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Photo by: Anja Borski/Galveston Bay Foundation





Photo by Galveston Bay Foundation

Galveston Bay is resilient, but faces an uncertain future. The

Bay’s watershed is home to the fourth- and ninth-largest

cities in the U.S., Houston and Dallas. It’s also home to three ports, and remains a hub for the manufacturing and refining of chemicals and petroleum products. But people, industry, and commerce often come with environmental challenges.

Galveston Bay’s most significant problems are tied to pollution, declines in habitat acreage, and to the impacts of climate change, like sea level rise.

That Galveston Bay could receive C for overall health despite facing these monumental issues shows how resilient it is. This offers hope that we can change our negative impact on water quality, wetlands, seagrasses, and wildlife. But a healthier Galveston Bay is in everyone’s interest.

(About the grade: The combined GPA for all six categories together is a 2.1, which registers in the low C range. Unfortunately, the combined grade does not include grades for three of our indicators: Toxics in Sediment, Litter and Trash, and Oyster Reef Acreage* - There was not enough data available on these indicators to include them in the overall grade. We hope you will join us in encouraging local, state, and national leaders to pass legislation, and provide funding, that will improve monitoring and address these issues.

* Oyster reef habitat has been monitored and the data is being processed. We hope to be able to include current data in 2016.

2015 Galveston Bay Report Card 2


About the Bay Galveston Bay is Texas’ largest bay, covering about 600 square miles. The Galveston Bay watershed — the area of land that drains into a given body of water — is about 24,000 square miles. It stretches northward from the Houston metropolitan area, up the Trinity River basin, and past the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Half the population of Texas currently lives in the Galveston Bay watershed. The Bay’s urbanized, industrialized, and agricultural setting poses unique challenges for water quality, habitat protection, and resource conservation. If you live, work, or go to school in the Galveston Bay Watershed, you can find your local watershed now.

Galveston Bay is, by defi

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Estuaries are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. They are home to a huge amount of plant and animal life, and can produce large harvests of recreational and commercial fish and shellfish.

People are drawn to the water – and for good reason. Galveston Bay and the habitats

within its watershed provide many benefits to society, including:

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Ensuring a healthy future for Galveston Bay is ensuring that future generations can enjoy a safe place to not only live, but also swim, boat, and fish.

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About the Project The Galveston Bay Report Card is a citizen-driven, scientific analysis of the health of Galveston Bay. Supported by a grant from Houston Endowment and implemented by the Galveston Bay Foundation and the Houston Advanced Research Center, the report card’s goal is to engage community members in meaningful discussion about Bay health topics. The report card is also designed to inspire people to take actions that protect and preserve the Bay. We plan to update the report annually.

Through a series of surveys and interactive presentations, six topic categories were identified by the Galveston Bay Foundation as health topics of interest to the public in the fall of 2014: Water Quality, Pollution Events & Sources, Wildlife, Habitat, Human Health Risks, and Coastal Change. Scientists from the Houston Advanced Research Center then analyzed data and trends for 19 indicators. What has emerged is a compelling story about Galveston Bay, its challenges, opportunities, and greatest needs.

Each indicator features easy-to-understand grades, similar to the grades you would find in a school report card. These indicators show specific ways you can help the Bay, as well as data-driven infographics, additional resources, and downloadable full reports with expanded content. There is also specific data on each indicator.

How We Grade It is not easy to measure how “healthy” a bay system is. Estuaries are extremely dynamic environments that change by the minute. It is not always clear how much stress a particular component of the bay can take before it begins to deteriorate, how fast it may deteriorate, or if recovery after deterioration is even possible. The way an individual defines a “healthy” bay is often related to how we, as humans, value the services that the system provides us, such as seafood harvests, clean water for drinking and playing, and habitat that protects and stabilizes shorelines.

The goal of the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 is to make the nation’s waters swimmable and fishable. That goal was our guideline in measuring the indicators for this report card. In this project, the Bay’s health is perceived as a question of sustainability and resiliency: Do the indicator trends portray a Bay that will continue to provide recreation, food, clean water, and protection from storms?

Instead of trying to apply a universal grading methodology to such a variety of Bay indicators, some degree of best professional judgment was used to determine overall category grades and indicator grading scales. A detailed explanation outlines how grades were calculated and when grading relied heavily on best professional judgment based on available data. This is disclosed in the downloadable PDFs for each indicator.

Letter grades correspond to a 4.0 grade point average scale, and are accompanied by descriptors ranging from “Excellent” to “Critical.” 2015 Galveston Bay Report Card 4


CONTACT US Working Together For a Healthy Bay As Texans and residents of the Galveston Bay watershed, we all carry the responsibility of protecting and preserving the Bay for future generations. The Bay is at the heart of immense ecological and economic productivity. It’s also a special place to many people who enjoy its views, tranquility, and recreational opportunities. The indicators selected for this report represent a diverse cross-section of Bay features, but they are not intended to be all-encompassing. We have already identified a few topics for future indicator expansion: water clarity, chlorophyll-a concentrations (an indicator of productivity at the base of the food chain), marine mammals and reptiles, land use/ development, harmful algal blooms, invasive species, and species range expansions.

We welcome your comments, suggestions and ideas to improve the report card, which we plan to update annually. A healthy environment is good for the communities we live, work, and play in. So please share this report with your family and friends. We encourage you to ask questions and seek innovative solutions to challenging environmental issue.

