GALVESTON COASTAL EROSION:
An Overview of Causes, Problems and Where We Stand

By
Kristen Dees
Gail Davis
Environmental Law Project
June 29, 2001

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. DEFINITION

  2. GENERAL OVERVIEW: CAUSE AND EFFECT

  3. LEGISLATION, LAWS AND REGULATIONS

    1. Federal Influence
    2. State of Texas Influence

  4. GALVESTON SPECIFIC INITIATIVES

    1. Texas General Land Office
    2. Galveston Bay Estuary Program
    3. West Galveston Island Property Owners Association
    4. Pirates Property Owners Association
    5. City of Galveston Coastal Development Ordinance No. 94-26

  5. CONCLUSION

DEFINITION

Erosion is "the means of wearing away of a shore of a body of water covered by sand, gravel or larger rock fragments by an instance or product of erosive action." 1 Today, there is a growing awareness of the urgency of the coastal erosion problem. Homes, public highways, recreational beaches, wetland habitat, oil and gas facilities and other commercial establishments along the coast are threatened by drastic shoreline retreat.

GENERAL OVERVIEW: CAUSE AND EFFECT

According to the Texas General Land Office, the natural coastal environment of Texas is the product of climate, tides, relative sea-level change, tropical storm frequency, the amount of sediment delivered to the Gulf of Mexico by rivers and the rate of dispersal of that sediment by waves and currents. Some of these processes contribute to long-term (chronic) coastal erosion, and others cause short-term (storm-induced) erosion. Daily winds and tides have only a moderate effect on the shoreline. Hurricanes and tropical storms have a significant impact where winds drive currents and large volumes of beach shoreface sand (to the west and southwest) along the Texas coast. Chronic erosion is generally more difficult to address than storm-induced erosion. 2

Coastal shoreline recession and erosion is caused by a relative rise in sea level (possible Greenhouse effect), and the fact that the amount of sediment removed by wave energy exceeds that supplied to the beach by longshore currents. At Galveston, Texas, the relative rise in sea level was measured at 0.63 cm/year. This is significant because Texas beaches are relatively flat and any rise in sea level can result in substantial shoreline recession. Climate change (from wetter to drier) during the past 18,000 years has decreased the volume of sediments carried to the Texas coast by rivers. Droughts can cause stabilizing vegetation to die and increase erosion of bay shorelines and coastal sand dunes. 3

Human modifications or actions can contribute to or accelerate localized coastal erosion. Jetties, groins, and breakwaters hinder sediments that would normally collect along the shoreline. Seawalls, revetments 4 and bulkheads also contribute to the hindrance of sediments normal patterns of distribution. Improper beach cleaning and management or other means of extracting sediments important to the structure of the beach are also of concern. Waves generated by boats and ships can erode unprotected shorelines or accelerate erosion in areas already affected by natural processes. An increase in the number of ships with large wakes could prove detrimental to coastal properties. 5

LEGISLATION, LAWS AND REGULATIONS

Federal Influence

In general, most federal acts have issued guidelines for states to follow, giving more and more responsibility to the states for developing their own plan for protecting their coastal environment and preventing coastal erosion. Over the years, the federal government has issued numerous acts with specific direction towards beach erosion, and others with only small sections devoted to a small part of the beach erosion protection situation.

Under Public Law 71-570 , the Corps of Engineers (COE) was established as the federal agency responsible for studying, planning, and implementing shore protection projects. The COE is also responsible for regulating all construction in or modification of navigable waters (River & Harbor Act of 1899) and for regulating the discharge of dredged and fill material into waters of the U.S. (404 of the Clean Water Act). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Marine Fisheries Service provide important advisory roles to the COE in this process. 6

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 , as amended, Sec. 2 [42 USC 4321] states the purposes of this Act are: To declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment, to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man: to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation; and to establish a Council on Environmental Quality. 7

The Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (CZMA) was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1972. It provides a national policy to encourage and assist states to develop and implement coastal management programs. The CZMA provides the framework and guidelines and the states determine the boundaries of the coastal zone, the important coastal problems and the policies and laws that address them. The states also determine the lead agency that will implement the program and receive the federal grants and matching funds for planning or administration. 8 Most states had existing institutions for managing coastal activities, but the national effort was intended to make these state efforts more cohesive and effective. 9

The Water Resource Act of 1990 includes provisions (Section 309) that encourage coastal states to establish "beach front management programs" with specific provisions governing activities in eroding, protected, or renourished shorelines.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has also taken a concern in the protection of our coastal areas. It prohibits "any human-caused alterations of sand dunes which could increase potential flood damage." 10

Other legislation or acts with some influence on the beach erosion issue nationwide include:

While federal coastal efforts have received considerable internal and external review and assessment, little work has been done to evaluate the effectiveness of state coastal management programs, particularly in regards to shoreline erosion. 12 Much of the state management programs have been left up to the states with minimal input from the federal agency.

