Protecting the Texas Coast: A Case for the Coastal Resiliency Master Plan

Nearly nine years after Hurricanes Ike and Dolly, the Texas coast looks almost identical to the days before those storms caused such devastation.

It’s time for that to change.

In 2015, Commissioner George P. Bush initiated the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan to make sure it does. That plan was released this March.

With an annual budget of only $22 million in state funds a year for coastal protection and preservation, the GLO mapped out a larger vision for our coast because the next big storm is a matter of when, not if, and Texas needs to be prepared. The Coastal Resiliency Master Plan plays a big role in spurring that preparation as a space where federal, state and local coastal management priorities come together. It’s vital they do, because Texas is a coastal state—not just a state with a coast.

A quarter of the state chose to build their lives on the coast with more than 6.5 million Texans calling it home.

Texas has the 6th most coastline in the country and over 25% of all oil and gas refining takes place in the area — including the 2 largest refineries in the country.

The coast is a global hub for food, fuel, and force. More than $6 billion of agricultural exports pass through the coast every year, accompanied by $57 billion of petroleum and coal in 2012. The Texas coast is also home to more military grade jet and diesel fuel than anywhere else in the nation.

Protecting the Texas coast is a priority for all of us—not just the people who live there. And all we need to do is look back less than a decade to see price we pay if we don’t.

Hurricane Ike caused more than $30 billion in damages to the coast—not to mention the tens of billions more in lost economic activity to the state and nation while we recovered. But it could have been so much worse. Estimates say if Ike had changed course just a mile or two and hit the Houston Ship Channel directly, it would have caused more than $80 billion in direct damages.

The GLO is busy at work with the Army Corps of Engineers on a large scale coastal barrier system.

The GLO is busy at work with the Army Corps of Engineers on a large scale coastal barrier system, but in the meantime the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan provides the first comprehensive coastal plan in the state and lets us get to work right away.

Developed by statewide and regional coastal experts, the plan details 59 highly vetted projects that maximize coastal benefits and accomplish the goals of the agency while allowing the GLO to guide and enhance the various coastal programs it manages.

The Coastal Resiliency Master Plan applies to four regions and the counties therein and comes with the proposed estimated cost:

The planning area of the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan is the Texas Coastal Zone Boundary from the Texas Coastal Management Program, which is the area the GLO is required to regulate through state and federal laws. This area is immense — making up one-tenth of the state’s total land area and including over 6 million residents, representing nearly 25 percent of the state’s total population.

Region 1: Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson, and Orange — $1.085 billion

Region 2: Calhoun, Jackson, Matagorda, and Victoria — $304 million

Region 3: Aransas, Kleberg, Nueces, Refugio, and San Patricio — $97 million

Region 4: Cameron, Kenedy, and Willacy — $125 million

The total cost of the proposed Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan Tier 1 Projects is just over $1.6 billion.

The Coastal Resiliency Master Plan is also a resource for coastal communities to highlight their priorities and to solicit the kind of action that can make their communities more resilient and less vulnerable to the next big storm.

Projects like those detailed in the Coastal Resiliency Master Plan are an efficient and cost effective option to protect our coast and keep our coastal residents safe. For every dollar spent on beach and dune renourishment, the state saves $4 in recovery, according to FEMA.

And our beaches are eroding. The Texas coast is disappearing an average of 4.1 feet per year, though over 60% of the coast is losing over 6 feet per year and some areas lose 30 feet of beach every year.

Shoreline erosion is an ongoing natural process; however it is exacerbated by coastal Pressures, such as sea level rise, storms, sediment deficits and development, necessitating the need for beach and dune restoration.

That makes renourishment—the kind the GLO has been doing up and down the coast—vital. And the Coastal Resiliency Master Plan makes room for a range of motivating factors.

Where the renourishment in front of the Galveston Seawall, the largest project of its kind in state history, is almost exclusively tourism based, the renourishment happening in front of the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge is motivated by hurricane and natural habitat protection.

The Resiliency Strategies are intended to provide a system-wide approach within each coastal region to maximize the benefits of the projects when they are implemented collectively.

But the Coastal Resiliency Master Plan isn’t just about beaches and dunes. It addresses a spectrum of potential issues those coastal regions face. These include altered and degraded habitats, impacts on water quality and quantity, abandoned vessels, structures and debris, existing and future storm surge damage, and a number of other priorities.

While the Coastal Resiliency Master Plan is an effective blueprint for coastal protection and preservation, it is a living document. The GLO believes in an adaptive approach and recognizes coastal priorities evolve. Our ability to adapt ensures a long-term utility and vision for the Coastal Resiliency Master Plan.

The plan will change as processes mature and we gather additional data and our emphasis will change shape and grow to fill emerging needs.

“Millions of Texans live and work along the coast and the time has come to get serious about investing in its protection. By working together, we will directly address ongoing threats to the Texas coast and ensure a safer, more protected region for future generations.”

-George P. Bush, Commissioner, Texas General Land Office

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Texas General Land Office

Texas General Land Office

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Official Account for the Texas General Land Office | Follow Commissioner George P. Bush on Twitter at @georgepbush. www.txglo.org