Shoreline Armoring + Coastal Engineering
November 28, 2022
A plan to wall off Houston and nearby industry from flooding caused by hurricanes will cost tens of billions of dollars. Will it be enough?
Plans for one of the world’s biggest and most expensive flood barriers were born in a second-floor apartment here in this city on the Gulf of Mexico, as water 4 meters deep filled the street below. In September 2008, Bill Merrell, an oceanographer at Texas A&M University, Galveston, was trapped with his wife, daughter, grandson, and “two annoying chihuahuas” in the historic building he owns. Outside, 180-kilometer-per-hour winds generated by Hurricane Ike rattled windows and drove water from the gulf and Galveston Bay into the city.
As saltwater swirled through the shops and restaurants downstairs, Merrell sat in his office and sketched plans for a project he hoped would put an end to the storm-driven flooding that had repeatedly devastated this part of Texas.
It was an ambitious vision: Seventy kilometers of seawalls rising 5 meters above sea level would stretch the length of Galveston Island and beyond. Enormous gates would span the 3-kilometer-wide channel through which ships pass in and out of Galveston Bay. The defensive perimeter would seal off not just Galveston, but the whole bay, with Houston at its far end, protecting more than 6 million people and the country’s largest collection of chemical plants and oil refineries.
Though Merrell had spent decades studying ocean currents and storm surges, he had no engineering experience. But as he watched the murky waters soak the city, including his own carefully restored 19th century landmark, he decided there had to be a better way. “The Dutch would never put up with this,” he said to his wife.
Today, that first brainstorm has morphed into a $31 billion plan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the nation’s builder of mammoth water infrastructure. The state of Texas has embraced the idea, creating a taxing district to help pay its share. In July, Congress authorized the Corps to proceed—though it has yet to appropriate money for construction…
Photo: An aerial view of the damage Hurricane Ike inflicted upon Gilchrist, Texas (by Jocelyn Augusitno/FEMA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).
SHARE THIS ARTICLE
More on Shoreline Armoring + Coastal Engineering . . .
Federal and state taxpayers have spent billions of dollars over the past four decades pumping up beaches in front of coastal properties in what are known as beach nourishment projects. In Florida alone, almost $3 billion in public funds has been spent just to keep beaches in front of investment homes and oceanfront infrastructure…
A 7m wall has gone up on a Sydney beach: are we destroying public space to save private property? – The Guardian
“We really didn’t want to build a wall,” says Bob Orth.
But Orth is one of 10 residents of Collaroy, on Sydney’s northern beaches, who have each paid $300,000 to do just that.
And not just any wall. Construction began in December on a seven-metre-high sheer concrete structure below the residents’ properties, which overlook a beach that has become notorious for dramatic erosion every time there is a big storm.
As the sea level rises and human interference continues, the Israeli coast will experience more intense flooding, disappearing beaches, and intensifying coastal erosion.
In a move this month that outraged environmentalists and caught coastal regulators off guard, a Republican senator pushed forward legislation that would revise a key section in the state’s landmark Coastal Act and allow homeowners in San Diego and Orange counties to build seawalls by right.
The idea — building an underwater barrier to slow down waves, and thus slow the flow of escaping sand — has coastal experts worried about disrupting the coastal flow of sand, nesting sea turtles and worsening water quality on the beach.
A golf course and hotel owned by President Donald Trump has been refused planning permit to build a sea wall designed to protect the fairways from coastal erosion by authorities in Ireland.
A $32 billion plan for a coastal barrier system to protect the Houston-Galveston region, including 14-foot-high dune fields is seen as the latest innovation designed for Texas to engineer its way out of an existential crisis: a coastline gradually vanishing and increasingly vulnerable to massive storm surges and sea level rise.
Residents of an exclusive gated community who want to put tons of boulders on a public beach lost a court battle this week. This ruling comes as battles simmer in South Carolina over how to deal with the effects of global warming and rising sea levels.
The state of North Carolina is well on its way to making it easier for property owners to build living shorelines.