State of the Beach/State Reports/TX/Erosion Response
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Erosion response is a measure of how well a state's policies and procedures limit the extent of shoreline armoring, unsafe coastal development, and costly beach nourishment projects. Evaluation of this indicator brings attention to the states that are taking proactive roles in natural beach preservation and natural hazard avoidance. Through the formulation (if not already in place), implementation, and strict adherence of the specific criteria within the indicator, states can overcome two fundamental obstacles to alternative erosion response practices outlined by the Oceans Studies Board (2007):
- A lack of knowledge and experience among decision-makers regarding alternative options for shoreline erosion response, the relative level of erosion mitigation afforded by the alternative approaches and their expected life time, and the nature of the associated impacts and benefits.
- The current legal and regulatory framework itself, which discriminates against innovative solutions because of the complex and lengthy permitting process that almost always considers these options on a case-by-case basis.
For example, are statewide oceanfront construction setbacks used to site new development and are these based on the latest erosion rates? When existing development is damaged during a storm does a state prohibit reconstruction or provide incentives for relocation? Before permitting shoreline stabilization does a state require: that there is demonstrated need via geo-technical reports with content standards; that alternatives to armoring including managed retreat/relocation are fully explored; and that potential adverse impacts and cumulative effects are taken into account? If a state can answer 'yes' to most of these questions then its rank is high and if the answers are mostly 'no' then its rank is low.
Also see the "Policies" discussion of the Shoreline Structures section of this report for more information on Texas's erosion response.
Possible quantitative measures for this indicator include the number of new structures located within setback areas, number of damaged structures reconstructed in identified erosion zones, number of instances where alternatives to 'hard' shore protection were employed, the number of shoreline structures permitted under 'emergency' provisions, and the number of permits for shoreline structures reviewed, approved or denied. We have found that such information is rarely available.
Policies and Guidance
Laws and regulations relating to erosion hazard avoidance and erosion response include Management of Coastal Public Land, Open Beaches Act (OBA), Dune Protection Act, Coastal Erosion Planning & Response Act, CEPRA Program Rules and GLO Beach/Dune Rules. The Dune Protection Act requires counties to establish a dune protection line on the Gulf shoreline. Only limited uses and activities are allowed seaward of this line.
Texas Natural Resources Code contains the sections relevant to erosion hazard avoidance and erosion response. The CEPRA statute is found under Texas Natural Resources Code Subtitle C-Administration, Chapter 33, Management of Coastal Public Land, Sub-Chapter H, Coastal Erosion. The Texas Open Beaches Act is found under Chapter 61, Use and Maintenance of Public Beaches. The Dune Protection Act is found under Chapter 63, Dunes.
GLO rules governing Beach and Dune issues and the CEPRA program may be found online by using the Texas Administrative Code viewer. Specifically, CEPRA and Beach-Dune rules fall under Title 31, Natural Resources and Conservation, Part 1, General Land Office, Chapter 15, Coastal Area Planning, Sub-Chapter A, Management of the Beach-Dune System, and Sub-Chapter B, Coastal Erosion and Response; and Chapter 16, Coastal Protection.
The Texas Open Beaches Act (Natural Resources Code, Chapter 61: Use and Maintenance of Public Beaches) and the Dune Protection Program were enacted to protect and preserve the public beaches and critical dune areas. The OBA uses a rolling public beach easement, mean high tide line to the line of vegetation, which can change landward in areas that are eroding and seaward in areas that are accreting. Since 1959 when the OBA was enacted, development and use of the Texas coast has grown tremendously and at the same time, many sections of the Gulf shoreline have been impacted by erosion.
Due to beach erosion and storm events, over 100 private residences, originally built on private uplands, are now located on the public beach in Texas. Many of these houses and other damaged structures hindered access and use of the public beach and pose imminent threats to public health and safety.
Texas is taking steps that will allow local governments to enact construction setbacks for building on the barrier islands that border the Gulf of Mexico. In Sept. 2007, amendments to the OBA and the Dune Protection Act (DPA) were enacted in House Bill (HB) 2819. Although there are many provisions to the bill, the items getting the most attention are the setbacks, and the additional enforcement abilities given to the Commissioner to maintain a safe and accessible public beach. HB 2819 authorizes the Commissioner to determine what constitutes an imminent threat to public health and safety, or interference with the public beach easement. Additionally, it authorizes the Commissioner to order the removal of structures that encroach on the public beach easement and to assess administrative penalties, costs for the removal of structures, or the sale of salvageable parts. It also encourages local governments to develop erosion response plans that incorporate setback lines for new construction and authorizes the Commissioner to consider whether a local government creates a setback that takes into account the erosion rates when reviewing local funding requests for coastal improvement projects.
