Environmental Policy News

Texas’ First Coastal Master Plan to Guide Future Resiliency Efforts

The General Land Office (GLO) of Texas has completed the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan, the first inclusive coastal plan for the state with the 6th longest coastline in the United States. To review the executive summary, master plan and technical report, visit the GLO's Hurricane Preparedness & Planning webpage.

The Plan better prepares the state for the next hurricane to hit the Texas coast by creating a framework for coastal management, restoration and protection measures. The plan also guides the GLO in the execution of its responsibilities and provides Texas coastal communities with a set of scientifically sound, feasible and cost-effective coastal resiliency projects. The GLO is also working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and meeting with Members of Congress to move forward with the Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Feasibility Study, which will study and make recommendations for large-scale projects, including the coastal barrier system, to protect the densely-populated neighborhoods and industries surrounding the Houston Shipping Channel.

"It is long past the time to protect our Texas coast," said Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. "The reality is that it is not a matter of if, but when, the next big storm will strike. Sadly, our current level of Texas coastal protection is no better than in 2008 when Hurricanes Dolly and Ike caused devastation from South Padre Island to Port Arthur. In creating the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan, we have prioritized restoration and protection projects that can be implemented in the short-term to protect our coastline while we continue to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and congressional stakeholders on a defensive coastal barrier system."

With 65 percent of the Texas Gulf shoreline eroding at an average rate of approximately six feet per year, and in some areas much more rapidly, the state is not only losing its beaches, it is leaving homes and businesses vulnerable to storm surge and flooding. Natural or restored Gulf beaches and dunes provide recreation areas and habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species, such as sea turtles and piping plovers. Beaches and dunes also serve as a natural first line of defense from storm surge for inland populations and infrastructure by absorbing the impact of high waves and by stopping or delaying intrusion of water inland. Erosion is a threat to public beach use and access, public and private property and infrastructure, fish and wildlife habitat, and public health and safety. The combined effects of erosion are amplified by coastal population growth and increased development.

Bay shorelines are experiencing many of the same issues as Gulf-facing shorelines. These bay shore areas function as buffers, protecting upland habitats from erosion and storm damage, and adjacent wetlands and waterways from water quality degradation. The loss of these bay shorelines from coastal development, vessel wakes along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, relative sea level rise, and wind and wave erosion contributes to habitat loss, water quality degradation, loss of property and reduced protection from storm surge and other coastal hazards.

Maintaining the coast’s natural protective features is critical to minimizing the impact of future storms and hurricanes, and their associated human, infrastructure and economic losses. Coastal storms present a major threat to people and property living near the coast, with many long-lasting impacts on community infrastructure, the natural environment and the local, state and national economies. Increased coastal development, erosion, relative sea level rise and wetland loss contribute to increased risk and exposure to coastal storm events.

Protecting the Texas coast is vitally important not just to the state, but to the entire nation. The Texas coast is home to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, the nation's third busiest inland waterway, 25 percent of the nation's refining capacity, four of the 15 busiest ports in the country, most of the nation's strategic petroleum reserves, and numerous strategic military deployment and distribution installations. Tied directly to this industry activity and these strategic sites are the coast's natural resources, beaches, dunes, wetlands, oyster reefs and rookery islands that serve as natural storm barriers and are the backbone for coastal tourism and the ocean economy. The population and economic activity along the coast is also growing - 6.5 million people and total wages in excess of $37 billion are located on the Texas coast. This growing population and economic activity puts our state and country at greater risk of storm surge damage, and places increasing pressure on our coastal resources and their ability to provide protection from coastal hazards.

According to the Plan’s executive summary, “In June 2012, Houston and Galveston were identified as the fifth most vulnerable of U.S. cities to hurricanes because of their low-lying coastal location, large population and critical economic infrastructure. This ranking should come as no surprise, given that the entire nation felt Hurricane Ike’s rippling economic impacts. Due to the closure of the ports of Houston and Galveston, as well as the Houston Ship Channel, gas prices skyrocketed in the Midwest and the South. There was also an interruption of supply chains for consumer goods, such as food, beverages and clothes, as nearly 150 tankers, container ships and cargo vessels waited offshore in the days following Hurricane Ike’s landfall until the port could be re-opened. These local and national effects clearly emphasize the need for coastal protection and the urgency to create resilient natural and built environments along the Texas coast. They highlight the need for innovative planning to restore, improve and revitalize communities in advance of impacts, not only from coastal storms, but also from the persistent issues that threaten the vitality and productivity of the region.”

To assist with the development of the plan, the GLO formed a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) made up of statewide and regional coastal experts from state and federal agencies, universities, local governments, non-profits, engineering firms, port representatives, regional trusts, foundations and partnerships. TAC members served as subject matter experts and provided input and technical guidance throughout the entire planning process. The planning team evaluated more than 900 potential projects within watersheds and beach subregions located in the four regions of the Texas coast. Project screening reduced the list of candidate projects to 177, which were further designated as Tier 1 (high priority), Tier 2 and Tier 3 projects. Tier 1 projects are listed in the master plan document.

The plan will be used by the GLO to guide and enhance the various coastal programs it manages. The plan also can be used by coastal communities to highlight the issues of concern in their region, and to solicit action to fund the coastal projects that can make their communities more resilient and less vulnerable to the next big storm. The plan will also be used in conjunction with the recommendations for large scale barrier projection systems that will result from Coastal Protection and Restoration Feasibility Study with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide comprehensive protection measures for the Texas Coast.

For more information, please visit the GLO's Hurricane Preparedness & Planning webpage. The Executive Summary, full Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan and Technical Report are available at the linked website.


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