HRI: Baffin Bay Watershed Project Included in Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan

Contributed Content | Published: April 09, 2019

HRI: Baffin Bay Watershed Project Included in Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A watershed project aimed at improving the health of Baffin Bay is included in the state’s new 2019 Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan announced last month.

HRI Chair for Coastal Ecosystem Processes Dr. Mike Wetz of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has led Baffin Bay water quality monitoring and research since 2013, and now co-chairs a stakeholder group that is trying to find solutions to water quality concerns in the bay.  Wetz says that inclusion of the watershed project in the master plan indicates that the state is making the health of this impaired bay system a priority. 

“The original master plan didn’t include any projects between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande Valley, and the fact that the state and Texas stakeholders recognized that Baffin Bay needs help is huge,” Wetz said.

Texas announced the release of the 2019 Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan in mid-March. The plan, which addresses the management of natural and man-made coastal environments in the state, recommends 123 projects that have been compiled by the Texas General Land Office and vetted with input from a Technical Advisory Committee of coastal experts.

The proposed Baffin Bay Watershed Monitoring and Management Plan would guide restoration efforts aimed at reducing pollutants to the watershed streams and bay and support all phases of plan development: bay and watershed data collection; land use and load modeling; outreach to landowners and businesses; and improvement of stewardship practices.

Wetz said he first become involved in the project seven years ago, when poor environmental indicators led residents to become concerned about the health of Baffin Bay. There had been a number of fish kills; brown tide, an overgrowth of algae species that can harm sea grasses; and people were noticing popular sportfish like black drum were not healthy.

Because of residential concerns about the water quality in the bay and the impact it was having on the fishery, a water quality study was implemented with the help of 15 dedicated citizen scientists. That study found excess nitrogen in the system to be the likely source of algal blooms, which is often evidence of the “human fingerprint on the environment,” Wetz said.

“That nitrogen can come from a lot of human-based sources: minimally treated wastewater, fertilizer runoff, even poorly maintained septic tanks,” Wetz said.

It has since been discovered that Baffin Bay and its watershed streams exceed Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s screening levels for chlorophyll, further evidence of nutrient pollution, and the streams are considered impaired for several water quality variables.  As a result of these efforts, a stakeholder group was formed to determine how to tackle issues in Baffin Bay and the Watershed Monitoring and Management Plan has become a top priority for the group.

Baffin Bay is considered one of the jewels of the Texas coast because of its tremendous fishing and recreation potential, as well as its positive economic impact on the surrounding communities. Establishing a watershed protection plan and employing pollution reduction actions would improve the long-term health of Baffin Bay, and stakeholders are also hoping to secure funding for other restoration activities in the system.

Wetz said bringing local stakeholders into the process has been essential to the long-term success of the efforts in Baffin Bay.

“Giving these stakeholders a voice and working with them to see how, step-by-step, we can accomplish our goals for this system has been really important,” Wetz said. “These restoration efforts are bound to fail unless we have buy-in from the community, local landowners and business owners.”

The goal of the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan is to provide a framework for protecting communities, infrastructure and the environment from coastal hazards, such as flooding, storm surge, erosion and habitat loss. The Resiliency Plan also incorporates the most current storm surge and relative sea level rise models produced by HRI’s Geospatial Sciences Lab led by HRI Chair Dr. Jim Gibeaut to illustrate the need and benefit of these projects into the future.

For more information or to see a copy of the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan visit coastalstudy.texas.gov.