Galveston Bay Foundation

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The Galveston Bay watershed received a B for water quality in 2014.That’s good news.

But the Galveston Bay watershed’s human population is growing. This means more land will be developed for homes, businesses, and transportation. As that happens, new safeguards will be needed to keep the Bay from being overloaded with nutrients that degrade water quality.

A good way to gauge the health of Galveston Bay is to assess the levels of life-sustaining nutrients and oxygen. Energy from the sun and elements like nitrogen and phosphorus are necessary for plants such as microscopic algae, seagrasses, and wetland grasses to exist in the Bay. These form the base of the food web upon which the entire ecosystem depends.

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The water in Galveston Bay flows from watersheds on land into rivers and bayous, picking up nutrients and contaminants along the way. Too many nutrients can have negative effects on the health of the Bay. Surface waters in some watersheds contain more nutrients than they should. We need to watch those areas and determine the causes of elevated nutrient levels to ensure those nutrients do not cause more widespread problems in the future.

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Making the Grade The levels of nutrients and dissolved oxygen found in samples taken from rivers, bayous, and the Bay itself in 2014 were most often at acceptable levels for supporting diverse and healthy aquatic life. So overall water quality earned a B grade. The water quality problems that did exist — relating to high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus — typically occur in bayous that receive runoff and wastewater from human activity in residential, industrial, commercial, and agricultural areas.

2015 Galveston Bay Report Card 3


SLOW YOUR RUNOFF: Nutrient pollution often peaks after heavy rainfall because of the particles picked up by the rain as it flows down roadways into storm drains, and then into the Bay and its tributaries.

There are several ways to slow runoff:

• Reduce or replace concrete areas with porous coverings like gravel.

• Install rain barrels to collect rainwater from your roof.

• Keep as much green space as possible on your property.

Learn more: www.galvbay.org/rainbarrel PICK UP AFTER YOUR PETS: Properly dispose of pet waste in the trash. Pet waste contains excess nitrogen and phosphorus. Those nutrients get carried from yards and parks by storm and irrigation runoff into creeks and other tributaries that flow into Galveston Bay.

Learn more: www.petwastepollutes.org

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Algae blooms can choke waterways and lead to low oxygen levels in the water.

Some algae can even be toxic to humans, posing a threat to recreation and clean water for drinking.

Rivers and Bayous Nitrogen Grade: A (Excellent) Only 19 percent of samples collected from the rivers and bayous surrounding Galveston Bay were above nitrogen screening levels in 2014. In these waterways, a significant percentage of flowing water can come from wastewater treatment plants, particularly in dry, summer months. How that wastewater is treated — as well as what the runoff carries (fertilizer, pet waste, and other pollution from roads, parking lots, and yards) — impacts how much nitrogen is in the water of a river or bayou. If nitrogen levels in rivers and bayous become too high, Galveston Bay will likely be affected downstream.

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Water quality concentrations (such as how much nitrogen is in the Bay and its tributaries) are monitored by federal, state, and local agencies. Data describing nitrogen concentrations in rivers, bayous, and the waters of Galveston Bay were obtained from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Surface Water Quality Monitoring Program and the TCEQ Clean Rivers Program.

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Nitrogen grades are based on total ammonia-nitrogen in water. Ammonia was chosen to represent this indicator because the TCEQ data on it were the most complete for both tidal and non-tidal waters. Grades reflect the percent of samples that exceeded TCEQ screening levels in 2014, meaning the samples were above the range that is acceptable in Texas. The grading scale is based on the best professional judgement of coastal and estuarine scientists. This scale is also used to set water quality parameters in other coastal report cards, such as the one for Chesapeake Bay.

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Keep Excess Nitrogen Out of Our Waterways

• Follow fertilizer directions carefully and don’t overfertilize your lawns or gardens.

• Have septic systems inspected and repaired if they are not functioning properly. The Houston-Galveston Area Council estimates that there are more than 300,000 onsite sewage facilities in its 13-county service area. Learn more and see a map of septic systems in your area.

• Leave as much of your property unpaved as possible so rainwater has a chance to soak in rather than run off.

• Plant a rain garden to prevent rainwater from running into storm sewers. Choose native plants that grow well in our climate and use compost instead of fertilizer.

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Like nitrogen, phosphorus stimulates plant growth, but too much contributes • to algae blooms.

Phosphorus — commonly found in fertilizers, detergents, manure, sewage, and • industrial wastewater (effluent) — attaches to soil particles. This makes erosion a factor in phosphorus pollution.

Just like having too much nitrogen, too much phosphorus can cause an overgrowth of algae (or an “algae bloom”). Algae blooms can choke waterways and lead to low oxygen levels in the water. Some algae can even be toxic to humans, posing a threat to recreation and clean water for drinking.

Rivers and Bayous Phosphorus Grade: C (Adequate for Now) In 2014, eight sub-watersheds of Galveston Bay scored C, D, or F for exceeding the phosphorus water quality standards. About 43 percent of all samples exceeded total phosphorus screening levels.

Galveston Bay Phosphorus Grade: B (Good) In 2014, 33 percent of samples collected in Galveston Bay waters had phosphorus levels above screening levels set for the protection of aquatic life.

Water quality concentrations such as phosphorus are monitored by federal, state, and local agencies. Data describing phosphorus concentrations in rivers, bayous, and the waters of Galveston Bay were obtained from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Surface Water Quality Monitoring Program and the TCEQ Clean Rivers Program.

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