House advances giant Texas storm surge project in water bill

House advances giant Texas storm surge project in water bill thumbnail

Fourteen year after Hurricane Ike ravaged thousands of homes and businesses in Galveston, Texas, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to authorize the most costly project ever recommended by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for protection against the next raging hurricane.

Ike erased beachfront neighborhoods, causing $30 billion in damage. It could have been worse, however, with so much of the nation’s petrochemical sector in the Houston-Galveston region. Bill Merrell, a marine science professor, was inspired by that close call to propose a huge coastal barrier to protect against direct hits.

Now, the National Defense Authorization Act includes authorizations for a $34 billion plan that borrows from Merrell’s idea. It was very different from anything we had done in America and it took us some time to get to it,” stated Merrell, Texas A&M University at Galveston.

The House passed the $858 billion defense bill by a vote of 350-80. It includes major projects to improve waterways in the country and to protect communities from flooding caused by climate change.

Specifically, the vote advances the Water Resources Development Act of 2022. This policy sets out a wide range of policies for Army Corps and authorizes projects that address navigation, improving the environment, and protecting against storms. It usually passes every two years. It was supported by strong bipartisan support and is now moving to the Senate.

The Texas coastal protection project far outstrips any of the 24 other projects greenlit by the bill. The bill authorizes a $6.3 billion plan for the expansion of vital shipping channels near New York City, and a $1.2 million effort to build homes and businesses along the central Louisiana coast.

” “No matter which side of politics you are, everyone is interested having good water resources,” said Sandra Knight of WaterWonks LLC.


Researchers at Rice University in Houston have estimated that a Category 4 storm with a 24-foot storm surge could damage storage tanks and release more than 90 million gallons of oil and hazardous substances.

The most prominent feature of the coastal barrier would be floodgates, including some 650 feet wide – roughly the equivalent of a 60-story building on its side – to prevent storm surge from entering Galveston Bay and plowing up the Houston Ship Channel. An 18-mile ring barrier system would also be built along the backside of Galveston Island to protect homes and businesses from storm surge. Six years of research were required to develop the plan, which involved approximately 200 people.

There will also be projects to restore dune and beach ecosystems along the Texas coast. The Houston Audubon Society expressed concern that the project could destroy bird habitat and cause damage to fish, shrimp, and crab populations in the Bay.

NEXT STEEPS The legislation allows construction of the project. However, funding will still be a challenge. Money must still be allocated. The federal government bears the largest cost burden, but local and state entities will also have to contribute billions. Construction could take up to two decades.

” It significantly reduces that catastrophic storm surge event which is not recoverable,” said Mike Braden of the Army Corps Galveston District mega projects division.

The bill also contains a variety of policy measures. For example, coastal protections can now be rebuilt with climate change in consideration. When designing plans, designers will be able think about how much the seas will rise.

” The future of many of these communities will not look like the past,” stated Jimmy Hague, senior water policy advisor with the Nature Conservancy.

The water resources bill continues to push for wetlands and other flood solutions which use nature to absorb water, rather than concrete walls to keep it away. A new program, which will create a mix flood control projects and restore ecosystems on the Mississippi River below St. Louis is an example. The program also includes provisions for long-term drought research.

There is a way to increase outreach to tribes and make it easier for people to work in historically disadvantaged areas. It can take time to study projects and move them through Congress. Merrell, who will be turning 80 in February said he hopes to see some Texas projects built but doesn’t believe he’ll ever be able to witness them finished.

” “I just hope that the end product comes and protects my children, grandchildren, and all the other residents of this area,” Merrell stated.


Phillis reported from St. Louis.


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