A two-day meeting in Aransas County (Wednesday, March 25 and Thursday, March 26) involving the Texas General Land Office / Clean Coast Texas (CCT), Aransas County, the Aransas County Navigation District (ACND), City of Rockport, and Town of Fulton focused on the current health of Little Bay (LB), and the effect of nonpoint source pollution on the small bay, which has experienced a worsening circulation issue through the years with the creation of Rockport Beach and the development of Key Allegro.
Growth in Aransas County, and increased stormwater runoff water from the Tule Creek drainage basin, have all added to LB’s current woes, as well.
The ACND hired Belaire Environmental Inc. (BEI) to find solutions for the bay’s current problems.
ACND Chairman Malcolm Dieckow opened the meeting Wednesday noting that all local entities have taken actions in the past few years to address LB’s water quality issues, yet LB has continued its decline.
He said at one time there were 150-160 acres of seagrass in the bay, but now there is none.
“When we learned Clean Coast Texas was going to get on board (the Little Bay Initiative) it was like manna from Heaven,” said Dieckow. “LB is an environmental issue, but tourism is huge in Aransas County, so LB is an economic issue, as well.”
GLO Manager of Water Resources / Coastal Resources Jason Pinchback said the CCT Program is under development. The federal government is working with states that have a Resiliency Master Plan to find sources of nonpoint source pollution.
“(In designing the CCT Program) we are staying away from a regulatory model,” said Pinchback. “We don’t know in Austin what’s going on in your watershed.
“We are in the learning and soaking up information stage.
“The goal is to come up with a plan and look for sources of funding.”
BEI owner Charlie Belaire noted Aransas County is the “first community to step up” and ask CCT for help.
“I hope that is significant,” he said.
Pinchback responded, “We have limited capacity, but yes (your being first is significant).”
Belaire gave those in attendance an overview of some of the problems LB is facing.
(Note: Stories detailing Belaire’s findings and observations about LB have been extensively covered in past editions of The Rockport Pilot.)
He talked about the significant algae bloom in LB, noting, “That’s an indicator of a water quality problem.”
Pointing to the loss of LB’s seagrass, Belaire said, “Seagrass is indicative of a healthy ecosystem. Loss of seagrass is indicative of an unhealthy ecosystem.
“We had a healthy bay with abundant seagrass. We lost it. Now the question is, ‘how do we get it back?’”
Belaire recognized there have been various studies conducted in LB through the years. Pointing to one BEI study, he said, “The conclusion was all the individual parameters weren’t sufficient to cause seagrass loss.”
He noted studies through the years have taken sampling at different locations, and measure different things, including suspended solids.
One study showed suspended solids, where tested, were 21 mg/L.
“It is known that seagrass beds don’t grow (in water with suspended solids greater than 15 mg/L),” said Belaire.
“We are sampling LB right now, focusing on suspended solids.
“We sample 16 stations and the median was above 20 mg/L.”
He said in 1992 there were lush seagrass beds in LB.
“(Between 1992 and 2008) we went from lush seagrass to virtually none,” said Belaire.
He talked about the oyster reefs built in LB, and the goal to reach five oysters per square feet, which would filter all LB’s water every two to three weeks.
Belaire noted the reefs have maintained 10 oysters per square feet, and are still there after the Valentine’s week freeze.
“We hoped the reefs would help LB, but they didn’t as much as we had hoped,” he said.
He pointed to population growth and increased development as detriments to the LB’s health.
“We had lush seagrass beds with just Leggett and Bevin’s channels back in the 70s. I’m not sure just increasing the circulation (In LB) will solve (all LB’s problems).”
He said LB is only about 350 acres in size, compared to Aransas Bay’s 53,000 acres.
“Aransas Bay has far more capacity to accept stormwater and treated wastewater,” said Belaire.
He noted the local problem isn’t unique.
“This isn’t a problem just for Aransas County,” said Belaire. “It’s a (growing) problem across the country.”
He then presented possible solutions that could improve the health of LB.
One is to dam up Tule Creek and reroute a lot of stormwater runoff (in some manner) to Traylor Boulevard or Henderson Street, and into Aransas Bay.
“That’s probably only part of the solution, but it could be significant,” said Belaire.
Other solutions include widening or deepening Leggett Channel (which have natural restrictions), deepening LB, or adding a third channel (possibly at the entrance to Rockport Beach).
Dieckow noted the City of Rockport has spent a lot of money improving the quality of the discharge from its wastewater treatment plant, and meets all state standards.
He said there is no grievance against the city or the wastewater treatment plant, but times have changed, and LB simply can’t continue to be the dumping ground for so much stormwater runoff.
Belaire noted the likelihood of success addressing LB’s ills would be much greater if stormwater runoff can be diverted away from LB.
The City of Rockport’s Ryan Picarazzi said educating the public (about what it may be allowing to flow into the local bay system) is a must.
As an example, he said, “There’s no filter between (stormwater runoff from Key Allegro) and LB.”
Dieckow closed the first part of the two-day meeting saying, “We are going to work together to come up with solutions.”
After the initial meeting Wednesday, ACND officials met with GLO/CCT representatives, and toured them along the shores of LB, pointing out the algae blooms, and stormwater outflows into LB.
“We showed the area behind Ace Hardware where Tule Creek might be diverted (toward Traylor Avenue, and on to Aransas Bay),” said ACND Harbor Master Keith Barrett.
He said some type of spillway could possibly be built in that area, forcing everyday water flow into Aransas Bay, and during heavy rain events, water going over the spillway could run into LB.
On Thursday the GLO/CCT representatives met with Aransas County officials and City of Rockport officials, as well was with City of Port Aransas officials.
County Road and Bridge Engineer David Reid said he reviewed the county’s drainage criteria with the visitors, and pointed out two projects the county has done along Tule Creek (pond by the Pathway’s Pavilion, and shoring up the sharp curve in the creek behind Henderson Street in Rockport Country Club).
He noted part of the Tule watershed is located in the county.
“When (that area) is developed, it could cause problems if not managed properly,” said Reid.
City officials met the GLO/CCT representatives after the county had its turn.
City Manager Kevin Carruth said city officials outlined the operation of the wastewater treatment plant, the amount of money spent to go above and beyond the state requirements, and distance treated wastewater travels before reaching the pond by the Pathway’s Pavilion.
“It’s filtration by design,” said Carruth.
He also noted the city contracts with the Rockport Country Club to use up to 600,000 gallons of treated wastewater effluent per day for irrigation during the summer.
“I think everyone agrees there are things that need to be addressed, and it’s going to cost a lot of money,” said Carruth.