State of Texas Influence

The Texas Gulf Coast shoreline stretches for 370 miles. Nearly a quarter of the coast is national seashore or state park. The Texas coast has experience significant growth and development in recent decades, with resultant damage to the dune complex. Approximately 60 percent of the Gulf shoreline are eroding at rates varying from 1 to 50 feet per year. 13

The packing characteristics of the sand, and the wide, mildly sloping beaches along the Texas Gulf Coast have combined to create a condition unusual on other parts of the Gulf Coast; the beaches easily support automobile traffic. Historically, Texans used their dry beaches as coastal roadways long before roads were paved further landward. The benefits of this public easement and perhaps the "open range attitude" in Texas, led to the passage of one of the earliest acts on coastal policy, the Texas Open Reaches Act (TORA) of 1959. 14

Under this Act, the public's right to "free and unrestricted" access to and from "the state-owned beaches bordering on the seaward shore of the Gulf of Mexico." Under the Open Beaches Act, it is up to the private landowner, not the public beach user, in case of a conflict to prove public transversal or use of private land. The Act prohibits the erection of any physical barrier that would impede public access to the beach and any written or oral claim that the public beach is private property or that the public does not have the right of access to it. The Open Beaches Act applies only to Gulf beaches that are accessible by public road or public ferry. 15

The Texas General Land Office is responsible for management of the 367 miles of Texas coastline from the vegetation line framing the beach to 10.3 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Several programs stemming from that basic responsibility have made the coastal region Texas' second-most popular tourist attraction, generating $7 billion a year.

The Dune Protection Act of 1973 (Tex.Nat.Res.Code Ann. 63.001 et seq.) recognizes the importance of coastal sand dunes and the role they play in protecting landward structures from storms as well as supplying sediments to the beaches during storms. The Act required that dune protection line that protect coastal sand dunes and dune vegetation be established up to 1,000 feet landward of mean high tide. 16

The Texas Coastal Management Program was one of the last state plans to be submitted to the federal government under the Coastal Zone Management Act. The plan, based on the Coastal Coordination Act of 1991, as amended in 1995, creates a networked program of existing state and local regulations. It identifies potentially adverse uses and activities and addresses them with uniform policies. The Texas General Land Office is the lead agency for implementing the program. 17

The following is an overview of other State of Texas legislation dealing with coastal erosion and management.

Tex. Nat. Res. Code Ann. 33.059 authorizes the School Land Board to study various coastal engineering problems, including the protection of the shoreline against erosion.

Tex. Water Code Ann. 16.320 authorizes the Commissioner of the General Land Office to "perform all acts necessary to develop and implement a program for certification of structures subject to imminent collapse due to erosion."

Tex. Nat. Res. Code Ann 33.601-33.604 establish the General Land Office as the lead agency for the coordination of coastal erosion avoidance, remediation and planning, and direct the General Land Office to engage in erosion demonstration projects and studies in conjunction with other state agencies, local governments, and federal agencies.

Unfortunately, Texas has one of the highest rates of coastal erosion in the country. The Texas Legislature created the Texas Coastal Erosion Planning & Response Act of 1999 (CEPRA). The Texas General Land Office was put in charge of its administration and control over the Coastal Erosion Fund that will provide $15 million over the next two years to be used for projects to reduce the forces eroding Texas beaches. 18

GALVESTON SPECIFIC INITIATIVES

Texas General Land Office

The Texas General Land Office (TGLO) has defined "eroding areas" as "a portion of the shoreline which is experiencing a historical erosion rate of greater than two feet per year based on published data of the University of Texas at Austin, Bureau of Economic Geology." An eroding area is considered critical when the rate of erosion exceeds two feet per year and poses a threat to: 19

The TGLO has designated two Critical Erosion Areas in Galveston County. The first is Caplen Beach, Bolivar Peninsula. They described the problem here as being due to historical receding of the Gulf-facing beach. The bluff face is unstable and unvegetated, and no dune system remains. The destruction of several dozen homes is imminent. Most of these homes were located well back from the shoreline following the devastation of the area by Hurricane Carla in 1961. 21

