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The Bay’s Priority Problems

Coastal areas have the highest human population densities and concentrations of industry in this country. Houston grew into a global hub for the petrochemical and energy businesses because of its status as a port with transportation links to the world. In turn, shipping encouraged the growth of population and industry around Galveston Bay.

During this period of development, the bay has provided goods, such as seafood, and ecological services, such as pollutant assimilation and recreational opportunities. However, some types of development make it difficult to maintain the goods, services and opportunities that the Bay has historically provided. The past and current modifications of Galveston Bay and its tributaries according to the needs of the businesses and people who reside near them generate great challenges.

The Galveston Bay Estuary Program has focused its efforts on meeting seventeen challenges that constitute the Galveston Bay Priority Problems List found in the Galveston Bay Plan.

Seventeen Priority Problems

What are Galveston Bay’s most pressing environmental challenges? Where should the Estuary Program and its partners focus management initiatives? To answer those questions, the following issues were distilled and ranked by the Galveston Bay National Estuary Program and constitute the Galveston Bay Priority Problems List.

    1. Vital Galveston Bay habitats including wetlands have been lost or reduced in value by a range of human activities, threatening the bay’s future sustained biological productivity.
    2. Contaminated runoff from non-point sources degrades the water and sediments of some bay tributaries and near-shore areas.
    3. Raw or partially treated sewage and industrial waste enters Galveston Bay due to wastewater collection system and treatment plant design and operational problems, especially during rainfall events.
    4. Future demands for freshwater and alterations to circulation may seriously affect productivity and overall ecosystem health.
    5. Certain toxic substances, or toxicants have contaminated water and sediment and may have a negative effect on aquatic life in contaminated areas.
    6. Certain species of marine organisms and birds have shown a declining population trend.
    7. Shoreline management practices frequently do not address negative environmental consequences to the bay, or the need for environmentally compatible public access to bay resources.
    8. Bay habitats and species are impacted by spills of toxic and hazardous materials during storage, handling, and transport.
    9. Seafood from some areas in Galveston Bay may pose a public health risk to subsistence or recreational consumers as a result of the potential presence of toxic chemicals.
    10. Illicit connections to storm sewers introduce untreated wastes directly into bay tributaries.
    11. Dissolved oxygen (DO) is reduced in certain tributaries and side bays, harming marine life.
    12. About half of the bay is permanently or provisionally closed to the taking of shellfish because of high fecal coliform bacteria levels that may indicate risk to shellfish consumers.
    13. Water and sediments are degraded in and around marinas from boat sewage and introduction of dockside wastes from non-point sources.
    14. Some bay shorelines are subject to high rates of erosion and loss of stabilizing vegetation due to past subsidence/relative sea level rise and current human impacts.
    15. Illegal dumping and estuarine debris degrade water quality and aesthetics of Galveston Bay.
    16. Some tributaries and near-shore areas of Galveston Bay are not safe for contact recreation activities such as swimming, wade fishing, and sailboarding due to risk of infection.
    17. Some exotic species (e.g. nutria and grass carp) threaten desirable native species, habitats, and ecological relationships.