Representatives from the Aransas County Navigation District (ACND), Belaire Environmental Inc.’s (BEI) Charlie Belaire, members of the Friends of Little Bay, and interested individuals met at the Saltwater Pavilion Wednesday, Jan. 20 to hear an assessment about the health of Little Bay.
(Note: At the ACND’s Jan. 19 meeting, commissioners approved a proposal for Environmental Consulting Services with BEI in regard to developing Little Bay Water Policy.)
ACND Chairman Malcolm Dieckow opened the forum noting the Friends of Little Bay were inactive for a while, but were now back up and running.
“The reason we’re here tonight is because Little Bay has been in decline for many years,” said Dieckow.
He said projected population increases, and further development in the area is the primary reason for immediately addressing the shallow bay, into which much of Aransas County’s stormwater runoff from developed areas is dumped.
“As stormwater runoff increases, so will the amount of silt and other stuff,” said Dieckow.
He said Little Bay is filling in, and is much shallower than before, and it will continue to get shallower without action.
Dieckow also pointed to the increasing nutrient loading into the low circulation system, which is leading to extensive algae blooms.
“There’s no magic bullet (that will solve all the issues Little Bay faces), but the first thing we have to do is limit the amount of stormwater runoff draining into it,” he said. “I feel the stormwater plan can be modified to direct (stormwater runoff) to Copano and Aransas bays.
“If we don’t do something now, it’s only going to get worse. And, as population grows, it’s going to get worse, faster.”
He then introduced Belaire, saying, “No one knows more about Little Bay than Charlie Belaire.”
Belaire said his company has restored almost 200 sites, saying, “We have planted more seagrass than anyone in the United States.” He outlined many of the successful projects his company has been a part of, inside and outside the United States.
Reviewing the history of seagrass growth in Little Bay, Belaire noted there was significant loss of seagrass between 1992 and 2001. During that nine-year period the new HEB and Walmart were built, Business Highway 35 was expanded to four lanes (with a dedicated left turn lane), and major rain events (greater than 10”) occurred.
He showed a 2007 aerial photo of Little Bay at the Tule Creek Outfall, which showed no visible seagrass, and increased silting.
He noted the constructed oyster reefs built in Little Bay have been a big success, but they have not lead to reoccupation of seagrass in Little Bay.
Belaire said stormwater runoff is 95% sand and 5% clay, and suspended clay leads to the degradation of seagrass, and makes conditions ripe for algae.
(One can drive along Little Bay today and see the large amounts of algae accumulating along the shoreline, and beyond.)
“Algae blooms aren’t good for recreational water use,” said Belaire.
He noted the ACND hired his company to look into the issues Little Bay faces.
“We are going to look at this very seriously,” said Belaire. “Our goal is to recommend the most cost-effective solutions.”
BEI will work to identify point sources and non-point sources for bacteria and nutrients, potential in-bay solutions, study circulation issues, and anything else that might be affecting Little Bay.
The meeting was then opened to questions from the audience.
One question was if dredging Little Bay will help its overall health.
Belaire said it’s inconclusive how deep one would have to dredge to keep sediments from being suspended (and impeding seagrass growth).
It was also noted greater circulation in Little Bay couldn’t hurt it.
Several question were asked about the City of Rockport’s wastewater treatment plant, and its discharge into Little Bay, via Tule Creek.
Dieckow made it a point to say he is not belittling the city’s wastewater treatment plant, or the city’s efforts to make the discharge as pure as possible.
“It’s where it’s drained,” he said, referring to outflow from the treatment plant, and so much other stormwater draining into Little Bay via Tule Creek.”
One lady noted the wastewater treatment plant isn’t the only contributor to runoff via Tule, noting, “There are a lot of nice yards (and fertilizer) and dog poop that goes into Tule Creek.”
ACND Harbor Master Keith Barrett closed the forum with general comments about Little Bay.
“Roughly 3,000 acres of Aransas County property drains into Little Bay,” he said. “Leggett and Blevin’s channels are the only way water can get out.”
He described the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey when stormwater draining into Little Bay overpowered the bay, blowing out a part of the Leggett Channel breakwater, damaged the entrance to Blevin’s Channel, undercut the Key Allegro Bridge, and created new channels through the beach in order for water to escape.
Barrett showed an aerial photo of the Live Oak Peninsula, which showed the areas of development, as well as green spaces.
“What if the green spaces develop in the same pattern (as the developed areas)?” he asked. “We welcome development, but Little Bay has suffered (because of development).”
Barrett said the water in Little Bay was over his head when he learned to water ski as a kid, but it is slowly filling in over time.
“Little Bay has 11 outflows (including Tule Creek, emptying into it),” he said. “We can’t continue to put another pipe into Little Bay. It can’t handle that much flow.”
BEI will study the issues affecting the long-term health of Little Bay and report back to the ACND when work is completed.
(Note: Mott MacDonald is currently working on a FEMA funded Little Bay circulation study, as well, to help address issues faced in Harvey’s aftermath.)