The cause of the erosion in this area is that the Bolivar Peninsula suffers from a lack of sediment due to the Sabine jetties (a longshore sediment transport barrier) and to reduced sediment supply from the Neches and Sabine rivers (due to urbanization and water supply/flood control dams). 22

The Texas General Land office completed the first project funded by the state under CEPRA. Working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Land Office put approximately 160,000 cubic yards of sand dredged from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway onto the Caplen Beach adjacent to Rollover Pass on Bolivar Peninsula. The project was a "win-win" proposition for all the parties involved. The Corps of Engineers needed to dredge the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway because barges were running aground on sandbars. The dredged sand was used beneficially to nourish the public beach to preserve it as a natural resource, enhance its recreational value to the public, and promote its economic potential (see attached Exhibit "A). 23

The second Critical Erosion Area in Galveston County is Galveston Island State Park Bay Shoreline. In this area, the marshes are being converted to open water. This is severely increasing due to the loss of protective emergent shoals. Wave erosion due to recreational vessel wakes has lowered the elevation of protective shoals towards the shoreline. This shoreline retreat should be stopped and reversed. This project is still under evaluation. 24

Galveston Bay Estuary Program

The Galveston Bay Estuary Program is a continuation of the National Estuary Program (NEP) established for Galveston Bay in 1989. The NEP was established by Section 320 of the Water Quality Act of 1987 and authorized the development of Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plans (CCMPs) for estuaries of national significance that are threatened by pollution, development or overuse. 26

The following is a schedule of events that the Galveston Bay Estuary Program has been or is involved with:

Galveston Bay Estuary Program

Public Participation and Education 26

West Galveston Island Property Owners Association

The West Galveston Island Property Owners Association (WGIPOA) was organized on February 20, 1999. Its purpose is "to promote the common good and general welfare of the property owners of West Galveston Island by furthering their interest in preserving and protecting the Gulf and Bay shorelines. 27

Pirate's Property Owners Association (PPOA)

This is another organization of private property owners on the West End of Galveston Island with similar goals as the WGIPOA.

Both of these organizations were active in supporting the Coastal Erosion Planning and Response Act. Texas has never been included in federal shoreline protection funding because it did not have an approved program. The federal money, along with state funds will allow Texas cities the opportunity to combat erosion problems. 28

Both the West Galveston Island Property Owners Association and the Pirate's Property Owners Association (PPOA) are active in the Galveston area. However, most of their initiatives come from a concern for private property ownership interests. Their interests may not always have the environment in first place. Protection of property seems to be first, with protection of the environment coming only if it is mutually beneficial to both.

City of Galveston Coastal Development Ordinance No. 94-26

Being located on an island in the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston is commonly subjected to natural hazards such as storm, floods and shoreline erosion. These hazards disrupt commerce and governmental services, affect the tax base and threaten public health, safety, and general welfare. The Open Beaches Act and the Dune Protection Act require the Texas General Land Office to make rule for the protection of dune areas and public beach use and access. The City of Galveston Coastal Development Ordinance No. 94-26 provides standards for managing the property fronting the Gulf of Mexico and works in conjunction with the following:

A copy of the Ordinance is enclosed with the accompanying educator module. 29

Tropical Storm Allison

Tropical Storm Allison surprised Galveston, Texas by hitting the shore on June 5, 2001 with 60 mph winds and over a foot of rain. A reinforced coastline in southeast Texas held up against Tropical Storm Allison saving an estimated 50-75 feel of land from washing into the Gulf of Mexico, according to Galveston County Emergency Management Coordinators. The mitigation project possibly saved 75 houses from being destroyed by the storm. 30

CONCLUSION

As this report indicates, much has been done in the area of coastal zone management through federal, state and local programs. There is still much to do. The problems of coastal erosion have been addressed and the public has been made aware of the need to manage and/or resolve these problems. Funding, education and a genuine public concern for the protection of our coastal environment for present and future generations are the major issues. These issues are vital in securing mutual quality enjoyment of the beaches and bays that Galveston Island has been blessed with, now and in the future.

CITATIONS

1 This definition is a combination of the definitions of "beach" and "erosion" as found in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition

2 Texas Coastwide Erosion Response Plan, A Report to the 75th Texas Legislature, August 1996, pg. 3. Permission to use this material was granted by Kenneth Helgren, Information Specialist, Grants, Education & Outreach Division of Resource Management of the Texas General Land Office. While the majority of information is from this publication, we found that every publication regarding our federal, state and local programs contained the exact same information, almost to the exact wording.

