School of Big Storms: Galveston, TX

Galveston, a sister city to New Orleans on the Gulf Coast, has always played the role of one of the premier beach get-a-ways on the Texas Coast. Old town charm, mixed with eclectic appeal – this barrier island city was once a premier port along the Gulf Coast. However, the emergence of the Houston ship channel and port has now taken precedence as one of the most productive ports in the U.S. This has lead to Galveston relying mostly on tourism – taking advantage of all that the Gulf of Mexico has to offer.In 2006, the GRN and Sierra Club released The School of Big Storms, a report that looked at communities across the Gulf to see what they have been doing to strengthen or weaken their protection from storms. Galveston is no stranger to hurricanes. At the turn of the twentieth century, Galveston experienced one of the deadliest hurricanes on record – the Storm of 1900 – killing 6,000 to 8,000 people. Since that time, Galveston has experienced strong storms or hurricanes approximately every 15 years. In 2008, Hurricane Ike – one of the costliest Atlantic hurricanes of all time – made landfall on Galveston Island. And like many other coastal cities devastated from hurricane damage, Galveston has worked hard to return the city to operation, with some federal assistance and the determination of long-time residents.Similar to citizens of other coastal communities, residents of Galveston and the Greater Houston area have begun serious conversations as to how to make the island more resilient in the wake of future storms and impending sea level rise from climate change. Discussions include the need for floodgates, raised roads and storm water improvements felt to be essential to protect shorelines – and new technology and ideas abound for solutions. Unfortunately, as our leaders in Washington shy away from large-scale action to defend coastlines across the United States, most ideas remain on the drawing board.Fortunately, some urban areas in the Greater Houston area have begun implementing more localized, greener solutions that address the threat of large scale flooding by reducing development in the floodplains and executing their own protective plans. The focus on creating natural lines of defense is critical, such as wetland restoration in Galveston Bay and designing natural drainage systems to manage the follow of water, as it will help buffer the much-needed solution to make coastal communities, such as Galveston Island, more sustainable and resilient. As coastal communities move forward, they must ensure that robust and transparent consideration of options are based on best available science to ensure resiliency of Galveston Island. Failure to implement scientifically sound management plans, from Houston down to Galveston, will put communities and risk and potentially make the next disaster even more damaging.

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