It is the intent of the law that the public will benefit because of reduced public expenditures associated with loss of structures and public infrastructure due to storm damage and erosion, disaster response costs, and loss of life. Communities will also be protected by implementation of measures such as improving foredune ridges and beach access points to protect against storm surge. The proposed amendments provide for exemptions where the owner has demonstrated that no practicable alternatives to construction seaward of the building set-back line exist. The amendments also allow for some beneficial use of property seaward of the setback line. For more information, please contact John Gillen at John.Gillen@glo.state.tx.us
There are currently no statewide setback requirements for new construction in Texas. Both counties and cities can mandate a regulatory setback to address beach erosion. Currently, the only local governments to mandate setbacks are the City of Galveston, South Padre Island, Cameron County and Nueces County. The Nueces County setback regulation, adopted and effective May 28, 2007, establishes a 350-foot setback, with some paving and recreational amenities allowed in the area between 200 and 350 feet landward of the vegetation line. See also the Nueces County Dune Protection Permit Program and Nueces County Beach Management Plan. In June 2012 the city of Corpus Christi and Nueces County agreed to a joint plan that keeps the county's strict beach development setback rule. The county requires buildings to be constructed at least 350 feet landward of the vegetation line. This is the first time Corpus Christi has been able to submit its own erosion response plan, a new requirement by the General Land Office. Instead, the city decided to pair up with Nueces County.
In March 2012 the Galveston City Council began considering a proposed erosion response plan, which sets construction prohibitions on the beach front. According to the draft plan, “new construction is prohibited within and seaward of areas designated as Dune Conservation Areas.” The dune conservation area will vary, based on whether the beach is eroding or accreting. In the case of an accreting beach, the dune conservation area will extend 75 feet north of the most seaward contour line. For eroding beaches, the area will extend between 115 to 235 feet from the most seaward contour line. After the plan is adopted by the city council, the state will have to approve the plan. Having an approved plan enables the city to apply for state funding. Also see their Hazard Mitigation Plan.
In June 2012 the Port Aransas City Council approved a first reading of an ordinance adding an erosion response plan. The plan maintains Port Aransas' development setback of 200 feet or 60 times the erosion rate, whichever is greater. For example, if the erosion rate at one point on the beach is 6 feet a year, the setback would be 360 feet. In Cameron County the Texas General Land Office rules prohibit a developer or property owner from constructing a retaining wall (or any structure) within 200 feet landward of the established line of vegetation. Despite this, the Sea Breeze Estates development and the Cameron County Dune Protection Committee appeared determined in December 2012 to defy Texas State and Texas General Land Office rules and allow the construction of such a retaining wall.
The state Legislature passed legislation (HB2819) during the 80th session in 2007. One aspect of this legislation was an attempt to reduce the cost of storm damage, disaster response and erosion by authorizing, although not mandating, local jurisdictions to establish building set-backs as part of a local erosion response plan, and that the Land Commissioner could take into consideration whether or not a local jurisdiction had chosen to establish set-backs as one of several considerations when awarding funding under the CEPRA program. In accordance with this aspect of HB2819, the GLO proposed rules which would have given local jurisdictions the option to require that new buildings be set back 60 times the erosion rate, as measured from the beach's line of vegetation — so if a shoreline was determined to be eroding 6 feet each year, then construction wouldn't have been allowed within 360 feet. Public officials from Galveston and other coastal communities blasted the proposed rules, saying they amounted to a land grab by the state. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson's response was that nature is taking away the land through erosion, not the state. Legislation was introduced during the 81st Texas Legislature in 2009 proposing that all local governments with jurisdictions adjacent to the Texas coast be required to adopt local erosion response plans, and that the Land Commissioner take into consideration whether such a plan is in place as one of several considerations when allocating CEPRA funds. This legislation did not require that set-backs be adopted as part of these plans, but made inclusion of them optional.
Here is Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson’s Plan for Texas Open Beaches.
In the wake of Hurricane Ike, the GLO adopted a new rule for disaster recovery orders, as codified under Texas Administrative Code 31TAC §15.13. This rule provides procedures for the Land Commissioner to implement by order the use by a local government of temporary standards for stabilization and repair of structures and dune restoration during a period of recovery following a severely damaging declared or natural disaster, and to assist local governments in restoring beach access and dune protection.
The first line of vegetation—where grasses and other natural vegetation start to grow in the dunes—usually determines the landward boundary of the beach in Texas. However, Hurricane Ike destroyed the line of vegetation along the Upper Texas Coast. In August 2009, the GLO completed an extensive shoreline assessment to reestablish the public beach boundary, marking the transition away from the temporary 4.5-foot line of elevation used to determine the boundary of the public beach for emergency permitting and rebuilding after the hurricane. The new determination line set for the public beach is 200 feet from mean low water. Reestablishing this line greatly aided recovery and rebuilding efforts.
The GLO has also been instrumental in helping local communities identify potential mitigation projects that could be eligible for federal hazard mitigation grants. By securing $10 million in matching funds from the state, the GLO is enabling local governments to purchase damaged beachfront properties from willing homeowners through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. Damaged structures will be removed, which will eliminate the threat they pose to public health and safety, and the properties will be converted to open space in perpetuity, ensuring that homes are not rebuilt in high-hazard areas where the risk of damage from another storm is greatest.
Property owners in the City of Galveston and Galveston County whose properties were destroyed or substantially damaged are eligible to participate. Through this funding, it is estimated that over 800 homes that were destroyed or damaged during the storm will be removed from the Texas coast.
The GLO is also involved in a number of other projects to help protect coastal communities from future hazard events. This includes undertaking the biggest coastal protection effort in the state’s history, which consists of beach nourishment projects, dune rebuilding and restoration, estuarine habitat restoration, revetment repair and construction, and helping communities amend and update their local and regional mitigation action plans to meet the mitigation goals under the Texas Coastal Management Program.
