Riverwatch, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Sierra Club – Houston, Sierra Club – Loan Star Chapter, and Surfrider Galveston. To read more about the Guiding Principles for Sage Alternative, please visit http://www.bayoucitywaterkeeper.org/guiding-principles.
Dr. John Jacob, Bayou City Waterkeeper Board Chair, Director of the Texas Coastal Watershed Program and Professor with the Texas A&M penned a discussion on Houston's land-use regulations - and how it affected the impacts of Hurricane Harvey.
This story was originally published by Texas A&M's Texas Watershed Coastal Program and is reproduced here with permission of the author.Read more
Nick Anderson, Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist, illustrated a great feature on the importance of wetlands in the face of natural disasters like Harvey -- featuring our own John Jacob, Board Chair of Bayou City Waterkeeper!
Featured in the Texas Tribune: Trib Talk - Perspectives on Texas, Nick outlines how this disaster wasn't just about urban planning, but also how we protect and restore our wetlands for the future of our coastal communities.Read more
Bayou City Waterkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance are responding to Hurricane Harvey, working to assess the damage the record-breaking storm has brought to southeast Texas. Deploying the Waterkeeper Alliance’s Rapid Response Protocol, Bayou City Waterkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance staff are working to support local communities and are developing a long-term cleanup and water monitoring plan for when flood waters recede.Read more
Hurricane Harvey has hit the Greater Houston area, and the Galveston Bay Watershed, hard. As the waters recede, thousands of people remain evacuated, homes are left destroyed, and at least 50 lives were lost. All this destruction due to the “new normal” – more frequent historic flooding in coastal Texas.
We are working to assess the damage the record-breaking storm has brought to the Lower Galveston Bay watershed, supporting local communities, as well as developing a long-term clean-up and water-monitoring plan. Those of us who live in the coastal prairie must recognize that the choices we make today will have major impacts on future generations. We must prepare and plan for this new reality. And while we can’t reverse what happened to residents and communities across greater Houston, we can demand that it doesn’t happen again.
You may have noticed that we’ve gone through our own change. Formerly known as Galveston Baykeeper, the organization has been undergoing the process of changing our name for the last year to better reflect the work we do across the Lower Galveston Bay watershed. With approval by our Board of Directors in April 2017, we chose the name Bayou City Waterkeeper to demonstrate our connection and dedication to the health of bayous and waterways that connect with Galveston Bay. Additionally, we have hired a new Executive Director and Waterkeeper - Jordan Macha. A Houston native, Jordan comes to us by way of Louisiana having worked with Gulf Restoration Network and the Sierra Club on restoration issues across the Gulf Coast. We are excited to have her join Bruce Bodson, our lead scientist, as we continue to protect our communities through watershed advocacy and education.
In closing, Houston is a can-do city, and we can build a more resilient community. In the coming weeks and months, Bayou City Waterkeeper is committed to working with our supporters and allies to address the significant issues within our region that Harvey laid bare. Please follow our facebook page for our latest news and updates on Harvey, as well as our blog. We appreciate your ongoing support.
Photo Credit: National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West