The goal of this effort is to establish a framework of fundamental information and critical ideas to serve as a basis to assist in supporting legislation to found the 29th National Estuary Program for the Laguna Madre of the Gulf coast of Texas.
The National Estuary Program (NEP) was established by the Clean Water Act Amendments of 1987 (Section 320) to protect nationally significant estuaries threatened by development, pollution and overuse. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administers the NEP. The Corpus Christi Bay NEP (now the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuary Program) was among the last estuaries accepted into the program in 1992. The advantages of being in the National Estuary Program was start-up funding from the US EPA. Since the 1990s, no new estuaries have been accepted to the program although applications are still taken.
The purpose of the NEP is to combine the knowledge and talents of federal, state, and local government, citizens, industry, agriculture, academics, non-governmental organizations, and other interested parties to develop sound scientific information about an estuary to create effective management solutions to priority problems. The main product of each NEP is a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP) for the estuary, which is used to implement actions to protect and restore the estuary. All twenty-eight estuaries in the NEP are still functioning and have implemented their CCMPs by leveraging their base funding from EPA with funding from various sources.
The Lower Laguna Madre Estuary Program will use the NEP as a model for the development of a comprehensive plan for the enhancement of the Lower Laguna Madre. With population growth and concomitant development pressure in south Texas, the future of the Lower Laguna Madre without an estuary program is problematic. Development of a management plan for the Lower Laguna Madre will enable the region to develop local solutions to local problems.
This baseline report is organized along the lines of the NEP program focused on the three most important foundational elements to establish an NEP for the Lower Laguna Madre. The three primary Thrust Areas are: 1) the national significance of the Laguna Madre estuary system, 2) the needs and goals for a proposed LLMEP, and finally 3) the plan for the sustainability and support to operate and maintain such an NEP. It is hoped that this report can serve as a basis for the development of a CCMP for the Laguna in the future.
The important aspects of the Laguna Madre are highlighted in the report to include its unique positioning with the longest barrier island in the world, South Padre Island, its hypersalinity and resultant biota, its migratory bird habitat and being home to endangered sea turtle species. Current threats to this unique ecosystem are also outlined in the report and include stepped up oil and gas development, a plan for establishment of several new Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminals and processing facilities, rapid urbanization, non-point source pollution threats, and a plan for a new second access causeway from the mainland to South Padre Island which is expected to accelerate growth in the region and the Laguna Madre watershed.
The primary co-authors for Thrust Area 1: National Significance, were Hudson DeYoe, Ph.D. from UTRGV School of Earth, Environmental and Marine Sciences and Lucy Camacho, Ph.D., from TAMUK Environmental Engineering; for Thrust Area 2: Needs and Goals, were Tushar Sinha, Ph.D., from TAMUK Environmental Engineering and Jungseok Ho, Ph.D. from UTRGV Civil Engineering; and for Thrust Area 3: Likelihood for Success and Sustainability of the Program were Kim Jones, Ph.D., P.E., Director of the TAMUK Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment, and Augusto Sanchez Gonzalez, M.S., C.F.M. Director of Estuary, Environmental and Special Projects – Cameron County region, UTRGV Civil Engineering.