Rice University’s Shell Center for Sustainability has published a 198-page Atlas of Sustainable Strategies for Galveston Island that provides a bleak outlook for the western end of Galveston Island. The report recommends that the West End should be abandoned for development and concludes that Galveston's economic future lies with tourism, and with a port expanded to service the new generation of larger cargo ships that will call when the Panama Canal project is completed.
- “The data from Galveston Island show high rates of shoreline retreat on both the Gulf side and West Bay side of the island,” the study reports. “Hence, Galveston Island is eroding, meaning that the island is losing sand. Until about 1,800 years ago Galveston Island was actually growing. This phase of growth ceased as sand supply to the island diminished and the rate of relative sea level rise decreased.” More information.
Geohazards and Geoenvironments of South Padre Island, Texas is an interactive map that shows relative susceptibility to geohazards, including sea-level rise, erosion, and storm washover. Geoenvironments and elevation are also show on the map as well as historical shorelines and parcel information. Various basemaps of roads and photography are available for further context. The map was created by the Coastal and Marine Geospatial Lab of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi. The Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin conducted the lidar survey and processed the data to produce the digital elevation model. More on this tool.
The Dune Protection and Improvement Manual for the Texas Gulf Coast, Fifth Edition was released in August 2005 and is available online.
Construction cannot be conducted on the public beach, which extends to the line of natural vegetation (LOV), per beach/dune regulations. The public beach is a “rolling easement” that moves with the LOV. More specific requirements, such as the prohibition of placing concrete slabs and other impervious materials within 200 feet of the LOV, are included in the beach/dune rules. The program is actually administered through county and city beach/dune plans included in the beach/dune rules.
Texas places restrictions on the rebuilding of structures near the coast after they have been damaged by flooding. The location of the structure relative to the public beach, riverine floodplains, and other areas of concern after flooding or a storm event determines the types of restrictions placed on the structure for repairs.
Texas does have real estate disclosure laws (Texas Natural Resources Code 61.025 Disclosure to Purchaser of Property) for homes in high erosion areas. Real estate disclosure laws relating to building in high erosion areas include a 1986 statute – title policy exemptions, the "rolling easement" doctrine, and an addendum for properties located seaward of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. In 2007, the 80th Texas Legislature strengthened the disclosure requirements through passage of HB2819.
In June 2006, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson notified the owners of numerous structures encroaching on the public beach that they could be subject to removal orders under the Texas Open Beaches Act. In July 2006, the Commissioner unveiled his eight-point Plan for Texas Open Beaches, which provided specificity with regard to his enforcement actions under the OBA. The plan contained a series of steps which required both GLO and state legislative action for implementation and outlined a series of specific criteria that the Commissioner established as priority criteria for enforcement: whether a structure was significantly blocking public access, posing a significant health or safety risk to the public, or encroaching on state-owned submerged land. As an alternative to the costly and time-consuming use of litigation as the “traditional” means for executing an enforcement action, the Commissioner sought to offer CEPRA expense reimbursement funding for those that chose to voluntarily relocate or demolish their structures.
- The offer: The owners of structures identified by the Land Commissioner as encroaching on the public beach were offered a reimbursement of up to $50,000 per structure after their structures were moved.
- The reaction: Homeowners argued that not everyone could pay the moving costs up front and that the offer doesn't include compensation for the former property or the cost of another lot.
In the interest of flexibility and working with the homeowners, the issue of not being able to afford moving costs up front was mitigated by the Commissioner’s decision to allow homeowners to assign their expense reimbursement payment over to one or more contractors with whom the homeowner had contracted to undertake the relocation project work.
A Houston federal judge's ruling in May 2007 boosted the state's effort to remove beachfront structures that erosion has left too close to the water. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by California lawyer Carol Severance, who spent $1.18 million on three Galveston Island homes in 2005. The houses were built on private property the state now considers public beaches because of the encroaching coastline, and were severely damaged by Hurricane Ike.
The General Land Office Plan for Texas Open Beaches' recommendations for state legislative action were addressed in 2007 by new provisions in the Open Beaches Act and the Dune Protection Act, as implemented by the 80th Texas Legislature in House Bill 2819. The statutory changes allow the commissioner to issue guidelines for local governments to prepare erosion response plans that implement a building set-back line. Local government implementation of these plans is a consideration in the commissioner’s approval of funds under the Coastal Erosion Response Account.
A Line in the Sand: Balancing the Texas Open Beaches Act and Coastal Development was presented at the Coastal Zone 07 Conference in Portland, Oregon.
Hazard mitigation is any sustained action taken that reduces or alleviates the losses of life, injuries, and property resulting from natural and man-made hazards through long-term strategic planning. The Hazard Mitigation Program at the Texas General Land Office was established in 2007 to take a pro-active approach to increasing the public awareness of natural coastal hazards. An increased awareness could help reduce or eliminate the long-term risk of loss of life, injury, economic loss, and destruction of natural and cultural resources. The program assists coastal communities with hazard mitigation strategies and floodplain management efforts, and to meet the goals under the Texas Coastal Management Program. Consistent with the goals and policies of the CMP, the Hazard Mitigation Program serves coastal communities by providing assistance in amending, updating, and maintenance of local and regional Mitigation Action Plans and with developing a pro-active approach to minimize and mitigate the effects of coastal hazards. The program assist local communities with identifying potential mitigation projects that could be eligible for federal mitigation and disaster grants. Federal mitigation and disaster grants are administered through the Governor's Division of Emergency Management. By providing education, outreach, and technical assistance, the program's focus is to help ensure coastal communities are better-prepared and more resilient to storm impacts and a changing climate.
