Freshwater Inflows to Texas Bays and Estuaries: A State-wide Review, Synthesis, and Recommendations

Principal Investigator

Almost 30 years have passed since the publication of William L. Longley’s seminal book Freshwater Inflows to Texas Bays and Estuaries: Ecological Relationships and Methods for Determination of Needs, which had an enormous impact on management of environmental flows to estuaries in Texas and world-wide. The book, cited over 205 times, described the State Methodology and helped create a new science: hydroecology. Since then, the 2007 Texas Senate Bill 3 (SB3) changed management goals from a single inflow number to an inflow regime, and from protecting seven sport and commercial fisheries to an ecosystem-based management approach.

Today, a new project is essential to synthesize over two decades of new management goals, data, and scientific methods. HRI Chair for Hydroecology Dr. Paul Montagna is leading the charge on a project that will be a collaboration among a broad group of stakeholders (i.e., scientists, engineers, managers, and resource users) from different regions of the State of Texas.

The project will take 18 months and include three tasks, each requiring about six months to complete: 1) data assembly, 2) analyses and mapping, and 3) writing. It will include eight groups from across the state and with multidisciplinary backgrounds: 1) policy and law, 2) climate and hydrology, 3) bay circulation and salinity, 4) habitat and geospatial mapping, 5) water column (water quality and plankton), 6) benthos (infauna, oysters, marsh, and seagrass), 7) nekton (fish and mobile benthos), and 8) data management (story maps, GIS, and web portal). Groups will produce outputs in parallel to achieve goals in the allotted time.

The Texas environmental flows program involves three agencies — Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Texas Water Development Board — who provide technical and administrative support to stakeholders and science teams. While SB3 legislation delegated the task of adaptive management to the seven Basin and Bay Area Stakeholders Committees (BBASCs), there is no dedicated funding to support science teams whom the BBASCs depend on for technical expertise. In 2021, the adaptive management provision under SB3 will begin, which allows stakeholders to review and recommend revisions of adopted standards. Outputs from this project will provide guidance on how to evaluate the freshwater inflow standards.

The state’s two national estuary programs and many local stakeholder groups prioritize freshwater inflow management as a key area of concern. TCEQ and Texas General Land Office rely on inflow and water quality data to manage point and non-point source loadings. Stakeholders, scientists, environmental nonprofits, resource agencies, and others implementing projects in the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan can use this new volume as a tool for coastal resource management decision-making.  Coordination is a top priority and will be accomplished by holding workshops and participating in meetings held by those organizations to create a common knowledge base and methodology.

Metrics of success include: the extent to which the seven BBASCs use guidance provided in the new book to review the efficacy of existing standards, the number of hits the data website receives, and the number of output citations.