Galveston Bay report card highlights importance of local pollution reduction

(Courtesy Galveston Bay Foundation)
(Courtesy Galveston Bay Foundation)

(Courtesy Galveston Bay Foundation)

Although the 2020 Galveston Bay report card placed the bay at the same health rating for the sixth consecutive year, experts said local pollution reduction efforts are taking off and spurring improvements on a smaller scale.

The bay has earned an overall C grade—which signifies the bay’s health is “adequate for now”—but Galveston Bay Foundation President Bob Stokes said the bay is a “really healthy” place.

“In some ways, it’s almost amazing that it’s safe,” he said.

The report card is compiled annually by GBF and Houston Advanced Research Center. This year, GBF and HARC leaders said, the groups placed particular focus on pollution prevention to encourage Houstonians to support the bay.

A grade of C for overall health means the bay is resilient despite many recent challenges, but more can be done to improve across the report’s various indicators of bay health. The 22 indicators are divided into six categories related to human-driven and other factors. The subsequent findings and trends describe Galveston Bay and the surrounding watersheds, which span more than 7,000 square miles across the Greater Houston area and beyond.

The report serves a dual purpose, Stokes said: It tracks the health of the bay over time and serves as an outreach point for the public. Hundreds of action items are listed on GBF’s website corresponding to report findings.

“Our message overall from the beginning is there’s [millions of people] that live right around Galveston Bay, and every single person can have an impact on the bay,” he said.

The bay’s A grade for water quality in 2020, particularly its phosphorus levels, is a notable improvement from the previous year that also closely relates to pollution levels, HARC President and CEO Lisa Gonzalez said. There have been improvements to levels of non-point source pollution, which is a type of pollution that generally results from factors like land runoff, she added.

The Mission: Pollution Prevention section of the report card website aims to “help focus folks’ efforts, especially as we are all disconnected a little bit more this year,” HARC research scientist Erin Kinney said. The report card website includes a customizable action item activity through which residents can select pollution reduction activities based on the time and resources available to them.

“It is one of the [activities] where people can have an immediate impact in the community,” Kinney said of pollution reduction.

The bay earned a B in recreation safety, down from scores in previous years. Kinney said this is largely driven by areas like Texas City, where there have been recent issues with wastewater treatment outfalls affecting bacteria levels in the water. The report card provides resources for residents to check real-time beach conditions.

“It’s something that we hope will get better in the future, and we’re calling attention to it now because these are areas where folks like to get to and enjoy ... [the] bay,” she said.

In May 2019, two barges collided in the Houston Ship Channel near Bayport, spilling 378,000 gallons of gasoline in Galveston Bay, which resulted in an F grade for oil spills in 2020. The shipping economy is vital to area industries, but HARC and GBF also recognize the importance of their groups being a watchdog for shipping-related impacts, experts said.

Although habitat grades remain mostly unchanged, experts will continue wetland, seagrass and oyster restoration efforts. Habitat restoration impacts every other aspect of the bay’s health, Gonzalez said.

“[We’ve sort of] stemmed the tide of habitat loss, but now, we’re in the process of bringing those habitats back,” Stokes said.
By Colleen Ferguson
A native central New Yorker, Colleen Ferguson worked as an editorial intern with the Cy-Fair and Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood editions of Community Impact before joining the Bay Area team in 2020. Colleen graduated from Syracuse University in 2019, where she worked for the campus's independent student newspaper The Daily Orange, with a degree in Newspaper and Online Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a degree in Spanish language and culture. Colleen previously interned with The Journal News/lohud, where she covered the commute in the greater New York City area.



The show is making a stop at Sam Houston Race Park this December. (Courtesy UniverSoul Circus)
Cy-Fair hosts events and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

Mediterraneo Market & Cafe (Alex Grant/Community Impact Newspaper)
IMPACTS ROUNDUP: Mediterraneo relocating by end of year and more

Here is a roundup of local business news in Clear Lake and League City.

Council Member Robert Gallegos, Arturo Michel, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Ron Lewis.
Mayor announces changes among Houston’s top-level staff

Several key staff are retiring or leaving for new positions.

League City wants to paint traffic utility boxes with miniature murals, similar to those seen in Houston. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
League City to create painted murals on utility boxes

In an effort to create a sense of place, beautify areas, attract visitors and instill civic pride, League City is considering painting miniature murals on traffic utility boxes throughout the city.

Williams comes to CCISD from Loudoun County, Virginia. (Screenshot courtesy Clear Creek ISD)
Eric Williams named Clear Creek ISD superintendent

Per Texas law, the board was required to wait a minimum of 21 days before voting to appoint Williams, its lone finalist. He will start Jan. 18, 2021; Greg Smith’s last day is Dec. 31.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Dec. 2 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has allotted 1.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines to the state of Texas. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
First allotment of COVID-19 vaccinations expected to arrive in Texas in mid-December

About 1.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been allotted to the state of Texas and will arrive the week of Dec. 14.

The Coastal Texas Study includes proposals for several projects meant to protect Galveston Bay with multiple lines of defense from major storms. (Courtesy Army Corps of Engineers)
Environmentalists question proposed coastal barrier, ask for deadline extension to comment on plan

Several local environmental groups and experts have opposed portions of the coastal barrier proposal and are asking for an extension to the public comment portion of the plan.

The East Montgomery County Industrial Park off Gene Campbell Road will welcome the Lowe's Distribution Center in July. (Courtesy East Montgomery County Improvement District)
Lowe's to bring 200 jobs to Montgomery County and more Houston-area news

Read the latest Houston-area business and community news.

Exploration Green in Clear Lake is a great example of sustainable re-use of land, Houston Wilderness officials said; many of the trees being planted at the conservancy are particularly good for the environment. (Courtesy Exploration Green)
Houston Wilderness aims to restore ecosystems, increase carbon absorption through large-scale tree plantings

Houston Wilderness connects people to geographically defined ecosystems across eight counties in Greater Houston and spurs action through initiatives. The organization is coordinating five large-scale plantings over the next three months.

Harris County has launched a tool to allow homeowners to identify appraisal activity in their neighborhood. (Courtesy Pexels)
Harris County Appraisal District launches new 'Appraiser Field Operations Map' tool

Harris County has launched a tool to allow homeowners to identify appraisal activity in their neighborhood.

The letter came a week after Longoria was virtually sworn into the office by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Nov. 18. (Screenshot via Zoom)
Harris County scrambles to make creation of Elections Administrator Office lawful after Attorney General's letter identifies deficiencies

Harris County is working to make right the appointment of Isabel Longoria as the county's first-ever elections administrator after County Attorney Vince Ryan received a letter Nov. 25 from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stating that the county did not follow the proper appointment process.