NOAA's Digital Coast website has an article Mapping Flood Forecasts for Better Flood Planning in Texas Communities. Using high-resolution elevation data and reliable hydraulic models, state and federal partners mapped both the projected depth of floodwaters and the areas affected by inundation for several bayous near Houston, Texas. The models, available through Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRMS) and Flood Insurance Studies, were updated in 2001 after Tropical Storm Allison, allowing accurate modeling and mapping of water surface profiles. The data and resulting maps show how streets, buildings, airports, and other structures are likely to be impacted by floodwaters. The maps allow decision makers to safely position assets, determine who to evacuate, and identify safe routes for moving people out of harm’s way during flood events. The maps are also being used for longer-term planning. Knowing the location and depth of potential floodwaters allows decisions to be made about modifying current infrastructure and safely planning future development, increasing a community’s resilience to natural disasters and mitigating the impacts of flooding.
In mid-2009 Texas became a member of the StormSmart Coasts Network, which is a place for coastal decision makers to find and share the latest information on protecting communities from storms, floods, sea level rise, and climate change.
Coastal Barrier Resources Act
The federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), passed in 1982, was designed to "minimize the loss of human life, wasteful expenditure of federal revenues, and the damage to fish, wildlife and other natural resources" by denying federal support for everything from sewer construction to flood insurance in undeveloped or little-developed coastal areas such as barrier islands. CBRA does not restrict development in these areas, but it indirectly discourages development by denying the use of federal funds for development projects or redevelopment after storm or flood damage. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers this program, which identified 1.3 million acres of coastal land to be covered by the act. Unfortunately, pressure by property owners and developers in these areas has lead Congress to pass dozens of exemption bills which exclude certain areas from CBRA, thus thwarting the intent of the Act.
The Coastal Barrier Improvement Act (CBIA) was enacted on November 16, 1990. The CBIA resulted in reauthorization of the CBRA of 1982. The CBRA establishes the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) to protect areas such as undeveloped coastal barrier islands. There is a discussion of CBRA on NOAA's web site that concludes:
"Although the removal of federal funding assistance has discouraged development in some coastal barrier islands, development has continued in other areas despite designation as a unit of the CBRS. CBIA is not intended to prevent or regulate development in high-risk areas; rather the intent is to direct that federal dollars not be spent for development in these areas. Activities conducted in areas adjacent to CBRS units may adversely impact these sensitive areas; these activities are not regulated under CBIA. In addition, CBIA does not restrict the use of private, local, or state funding within CBRS units. Some coastal states have initiated legislation that limits state funding of certain projects."
A report released in March 2007 reviews the extent to which (1) development has occurred in CBRS units since their inclusion in the system and (2) federal financial assistance and permits have been provided to entities in CBRS units. GAO electronically mapped address data for structures within 91 randomly selected CBRS units and collected information on federal financial assistance and permits for eight federal agencies. GAO found multiple federal agencies have provided some financial assistance to property owners in CBRS units that is expressly prohibited by CBRA; some assistance allowed under CBRA; and hundreds of permits for federally regulated development activities within the unit. GAO recommended, among other things, the four agencies that provided prohibited loan guarantees or insurance policies to CBRS units first verify and then cancel those that are in violation of CBRA.
On April 7, 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released to the public its Report to Congress: John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System Digital Mapping Pilot Project and announced the start of a 90-day public comment period. The report, which was directed by the Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-514), highlights the benefits of updating Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) maps with more accurate and precise digital maps to better protect people, coastal areas and natural resources.
FEMA has now developed a fact sheet on CBRA. The fact sheet outlines the responsibilities and restrictions that various programs within FEMA have under CBRA.
Climate Change Adaptation
The Faces of Climate Change Adaptation: The Need for Proactive Protection of the Nation’s Coasts (Coastal States Organization, May 2010) states:
"Texas is another state that is reliant on its coasts for a vital economy. In fact, Texas is a state that depends greatly on its manufacturing, commerce, and tourism in the coastal regions. Texas depends on the coasts for shipping domestic and international cargo, as well as commercial and recreational fishing. Additionally, the coasts of Texas are home to many Texans, since 1960 housing more than 25% of the Texas population. This percentage is increasing, with the population living directly on the state’s shoreline more than doubling between 1960 and 2010. However, as the attraction of the Texas coasts increases, so, too are the risks associated with climate change, endangering the very thing that makes Texas such an attractive place for many to live.
As seas get warmer, so, too, will the increased intensity, duration, and extent of harmful algal blooms. Texas has begun to see damaging harmful algal blooms; in 1996, about two-thirds of the Texas coastline was closed to shellfish harvesting because of contamination by an unusually large bloom of marine algae known as “red tide.” Texas has also begun to see disappearance of its marshy coast. With a coastline over 1,400 miles long and comprised of tidal flats, sandy marshes, fresh water marshes, salt marshes, and beaches, Texas shores provide homes to more than just humans. The sandy marsh shoreline provides critical habitat for shorebirds, wading birds, endangered brown pelicans, and other birds. In fact, approximately 75 % of the ducks and geese in the United States move through the Texas coastal wetlands. The salt marsh shoreline provides homes for oysters and clams, as well as serves as nursery grounds for young shrimp, crab, and fish. Additionally, the salt marsh protects the shorelines from erosion and act as a purification system by filtering out many pollutants. Saltwater intrusion into fresh water marshes has already occurred on a large scale on the upper Texas coast due to relative sea level rise and coastal flooding from hurricanes. As the seas rise, these crucial barriers will erode and place the natural environment, the built environment, and humans at great risk.