3 Texas Coastwide Erosion Response Plan, A Report to the 75th Texas Legislature, August 1996, pg. 3.

4 "Revetment" is defined as a facing to sustain an embankment. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, lOth edition.

5 Texas Coastwide Erosion Response Plan, A Report to the 75th Texas Legislature, August 1996, pg. 11.

6 Texas Coastwide Erosion Response Plan, A Report to the 75th Texas Legislature, August 1996, pg. 11-12.

7 Environmental Protection Agency website, May 2001.

8 Hershman, Marc J., et al; "The Effectiveness of Coastal Zone Management in the United States"; Coastal Zone Management, vol. 27, April- September 1999; p. 114.

9 Gulf Coast Report sponsored by the Coastal and Shoreline Erosion Subcommittee of the Gulf of Mexico Program website, May 2001.

10 Dune Protection and Improvement Manual for the Texas Gulf Coast, a State of Texas publication from the General Land Office, pg, 20.

11 Coastal Tourism and Recreation Report, NOAA website, May 2001

12 Gulf Coast Report sponsored by the Coastal and Shoreline Erosion Subcommittee of the Gulf of Mexico Program website , May 2001.

13 Gulf Coast Report sponsored by the Coastal and Shoreline Erosion Subcommittee of the Gulf of Mexico Program website , May 2001.

14 Gulf Coast Report sponsored by the Coastal and Shoreline Erosion Subcommittee of the Gulf of Mexico Program website , May 2001.

15 Texas Coastwide Erosion Response Plan, A Report to the 75th Texas Legislature, August 1996. Page 10.

16 Texas Coastwide Erosion Response Plan, A Report to the 75th Texas Legislature, August 1996. Page 10.

17 Gulf Coast Report sponsored by the Coastal and Shoreline Erosion Subcommittee of the Gulf of Mexico Program website , May 2001.

18 Texas General Land Office website, May 2001.

19 Texas Coastwide Erosion Response Plan, A Report to the 75th Texas Legislature, August 1996. Page 38.

20 Texas Coastwide Erosion Response Plan, A Report to the 75th Texas Legislature, August 1996. Page 44.

21 Texas Coastwide Erosion Response Plan, A Report to the 7Sd1 Texas Legislature, August 1996. Page 44.

22 Texas Coastwide Erosion Response Plan, A Report to the 7Sd1 Texas Legislature, August 1996. Page 44.

23 Texas General Land Office website, May 2001. This was a successful project it seems, however, in this case the opinions of the Texas General Land Office were somewhat biased in their favor. Further research into the benefits of "nourishing" will have to be done to ensure there are no risks of hazardous contamination in the dredge material and that the procedures used in the nourishing project are the best to achieve the best results. This is our opinion only.

24 Texas Coastwide Erosion Response Plan, A Report to the 7Sd1 Texas Legislature, August 1996. Page 48.

25 Galveston Bay Estuary Program website, May 2001.

26 Galveston Bay Estuary Program website, May 2001.

27 West Galveston Island Property Owners Association website,

28 West Galveston Island Property Owners Association website,

29 City of Galveston Coastal Development Ordinance No. 94-26. City of Galveston Planning and Development Office. 1990.

30 "Some credited for limiting TS Allison's damage," The Associated Press 6 June 2001.

REFERENCES CITED

City of Galveston Coastal Development Ordinance No. 94-26. City of Galveston Planning and Development Office. 1990.

Coastal Tourism and Recreation Report, NOAA website , May 2001

Dune Protection and Improvement Manual for the Texas Gulf Coast, a State of Texas publication from the General Land Office, 20.

Environmental Protection Agency website , May 2001.

Galveston Bay Estuary Program website , May 2001.

Gulf Coast Report sponsored by the Coastal and Shoreline Erosion Subcommittee of the Gulf of Mexico Program, May 2001.

Hershman, Marc J., et al; "The Effectiveness of Coastal Zone Management in the United States"; Coastal Zone Management, vol. 27, April- September 1999; 114.

"Some credited for limiting TS Allison's damage," The Associated Press 6 June 2001.

Texas Coastwide Erosion Response Plan, A Report to the 75th Texas Legislature, August 1996, 3. Permission to use this material was granted by Kenneth Helgren, Information Specialist, Grants, Education & Outreach Division of Resource Management of the Texas General Land Office.

Texas General Land Office web site , May 2001.

West Galveston Island Property Owners Association website

Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition.



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