Galveston Bay Only Gets a "C" When It Comes to Health

Galveston Beach
Galveston Beach
Photo by Jeff Balke

Galveston Bay has seen better days, but it has also seen worse, judging by a health "report card" on the bay issued by the Galveston Bay Foundation and the Houston Advanced Research Center on Wednesday.

Despite concerns about pollutants like dioxin, the overall health of the bay got a "C" according to the report's grading scale, which basically means the bay is currently maintaining its health. 

This is the second annual report card issued on Galveston Bay — the Galveston Bay Foundation and HARC researchers pull from 19 indicators that affect Galveston Bay and the watershed around it. The indicators are grouped into six issues, which are then given grades. “The concept was to break down what could be very scientific language about the health of the bay, and that's where the report card comes in. Everyone knows what an 'A' or an 'F' means,” Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation, says.

If this all sounds a little too simple, that's kind of the point. HARC and the Galveston Bay Foundation put together the report card by drawing on data from various other agencies and organizations. Then HARC researchers reviewed the data and compared it to the screening levels used to grade the health of other bodies of water, like Chesapeake Bay, to figure out where Galveston Bay should fall on the grading scale. 

Galveston Bay also did well on water quality — receiving an "A" this year compared to the "B" it got on last year's report card — and it got a "B" on the issue of invasive species because as of right now, the foreign invaders haven't shown up in bay waters. 

Meanwhile, the report card also included some “incompletes,” where no grade was issued because there isn't enough data on the subject. “We know we have a lot of litter and trash in Galveston Bay,” Stokes says. “But there's no standard for trash levels in Texas. Other states classify trash as pollution, but in Texas there's no standard to say what is too much or too little, so we included that and gave it an 'I'.”

The researchers encountered a similar problem when they tried to find out how many acres of oyster reefs are in the bay, because Texas Parks and Wildlife hasn't issued the results of its surveys yet, Stokes says. And there was a similar issue with measuring pollutants like dioxin in the Houston Ship Channel sediment. “We wanted to include the numbers particularly because there are a couple of Superfund sites upstream, but there's no funding from the state to do testing of the ship channel sediment,” Stokes says. “So we note it and note the lack of data. Rather than simply ignore it, we note it with an 'incomplete.'”

The plan is to keep doing these report cards each year to establish a record for the various metrics used to track the bay's health. “Many of these things are long-term problems, and they're not going to change tomorrow. But we think that looking at each year is good because it establishes a record,” Stokes says. “Although we just started putting a grade on habitat last year, we've known for a while that we've lost 60,000 acres of Galveston Bay wetlands over the years, and we've known about the loss of oyster reefs, the loss of sea grass – some of this has been known for a long time, but we want the public to understand it. This is a way to do that."


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