In the coastal city of Galveston, sea level is already rising by 25 inches per century, and it is likely to rise another 38 inches by 2100. One of the ways that Texas has been reacting to erosion is by sand renourishment along the beaches. The process of sand renourishment, which is literally replacing lost beach with sand brought in from other locations, is a substantial financial investment. It is estimated that the cumulative cost of sand renourishment to protect the Texas coast from a 20-inch sea level rise by 2100 is estimated to cost between $4.2 and $12.8 billion. As changes in climate continue to impact the coasts, costs to maintain the shorelines the nation depends on for economic vitality will continue to rise."
For years, erosion, strong hurricanes, and persistent coastal subsidence have plagued the Texas shoreline. With three of the nation’s busiest ports, large coastal metropolitan centers, and a thriving coastal economy, the State stands to be significantly affected by climate change and sea-level rise. In contrast to many coastal states, Texas coastal policy employs the use of rolling easements. Evolving from the Texas common law, the concept of rolling easements does allow the shore to, somewhat, adapt to climate change.
Unfortunately the State has been slow to respond to, or for that matter recognize, climate change itself. Although recent years have seen the passage of some climate change legislation, these laws are neither comprehensive nor binding. Much of what does exist is largely decentralized, making it difficult to enforce statewide policies. In order to protect its critical coastal habitats and maintain a thriving coastal economy, Texas would greatly benefit from the creation of a centralized climate action working group (for a good example see Alaska). Sea-level rise, although an accepted phenomena, is rarely cited in conjunction with climate change impacts. Furthermore, the majority of erosion studies do not focus on shoreline adaptation measures such as managed retreat. The State, instead, doggedly promotes beach renourishment as the most effective means to respond to eroding beaches.
Despite spotty mitigation initiatives and abundance of coastal erosion data and knowledge, Texas struggles to implement a more comprehensive and effective coastal management plan. Like Louisiana, Texas’s current adaptation strategy provides a lesson in paradox, as coastal managers pursue climate change adaptation in a state that barely recognizes the phenomena itself. Overall, lack of climate change action at the State level severely hinders the Coastal Program’s ability to specifically respond to climate change impacts. Yet Texas has both the data and ability to comprehensively address these issues, and could greatly enhance its ability to adapt to climate change by simply acknowledging climate change. The State badly needs a comprehensive adaptation strategy and team, and would also benefit by improving the extent of its education and outreach material.
Texas has been slow to address either climate change mitigation or adaptation, remaining one of only 4 coastal states lacking both a Climate Action Plan and State Adaptation Plan. While Austin’s 1999 implementation of Renewable Portfolio Standards triggered a massive increase in the supply of renewable energy throughout Texas, and led to endorsement of statewide RPS legislation (SB 2005-20), the State falls embarrassingly short in terms of activities to reduce greenhouse gases. Furthermore, those climate change actions currently in place remain largely decentralized, occurring with little coordination between agencies and levels of government.
Thus, while climate change mitigation strategies and efforts do exist, including investments in alternative energy and promoting the use of renewables, it is difficult to discern the State’s exact position on the topic. For example, unlike Alaska and California, neither the Governor’s website nor State of Texas website has any direct links to climate change mitigation or adaptation plans. Climate change is also not listed as a priority on the Governor’s website, although it does recommend pursuing energy efficiency and renewable energy investments. However, these alternative and renewable energy strategies are promoted through a variety of agency websites, with none specifically acknowledging climate change. As the State does not attempt to promote the science behind climate change, few educational, instructional, and outreach also materials exist.
The Texas General Land Office, the primary authority over coastal lands, has maintained that the causes of sea level rise remain in debate among the scientific community, although they do mention that global warming and melting of glacial ice “appear to be at the forefront of the debate.”
An “Inventory of Texas Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-1999” was completed in 2002. A summary is available on-line.
The Texas Energy Report 2008 acts as a reference tool for those seeking to understand the state’s current energy environment. The website does not acknowledge climate change in any sense, but only recognizes the necessity of obtaining renewable energy sources for economic and sustainable purposes.
Despite the lack of state-level climate change initiatives, the City of Austin has adopted a Community Climate Action Plan, with the goal to make Austin the leading city in the nation in the fight against climate change. In 2007, Austin City Council passed a resolution, which established the Climate Program and directed the City to take specific actions through 2020 to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Read more.
Most of the information pertaining to climate change in Texas can be found through grassroots and public resources, including:
- The Texas Climate Initiative (TCI) is a public resource dedicated to the advance of climate change science and education in Texas. The TCI is a project of the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC).
- Public Citizen – Addressing Climate Change in Texas is a public interest lobbying group based out of Washington, D.C. and Austin, TX.
Although the Texas Coastal Program does not currently have sea-level rise policies or initiatives specific to climate change, there are a number of state and local programs, projects, regulations, and coastal zone studies that can be directly applicable to climate change adaptation.
