High Tides on the
New funding will shore up fading coastline
After facing several years of evaporating funding, Texas beaches are getting a welcome wave of cash to fight erosion.
The 367-mile-long Texas gulf coastline loses around 235 acres of lands to erosion each year, equivalent to more than 181 football fields of beach, according to the Texas General Land Office (GLO). Funding to save and restore the state’s beaches was cut in half in recent years. The Texas Legislature reduced funding for beach repair and protection from $15 million in 2002-03 to $7.3 million in both 2004-05 and 2006-07.
But in 2007, the 80th Legislature approved a record level of funding for coastal management — $25 million for 2008-09. The funds will come from the state’s sporting goods sales tax.
Of the $25 million, $17.5 million will go to the Texas Coastal Erosion Planning and Response Program (CEPRA). The legislature formed this program in 1999. It is an alliance of the GLO, federal and local governments and citizens of coastal communities. CEPRA dollars pay for estuary programs, habitat restoration and protection, coastal research and studies and for beach nourishment, dune restoration and shoreline protection projects. The remaining $7.5 million will fund the GLO’s Coastal Stewardship Division.
In October the GLO announced a $13.5 million project — the largest beach project in Texas history — to restore at least three miles of eroded Galveston beaches. Funding for the project will include $5 million in state CEPRA funding, $6 million in proposed state Coastal Impact Assistance Program funding (CIAP), $1.25 million in county CIAP funding and $1.25 million in local funds.
Federal funds will also help. In 2007, the U.S. Department of the Interior allocated $48.6 million to Texas for CIAP. This program helps coastal states and coastal political subdivisions within states that have either supported or been affected in some measure by outer continental shelf oil and gas exploration and development. Of the $48.6 million, $31.6 million is available for the state, and $17 million is earmarked for specifi c counties. The funding will pay for coastal protection and restoration — including conservation, planning assistance and infrastructure projects — related to offshore energy exploration.
“On a global scale, the sea level is rising, and that affects coastal erosion,” says Dr. Gary Jeffress, director of the Conrad Blucher Institute for Surveying and Science at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi. “It’s a force of nature and apparently due to climate change. The extent of mitigation to sea level rise depends on how much money you can throw at it.”
Some parts of Texas have been hit hard in recent years. Changing tides and currents and events like Hurricanes Rita and Katrina have sped up the erosion rates along Texas’ coastline. Few places have witnessed as fast a change in their coastline as South Padre Island. The beach has gone from being recognized in 2005 as one of the nation’s top five restored beaches to its present “near emergency situation,” says South Padre Island Mayor Bob Pinkerton.
“The Katrina high tides hit us sufficiently to cause major erosion on portions of our beach,” says Pinkerton.
South Padre also missed a dredging cycle with the Port of Brownsville. Usually, when the port dredges its channel, South Padre takes the dredged sand and shores up its beaches. But in 2006, the port needed its dredged sand due to high tides. South Padre also faced high-energy waves during cold fronts in the winter of 2006-07, further eroding the beach.
“We have a serious problem at this time on the north end of our beaches,” Pinkerton says. “Out of five miles, about a half or three-fourths of a mile of beach is in serious condition.” In October the GLO announced that South Padre would receive $2.8 million to renourish more than a mile of beach with an offshore sand source.
The city is pursuing a sand source study to identify a permanent offshore source of sand and is collecting sand off its highways to help nourish its beaches.
Beach nourishment involves pumping sand from one location onto an eroding beach. It can be costly, and often the beaches with the most erosion have the fewest sources of sand available.
Surfside Beach, Galveston Island and Jefferson County around U.S. Highway 287 also are critical areas for beach repair.
Erosion has hit Surfside Beach, near Freeport, so hard that high tides roll in on some private homes. In March, the GLO announced that 14 Surfside homes on the public beach would be moved with the state’s help.
Sea levels are slowly rising around Texas, contributing to erosion. National Ocean Service data observes the sea level is rising at a rate of about 2.13 feet per century near Galveston. This is the highest measurement of rising sea level along the Texas coast, Jeffress says. Rockport, near Corpus Christi, is rising about 1.5 feet per century.
“It’s not just a sea level rise,” Jeffress says. “It’s also land subsidence. This occurs when the land is compacting and compressing due to water, oil, and gas extraction.”
Texas beaches and the tourists they draw are a huge economic driver for the state — generating an estimated $7 billion annually.
“The beach is the number one reason people travel here,” says Keith Arnold, CEO of the Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re always concerned about erosion, but fortunately to date we haven’t been impacted by it in a significant fashion.”
South Padre is looking at a one to two-year project to address its emergency erosion situation and identify permanent sources of sand.
“The Legislature is allowing us to use beach maintenance funds for beach re-nourishment,” Pinkerton says.
For more information on Texas coastal issues, erosion rates and beach restoration projects, visit www.glo.state.tx.us/coastal/erosion.html. FN