Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan Update
The Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program (CBBEP) is dedicated to protecting and restoring the 75 miles of estuaries and adjacent watersheds along the south-central coastline of Texas. As part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Estuary Program, the CBBEP developed a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, which has been updated to incorporate climate change impacts and adaptation options to increase the resilience of estuaries and coastal communities in the Coastal Bend.
The CBBEP was founded to research, protect, and restore the bays and estuaries within the Texas Coastal Bend region. The region includes 75 miles of estuaries and watersheds along the south-central coastline of Texas, and CBBEP serves twelve counties (e.g., McMullen, Live Oak, Bee, Refugio, Aransas, Duval, Jim Wells, Nueces, Kieberg, Brooks, Kenedy). In the early 1990s, the area was designated as an “estuary of national significance” as part of the EPA’s National Estuary Program and developed a long-term Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP). The CCMP (also called the Coastal Bend Bays Plan or Bays Plan) guides restoration and research activities as well as public use of the Coastal Bend region. In 2016, CBBEP initiated an effort to update and incorporate climate change into the CCMP based on a mandate from the EPA. In addition, Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana in 2017 and was a major catalyst for CBBEP to advance local climate adaptation action, particularly with respect to how natural systems could protect coastal communities.
The CCMP update process took place between 2017–2018 and was funded under a cooperative agreement between the EPA, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the CBBEP. The guiding principles for developing the plan included: (1) promoting healthy and diverse economic, social and ecological systems; (2) facilitating enlightened public action through education and dialogue with all interested parties; (3) maintaining a balance of people and nature; (4) achieving equity among competing uses; and (5) seeking and implementing sustainable solutions.
The CBBEP collaborated with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to complete a vulnerability assessment that aided in determining priority issues, primarily creating “resilient coastal ecosystems and human communities that can adapt to changing conditions.” A variety of information resources and datasets were used in developing the plan, including TNC scenarios for 0.5, 1.0, and 2.0 meters of sea level rise; TNC Coastal Resilience; the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM) for the Gulf of Mexico; local National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sea level rise data; local tide gauge and weather station data; and the GeoView tool of the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Partners in developing the updated CCMP included the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the EPA. In addition, local outreach and stakeholder engagement was integral in the development of the CCMP. Local stakeholders provided input to the goals, objectives, and action items via established Implementation Teams (e.g., Habitat and Wildlife, Water Quality, Human Uses). Public meetings were also held to inform the community of the updates and gather additional comments.
The CBBEP has a long-standing relationship and reputation in the Coastal Bend region that helped to facilitate discussions on resilience building and mitigation with local governments. The updated CCMP includes a list of current efforts to increase resilience in the region as a result of the devastating impacts from Hurricane Harvey. Some examples include expanding connectivity of protected areas to allow for habitat migration as sea levels rise; collaborating with local partners to re-design, upgrade, and/or retrofit wastewater treatment facilities, stormwater infrastructure, and drinking water facilities; and incorporating natural infrastructure and nature-based solutions into resilience planning.
The plan update also included a new Coastal Resilience Action Plan as well as corresponding implementation strategies related to climate change impacts such as sea level rise, drought, extreme weather events, and flooding. The objectives of this action plan are to integrate climate science into strategic planning and adaptive management while improving climate literacy. Adaptation actions and recommendations included in the plan include implementation steps, current status on implementation, timeframes, cost estimates, and identification of potential funders and partners. Example actions include:
- Building coastal resilience by restoring habitats that protect communities and infrastructure (e.g., salt marshes);
- Assisting local governments in developing and implementing adaptive management plans that protect coastal resources and their ecosystem services; and
- Developing formal and informal education materials to enhance climate literacy.
Outcomes and Conclusions
Products from the CCMP update include the final report, a climate vulnerability assessment, workshops, and an ecosystem-based management plan. In addition, several CBBEP research projects were developed as a result of the CCMP update planning process, including those involving salinity monitoring and habitat restoration. Barriers in the research, planning, and implementation of the CCMP include funding limitations and the local culture. For example, there is some hesitancy to use the term “climate change” in CBBEP’s work due to local political and cultural pushback. The CBBEP has found it easier to achieve consensus on actions for sea level rise and flooding issues because communities have experienced these impacts firsthand.
The CBBEP conducts both ecosystem and programmatic monitoring to evaluate environmental and climatic impacts and the effectiveness of activities. Periodic evaluations of environmental factors throughout the Bay (e.g., water quality, habitat extent) help program staff track changes in the system. Program funding is often a limitation to the staffing and duration of monitoring efforts. Community engagement and stakeholder involvement have proven to be necessary elements for CBBEP’s success. These efforts promote consistency and continuity in regional and local decision-making, increase public understanding of the critical linkages between the economy and the environment, and ensure commitment and sustained support for CBBEP’s work.
The next steps for the CBBEP include the prioritization of adaptation actions and fleshing out risk-based adaptation planning included in the CCMP. The CBBEP plans to use the EPA Adaptation Planning Workbook to determine risk levels and responses to climate impacts. The outcome of this process will be an adaptation plan that includes the CCMP risk-assessed and prioritized actions. The CBBEP is working to secure funds to support these next steps and build resilience in their coastal service area.
Sims, S.A. and Braddock, K.N. (2021). Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan Update [Case study of a project of the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program]. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/coastal-bend-bays-and-estuaries-program-comprehensive-conservation-and-management-plan-update (Last updated October 2021)