The major state laws controlling coastal development in Texas are the Texas Open Beaches Act (Title 12, Section 61), the Coastal Public Lands Management Act (Title 12, Section 33), and the Dune Protection Act (Title 2, Subtitle E, Chapter 63). The Texas Open Beaches Act restricts development on private lands between the mean high tide and the Line of Vegetation (LV), and provides that beaches may be privately owned but are subject to a rolling public beach easement (Chapter 61, Natural Resources Code). The Law also requires local governments to establish a dune protection plan, most of which require a minimum setback landward of LV. Additionally, dunes landward of the LV usually have some kind of protection.
By using the Line of Vegetation (LV) as the landward line of public access and state control, the State has essentially established a shoreline rolling easement, a concept evolving from the recognition that the coast is constantly shifting. As storms and sea-level rise shift the LV shoreward, building restrictions also shift inland away from the coastline. The easement allows private land owners to develop their shore front property but does not grant the right to permanently hold back the sea with bulkheads or seawalls. The Act has the effect of ensuring that those houses built landward of the vegetation line can be moved if necessary. Texas law also requires sellers to notify potential buyers of property fronting the Gulf of Mexico of the potentially changing line. Regardless of these restrictions, beach nourishment is allowed, and even encouraged, along most of the coast. Texas, furthermore, has no state building code for either residential or commercial structures, but it does recommend adoption of the 2000 IBC and IRC.
In Rising Seas, Coastal Erosion, and the Takings Clause: How to Save Wetlands and Beaches Without Hurting Property Owners (1998), Titus defines a rolling easement as:
“A policy that allows development, but explicitly prevents property owners from holding back the sea. Rolling easements can be implemented with (a) eminent domain purchases of options, easements, covenants, or defeasible estates that transfer title if a bulkhead is built or the sea rises by a certain degree, or (b) statutes that accomplish the same result [referring to Maine, South Carolina, Texas and Rhode Island].”
For more information on the implementation of this policy, see here.
Sea-level rise is included under the Texas Coastal Program’s umbrella definition of adverse effects, which are those resulting in “physical destruction or detrimental alteration of a CNRA (Coastal Natural Resource Area)” (31 TAC 501.3(a)(1)(J)). Examples of detrimental alteration include “alterations that increase losses of shore areas or other CNRAs from a rise in sea level with respect to the surface of the land, whether caused by actual sea level rise or land surface subsidence.” As any activities proposed to the Texas Coastal Program are evaluated for possible effects on CNRAs, the rate of relative sea level rise is in fact considered, but not necessarily within the context of climate change.
Sea-level rise is also indirectly referenced in the Texas Coastal Program discussion of coastal erosion, defined in Sec 33.601, Natural Resources Code as:
“the loss of land, marshes, wetlands, beaches, or other coastal features within the coastal zone because of the actions of wind, waves, tides, storm surges, subsidence, or other forces.”
Texas Sea Grant, in collaboration with the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Legal Program and the National Sea Grant Law Center, recently published The Resilient Coast: Policy Frameworks for Adapting the Built Environment to Climate Change and Growth in Coastal Areas of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (2008). Reviewing the existing legal and institutional frameworks for adapting to growth and climate change, the Report develops a set of recommendations related to insurance, planning, and implementation of different adaptation strategies. Building on the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, the Report recognizes the importance of climate change adaptation, noting:
Adapting to the potential changes wrought by climate change will require substantial modifications in development practices all along the Gulf Coast. Effective adaptation, however, will require nothing that is not already recommended for safe development in this environment.
The report urges state and local communities to take immediate actions in response to climate change, remarking that “the science and technology needed to plan and build resilient coastal cities is already in place”. With this mindset, the report proposes:
The best policy for enabling coastal populations in the Gulf Coast states to adapt to change, then, is to promote compliance with current best practices. Making state and local policy makers aware of the additional threats presented by climate change may help hasten their adoption of policies they already know they should have.
Recommendations including implementation of adequate hazard mitigation plans, facilitation of community level planning efforts, reforming the National Flood Insurance Program, and promotion of strong federal and state leadership are also incorporated. The Report further determines that the concept of resilient coastal cities should be promoted based on the following three core elements:
- Proper siting (staying out of harms way where possible)
- A compact urban form enabling greater conviviality and social capital.
- Resistant floodproof and windproof structures.
Conceived by the Texas General Land Office in June 2003, the Coastal Texas 2020 initiative represents a long-term statewide program focused on promoting economic and environmental health along the Texas Coast. As Texas suffers from some of the worst coastal erosion rates in the nation, one of the initiative’s top priorities is to fight devastating erosion by uniting local, state, and federal agencies to respond in an effective and comprehensive manner. Aiming to evaluate coastal erosion and obtain feedback from local residents on the problems they face along the coast, the effort has further prompted state and local stakeholders to actively respond to critical coastal issues. An Executive Summary presented to the 79th Texas Legislature detailed the effects of climate change impacts on the Texas coast. Relative sea-level rise was included as a source of coastal erosion. It also recommends a number of actions at both the state and federal level that will help Texas better adapt to climate change, including creation of a fully funded state erosion program.
The publication Coastal Texas 2020: A Clear Vision for the Future of the Texas Coast breaks the coast into five geographic regions and provides an analysis of each region’s erosion problems. It also summarizes the Coastal Erosion Planning and Response Act Program efforts to reduce the harmful effects of coastal erosion along the Texas shoreline.
