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Galveston Bay Report Card Identifies Highs and Lows of Bay’s Health

Posting Date: 
Wednesday, August 12, 2015

LA PORTE, Texas--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Galveston Bay Foundation (GBF) and the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) today announced the first-ever Galveston Bay Report Card on the health of the Bay. This is the first time researchers have graded the Bay’s overall health, and some of the results are concerning.

“The overall grade of a C for Galveston Bay is not the end, but just the beginning”

GBF spent a year gathering input from thousands of local residents and stakeholders to determine what people want to know about the health of Galveston Bay. As a result, HARC analyzed data and trends on the topics of Water Quality, Pollution Events & Sources, Wildlife, Habitat, Human Health Risks, and Coastal Change.

The combined grade for all six categories is a C, which the report card describes as “adequate for now.” The Bay’s most significant challenges are pollution, declines in habitat acreage and some shellfish species, and the impacts of sea level rise. Some of the issues that have been identified are due to human activities that can be prevented. Others are more complex and will require cooperation and planning on both the local and regional levels.

“We are not in crisis mode yet, but we will be if we don’t take better care of our beloved Galveston Bay,” said GBF President Bob Stokes. “We hope this report card will serve as a wake-up call and prompt people to think about how their actions can impact the Bay.”

The report card calls attention to the items that are putting Galveston Bay at risk and provides recommendations on how people can help preserve the Bay. Some of the recommendations include:

  • Slow runoff by reducing paved areas and installing rain barrels or rain gardens.
  • Help preserve and restore habitats, like forests, wetlands, and oyster reefs.
  • Don’t over-fertilize or over-water your lawn.
  • Always dispose of trash and pet waste properly.
  • Report environmental violations, discharges, or spills.
  • Never pour fats, oils or grease down kitchen, bath or storm drains.

While the overall report card grade shows need for improvement, some areas of Galveston Bay are thriving. According to the analysis, the Bay’s nutrient and dissolved oxygen levels (the indicators that make up the water quality grade) are in good shape. And, federal regulations under the U.S. Clean Water Act are credited with significant improvements in pollution control and the preservation of saltwater wetlands. Additionally, most fish and bird populations are holding steady.

Report Card Categories

  • Water Quality — The Bay’s overall water quality received the highest grade — a B. The water quality is threatened mostly by runoff from residential areas and wastewater from human activity.
  • Pollution Events & Sources — This category received a D. Oil spills, trash, and toxic contamination are environmental risks that can harm wildlife, habitats, and the safety of our seafood supply. In 2014, Galveston Bay suffered a large oil spill from a ship collision that increased oil spill volume by nine times over the previous decade’s average.
  • Wildlife — Galveston Bay’s wildlife, which plays an important role in the Bay’s ecosystem, received a D as well. Some shellfish populations have been deteriorating and need to be restored.
  • Habitat — The Bay’s natural habitats also received a D. Freshwater wetlands, underwater grasses, and oyster reefs were found to be under stress.
  • Human Health Risks — The Bay received a C for human health risks. While most Bay seafood is safe to eat, a long history of toxic contamination has led to seafood consumption warnings for some species in certain areas of the Bay. Additionally, swimming in area streams and bayous is generally discouraged due to recurring high levels of bacteria that can make people sick.
  • Coastal Change — The Bay received a C for coastal change. The Bay’s physical environment is affected by rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, and increasing demands for freshwater.

The entire Galveston Bay Report Card can be found online at www.galvbaygrade.org. The report card will be updated annually. “The overall grade of a C for Galveston Bay is not the end, but just the beginning,” said HARC Vice President Lisa Gonzalez. “It provides an important baseline for action and future assessments of the Bay.”

Galveston Bay

Galveston Bay plays an important role in the Houston-Galveston area’s economy. The Bay is responsible for half of the nation’s petrochemical production and is a major producer of seafood. It also supports water-based industries, such as shipping, boating, fishing, and nature tourism. These industries contribute billions of dollars to the region’s economy and employ thousands of people. Additionally, the Bay’s upland prairies and wetlands help absorb floodwaters and filter contaminated storm water runoff.

About Houston Advanced Research Center

HARC is a research hub providing independent analysis on energy, air, and water issues to people seeking scientific answers. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization focuses on building a sustainable future that will help people thrive and nature flourish. For further information, contact HARC at (281) 364-6000 or visit HARCresearch.org.

About Galveston Bay Foundation

The mission of the GBF is to preserve, protect, and enhance the natural resources of the Galveston Bay estuarine system and its tributaries for present users and for posterity. The Foundation was incorporated in 1987, and is a Section 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. For further information, call (281) 332-3381 or visit galvbay.org.