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© Karine Aigner for The Nature Conservancy

Building water supply chains to benefit coastal resources and local economies

Before the 20th century, the water that nourished Texas’ coastal estuaries started as rainfall in the grasslands of the Texas Plains, the savannahs of Central Texas and the forests of East Texas. That water wove its way through our state’s vast lands and rivers before giving life to some of the most abundant coastal fisheries in the world.

As the state’s population grew along with our economy, so did upstream demands for water. Today, our remarkable coastal wetlands and estuaries receive far less freshwater during normal years of rainfall. During drought, these critical ecological hotspots—nesting and feeding grounds for hundreds of bird species and nurseries for more than 90% of commercially-relevant fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico—can receive too little water to support healthy populations. The precariousness of our coastal environmental inflows threatens to undermine hard-won conservation advancements for coastal habitats and species. These conservation hotspots are also important for local economies, generating several billion dollars each year in hunting, birding and fishing revenues.

In response to this water security threat, Texas Water Trade has launched a dedicated environmental water fund to secure multiyear water contracts for freshwater delivery to coastal wetlands and estuaries. Working with our Texas Water Market Maker, the Galveston Bay Foundation, and other coastal partners, we are enlisting private landowners and public land stewards to test how we can sustain healthy coastal habitats by applying the right amount of water at the right time – a concept known as “focused flows,” developed by Dr. Paul Montagna of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi. Building on our first pilots delivering more than 6,000 acre-feet of water to critical bird and fish habitat in Galveston and Matagorda Bays, we will collaborate with water managers, ecologists and coastal stakeholders to monitor and optimize our focused flow deliveries. Our goal is to grow the total amount of water we can deliver to these basins in any given year, and to extend the number of years when we can deliver reliable water. We will also expand and broaden these efforts to other coastal basins, including San Antonio Bay, where we will work with our newest Texas Water Market Maker, the International Crane Foundation, to expand habitat for endangered whooping cranes.