As part of a national effort to encourage the long-term thinking required to deal with the impacts of sea-level rise issues, the U.S. EPA commissioned the report Anticipated Local Response to Sea Level Rise Along the Texas Coast: A First Approximation. Released in 2007, the Report examines the likelihood that coastal lands in Texas will be protected from rising sea level by characterizing the likely response of both state residents and state/local governments. The study develops maps distinguishing the areas likely to be protected from erosion and inundation as the sea rises, from those areas that are likely to be left to retreat naturally. Sea level rise planning maps divide coastal land into four categories: developed (shore protection almost certain), intermediate (shore protection likely), undeveloped (shore protection unlikely), and conservation (no shore protection), which are designed to help start the dialogue for communities to decide which steps should be taken. These maps are meant to define the initial response to sea-level rise over the next several decades. It is also hoped that the report will be used to estimate the cumulative impacts of shoreline armoring. In the future this study should be utilized extensively by planning departments to determine the best way to adapt to climate change impacts.
In June 2009, the Environmental Defense Fund published The Socio-Economic Impact of Sea Level Rise in the Galveston Bay Region, recognizing that science and climate change impacts alone many times do little to motivate individual actions if they cannot relate to them on a personal level. The Report characterizes relative sea-level rise as one of the more important changes taking place along the Texas coast, with subsidence representing a critical issue in the Galveston Bay region. The Report also provides a very informative section on sea level rise, climate change, and the impacts of sea level rise, especially in relation to Galveston Bay.
Rice University’s Shell Center for Sustainability has published a 198-page Atlas of Sustainable Strategies for Galveston Island that provides a bleak outlook for the western end of Galveston Island. The report recommends that the West End should be abandoned for development and concludes that Galveston's economic future lies with tourism, and with a port expanded to service the new generation of larger cargo ships that will call when the Panama Canal project is completed. More information.
Additional Adaptation Measures
Like Louisiana, the Texas coastline faces chronic subsidence issues and remains highly vulnerable to strong hurricanes and storms, all of which are exacerbated by climate change and sea-level rise. As these issues have plagued the Texas coast for years, the State has undertaken extensive coastal mapping studies and inundation modeling. Most recently, LiDAR elevation mapping was completed for 14 coastal counties and can be found here. A large data base of erosion information thus exists, although these tools have not necessarily been used to adapt specifically to climate change. The next steps will be for Texas to centralize this information in an easily accessible, web-based format. As many of Texas’s erosion actions directly influence how Texas is, and will be, responding to climate change, a brief summary of some important coastal mapping initiatives and erosion responses are discussed below.
- In 1996, the Texas General Land Office submitted the Texas Coastwide Erosion Response Plan to the Texas Legislature. The Plan described the problems caused by erosion of both Gulf beaches and bay shorelines, and further highlighted the need for funding projects to mitigate the damages. In response to these issues, the Texas Legislature enacted the Coastal Erosion Planning and Response Act (1999). The Act supplied an initial $15 million in funding for 23 local erosion response projects.
- A 2009 update to the response plan includes a discussion of the geologic framework of the Texas Gulf coast and the coastal processes currently affecting the Texas coast, including relative sea level rise. The report concludes that certain sections of the Texas coast experience significant erosion, largely due to the imbalance between sediment accretion processes and the effects of rising sea level and coastal storms. Report findings indicate that although the greatest cause of episodic erosion of the Gulf shoreline is from storms, the long-term erosion suffered by 64 percent of the Gulf shoreline is caused by the imbalance of accretion and erosion processes. It also notes that natural rates of subsidence have been impacted by human activities such as hydrocarbon production and the withdrawal of groundwater.
- In an early attempt to understand the effects and challenges of sea-level rise, the Galveston Bay Case Study (Leatherman 1984) projected sea level rise on low-lying coastal landforms along southeast Galveston Bay, TX. The Report calculated numerical values for shoreline change from the historical maps, in addition to estimating future erosion due to sea-level rise along Sullivan’s Island. Maps considering erosion caused by sea-level rise and shoreline accretion caused by other factors were also generated. The Report can be found in Greenhouse Effect and Sea Level Rise: A Challenge for this Generation.
- The Texas Coastal Program is supporting the development of local geohazard maps that include sea level rise, erosion rates, wetlands, and other information, such as one developed as a planning tool for the city of Galveston by the University of Texas. For more information on the development of these maps, see here.
- The Texas Coastal Program is supporting work by the University of Texas to map and assess the status and trends of wetlands on coastal barriers and peninsulas. These studies have attributed the loss of coastal wetlands and other CNRAs to relative sea level rise (eustatic rise and subsidence) and erosion. For information on the coastal wetland status and trends reports, see here.
- In mid-2009 Texas became a member of the StormSmart Coasts Network, which is a place for coastal decision makers to find and share the latest information on protecting communities from storms, floods, sea level rise, and climate change.
- PowerPoint presentation: Coastal Hazard Mitigation Management
- Galveston is currently pursuing measures to minimize future flood losses, including efforts to strengthen city building codes, drafting a hazard mitigation plan, and adopting tighter construction standards and increased beachfront set-backs for new development.
- In 1993 the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores was established to address erosion, seaweed, ecosystem services and more.
General Reference Documents
An informative publication is Ten Principles for Coastal Development (2007) by the Urban Land Institute.
