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Texas Water Trade announces significant water purchase to protect critical bird habitat near Galveston Bay

For immediate release: April 22, 2022

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas Water Trade, the Galveston Bay Foundation and The Nature Conservancy have announced agreements to purchase water to provide critical freshwater inflows into Galveston Bay. The project is particularly timely given the U.S. Drought Monitor is reporting drought conditions across the state of Texas. During the last major drought, bays across the Texas Gulf—including Galveston Bay—suffered from severe reductions to the freshwater inflow on which they depend.

Project partners have co-operated to develop purchase agreements to buy water for Galveston Bay, including water purchases from the Trinity and Brazos Rivers. The agreements will provide for the delivery of 6,000 acre-feet of water over the next four years. A grant from the Knobloch Family Foundation was instrumental in enabling these transactions, which were also supported by funding from Texas Water Trade’s newly-created Texas Flows Fund, which exclusively supports environmental flows projects.

“This is a great example of conservation entities working together in a collaborative way to accomplish our shared goals, in this case, to improve and expand new habitats for migratory birds and to create a refuge for the keystone species that support Galveston Bay’s recreational and commercial fisheries,” said Sharlene Leurig, Chief Executive Officer of nonprofit Texas Water Trade.

In East Galveston Bay, the purchased water, which comes from the Trinity River, will support high-quality habitat near Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, one of North America’s most diverse birding spots. The stored water will be especially critical during dry periods when freshwater needs to be released into estuarine habitats to reduce salinity levels. During the 2011 drought, aquatic species including oysters were severely affected by high salinity levels in the bay caused by reduced freshwater inflows.

“Although regulatory tools must be enforced to protect instream flows in times of drought, a market-driven approach for freshwater inflows can ensure these areas stay healthy when water is most needed,” said Bob Stokes, President of the Galveston Bay Foundation.

Each year, the coastal wetlands serve as foraging and resting areas for hundreds of migratory bird species traveling along the Central Flyway, a 5,000-mile migratory route from Central and South America. Additionally, they provide critical habitat for resident bird species, including the Mottled Duck, whose populations have been in decline, and Eastern Black Rail, a candidate for being listed as an endangered species.

The wetlands relied upon by these bird species will be enhanced by freshwater delivered through Chambers-Liberty Counties Navigation District’s extensive irrigation canals. Galveston Bay Foundation will be contracting with local landowners who will hold this water on their land to enhance bird habitat. Should salinity in the bay exceed a predetermined threshold, the water stored on these private lands will be released into bayous feeding into the bay. In this way, the project partners seek to demonstrate the potential for protecting drought refuges for shrimp, crabs and other species on which Galveston Bay’s fisheries depend.

While California and other Western states have robust water trading markets to protect water resources, such transactions in Texas are less common, especially for environmental purposes.

“Environmental water transactions are one of the most innovative conservation tools we use, and this transaction is timely and significant,” said Suzanne Scott, State Director of The Nature Conservancy in Texas. “Together with partners like Texas Water Trade and Galveston Bay Foundation, we’re addressing water scarcity and securing the ecological health and resilience of our state.”

Texas Water Trade is currently accepting proposals for its next round of Texas Flows Fund applications. To learn more or apply, click here.

Contact: Peyton Fleming, Texas Water Trade
Phone: 857-361-2884 cell

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