The Coastal States Organization (CSO) has published two reports relating to climate change adaptation. The first is Coastal Community Resilience: An Evaluation of Resilience as a Potential Performance Measure of the Coastal Zone Management Act (July 2008). (No link to this could be found.) Developed by CSO staff and CSO’s Coastal Resilience Steering Committee, the document demonstrates the value of resilience to coastal management and offers concrete recommendations for enhancing resilience at the state and local level. The second document is The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs in Adaptation to Climate Change (September 2008)(PDF, 732KB). The report includes detailed results of a 2008 adaptation survey designed to obtain up to date information on the status of adaptation planning, priority information needs, and the anticipated resource needs of the coastal states, commonwealths, and territories.
In April 2009, the Heinz Center and Ceres announced the release of their Resilient Coasts - A Blueprint for Action, to outline steps to reduce risks and losses in the face of growing threats. The Heinz Center and Ceres produced the blueprint with a coalition of leading insurers, public officials, risk experts, builders, and conservation groups. The blueprint is endorsed by many groups, including The Travelers Institute, The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Wharton School, and the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. The blueprint includes policy changes and common sense actions that could reduce economic losses from future storms and rising sea levels by as much as half along U.S. coastlines. The blueprint outlines specific recommendations, including: enabling planning for climate impacts by providing the necessary science and decision-making tools; requiring risk-based land use planning; designing adaptable infrastructure and building code standards to meet future risk; strengthening ecosystems as part of a risk mitigation strategy; developing flexible adaptation plans; maintaining a viable private property and casualty insurance market; and integrating climate change impacts into due diligence for investment and lending. The coalition urges the Obama administration, Congress, local leaders and the private sector to see that blueprint actions are implemented through regulation, investment, education, and other means.
In January 2010 the National Association of Counties released Building Resilient Coastal Communities: Counties and the Digital Coast which highlights many of the Digital Coast resources that counties use to address coastal flooding, habitat conservation and land use. More resources, tools and data are available through the NOAA Coastal Services Center Digital Coast website.
More recently, NOAA Coastal Services Center has developed a Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer as part of its Digital Coast website. Being able to visualize potential impacts from sea level rise is a powerful teaching and planning tool, and the Sea Level Rise Viewer brings this capability to coastal communities. A slider bar is used to show how various levels of sea level rise will impact coastal communities. Completed areas include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with additional coastal counties to be added in the near future. Visuals and the accompanying data and information cover sea level rise inundation, uncertainty, flood frequency, marsh impacts, and socioeconomics.
StormSmart Coasts is a resource for coastal decision makers looking for the latest and best information on how to protect their communities from weather and climate hazards. StormSmart Legal is a new addition to the StormSmart Coasts Network that provides information about property rights, regulatory takings, and permissible government regulation in coastal areas.
In December 2012 NOAA's Climate Program Office released a report Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States National Climate Assessment. The report was produced in response to a request from the U.S. National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee. It provides a synthesis of the scientific literature on global sea level rise, and a set of four scenarios of future global sea level rise. The report includes input from national experts in climate science, physical coastal processes, and coastal management.
NOAA's Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth website is organized into 10 chapters describing different elements essential for communities interested in implementing coastal and waterfront smart growth. By clicking on the individual chapters, you can get a description of each Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth Element, how this relates to the Coastal and Waterfront Issues, Tools and Techniques you can use in your community, and Case Studies of successes. Each chapter contains a navigation box allowing quick access to the information and the ability to download the content of each page. A 2012 report by NOAA and EPA on Achieving Hazard-Resilient Coastal & Waterfront Smart Growth presents ideas shared by smart growth and hazard mitigation experts related to building hazard-resilient coastal communities.
EPA has a website devoted to preparing for rising sea level and other consequences of changing climate. The premise of the Sea Level Rise Adaptation website is that society should take measures to make our coastal development and ecosystems less vulnerable to a rise in sea level. The papers on this site demonstrate that numerous low-cost measures, if implemented, would make the United States less vulnerable to rising sea level. This site includes (or links to) the material available on the agency’s Climate Change Impacts and Adapting to Change website and key reports from other government agencies.
Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities (USGS-NOAA, January 2013) emphasizes the need for increased coordination and planning to ensure U.S. coastal communities are resilient against the effects of climate change. The report examines and describes climate change impacts on coastal ecosystems and human economies and communities, as well as the kinds of scientific data, planning tools and resources that coastal communities and resource managers need to help them adapt to these changes. Case studies are presented for Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
In December 2012 the Lincoln Institute released Coastal States’ Climate Adaptation Initiatives: Sea Level Rise and Municipal Engagement (Working Paper). This paper explores how states and municipalities interact to address sea level rise, providing an overview of the state of practice, some reasons for different levels of action, and some of the needs of municipalities. It includes recommendations for ways states can provide adaptation support to municipalities.
Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience: Using the Full Array of Measures, (pdf, 1.2 MB) published in September 2013, discusses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' capabilities to help reduce risks to coastal areas and improve resilience to coastal hazards through an integrated planning approach. Federal, state, local, non-governmental organization and private sector interests connected to our coastal communities possess a complementary set of authorities and capabilities for developing more integrated coastal systems. The effective implementation of an integrated approach to flood and coastal flood hazard mitigation relies on a collaborative, shared responsibility framework between Federal, state, and local agencies and the public.
A good general reference site for coastal hazards is a Coastal Hazards website maintained the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, in North Carolina. This site has a substantial amount of coastal hazards information, including maps, photos, and a reference list.
- Tammy Brooks, Program Specialist, TCMP. Surfrider State of the Beach survey response. December 2003.
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