As the “Three Musketeers” over three years ago we wrote about the need for a coastal barrier system, or Ike Dike. We even laid out a road map for how to get the federal government to fund it. It’s indeed unfortunate that it may have taken another hurricane (Harvey) in order to get Congress to finally take action!

At a recent media event, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner made an astute observation. He said mitigation needs to start before we have another hurricane and not afterward. In other words, we need to build an “Ike Dike” before it’s needed. Good leaders — statesmen, if you will — assess risks and prepare ahead of time how to deal with them. They’re proactive, not reactive.

Our approach three years ago was to enact legislation that mandates the Army Corps of Engineers build the coastal spine, build it in “X” number of years, and then authorize, and subsequently appropriate, up to $15 billion to pay for the project. To date, this hasn’t happened.

However, with Hurricane Harvey causing so much damage there’s an alternative. As funds are appropriated to help rebuild from Harvey, we could include $15 billion to specifically construct the coastal barrier system and mandate that those funds may not be used for anything else. Then add to this a timeline for completion of the project. This would accomplish what we set out to do three years ago. Again, it is sad that it may have taken another major hurricane to get Congress to actually do something about this!

Some have said that a coastal barrier system wouldn’t have helped protect against a storm like Hurricane Harvey and to some extent they are correct. However, consider this: When water flowing through rivers, bayous, and creeks meet high tides coming in from the Gulf the runoff has nowhere to go except to rise and subsequently cause flooding. If we had a coastal barrier system in place we could close the gates across the Bolivar Roads entrance to Galveston Bay as the high tides approached and then opened the gates at low tide. Doing this could conceivably reduce some of the flooding and provide a pathway for the floodwaters to flow out to the Gulf during low tide.

We have seen a spike in gas prices caused by refineries going offline for about a week or so. If another Hurricane Ike were to hit our region, and damage the refineries and chemical plants on the Houston Ship Channel, we would be looking at more like 18 to 36 months to recover. Gas prices in the $7 to $8 range could be expected, not just here but across our entire nation. Meanwhile, it will impact jobs, people wouldn’t be able to get to work, potential customers could curtail their shopping, and many businesses could either close or find an alternative way of doing business. This is a serious national economic issue and should not be ignored! The time for talk is over. The time for accomplishing the task is at hand. Let’s get it done!

Bill Sargent lives in Galveston.

(21) comments

Steve Fouga

Still not convinced about the coastal spine concept.

TOTALLY on board with some type of storm-surge protection, especially for the high-value assets up the Channel and the backside of Galveston Island. Not sure why it needs to be a "coastal spine."

Mark Aaron

Steve: "Not sure why it needs to be a "coastal spine."

A cursory look at the spine design appears to be quite efficient. The Dutch have established that it works well. The spine concept, from what I gather requires the least amount of levees/walls versus a ring system. The spine would also require the least amount of gates. The less length and gates would reduce costs from what I see.

Where do you see problems with the spine?

Steve Fouga

First, I'll say that I do think the spine will eventually be built, mostly because of political shenanigans as opposed to hardcore objective considerations. I'll also say that if a coastal spine already existed, I'd have no objections to it in terms of effectiveness, operation, appearance, etc.

Here are the problems I feel will immediately or eventually come to light: acquisition cost, maintenance cost, scope, schedule, funding and staging of design elements, environmental impact, disruption to residents and businesses, legal and property rights issues. All of these would also apply to a distributed system of gates and levees, but I believe they could be handled more easily piecemeal than as part of a project so grandiose.

The fundamental reason for a spine, vice some other approach, is that it protects "everything." I don't believe "everything" should be protected, when that protection comes at what I predict will be such high cost.

Like I've said before, I'm speculating. If the answer from the Corps is that a coastal spine is both the most effective and most cost-effective solution, then fine. I don't look forward to living the rest of my life in a construction zone, but I'm sure I could endure it.

Mark Aaron

Those are reasonable concerns Steve.

Robert Braeking

All the efforts of the Corps of Engineers in the past served to make matters worse than they could have been in the Harvey storm. A 'coastal spine' would not have helped one iota. A miniature version is the Clear Lake flood gate system which only served to slow down the receding water.

Mark Aaron

Robert: "All the efforts of the Corps of Engineers in the past served to make matters worse than they could have been in the Harvey storm. A 'coastal spine' would not have helped one iota."

And you know this how, Robert?

Robert Braeking


Jim Forsythe

Include a pump system, to decrease the water behind  the "IKE DIKE"

Jarvis Buckley

I agree with Jim about the pump system. I've always thought that would need to be included.

Steve Fouga

Or I guess I can imagine it, but don't think it's practical.

Steve Fouga

Maybe a civil-engineering type will correct me if I'm wrong, but don't pumps only work on a smaller, ring-levee-type barrier? I can't imagine being able to pump down Galveston Bay fast enough to make any difference.

Jim Forsythe

Steve, the pump in the video  can pump 330,000 GPM . They make custom pumping systems that can pump more. You can use more than one system at the same time. The goal is not to pump the ship channel dry, but to reduce it enough to make room for the rainfall.
At 9,800,000 Gallons a Hour, it could make a lot of difference.

Below is a pump.system that pumps 800,000 Gallons per Minute. 48,000,000 Gallons per Hour.1,152,000,000 a day.
Please watch the video below , as it explains what the goal is in reducing water.

George Croix

Jim, one 9.8 million gph pump system would run just short of dumping one of the big 500, 000 barrel crude tanks sitting over near 14th street by the RHU (21,000,000 gallons each, filled) in 2 hours. That's a lot, but a drop compared to the size of the whole Bay system.
Would need several (many) such stations and a low tide to start and good interim gate management of tides and a lotta luck to dent the runoff from a 3' rain flowing into a diked bowl....
Doable, but seeing such pumps WOULD be cause for a Kodak moment....[beam]
Anything's possible if one can overcome the inertia of politics and the obstacle course of environmental activist 'resistance', then get an increase in the credit card limit....
Be something to see....unlikley I ever will, and I plan to be around at least another 30 years.....took nearly that long to finish the much smaller TC levee system.....

Jim Forsythe

George, management is the key. How far ahead of time would we shut the gate.? They were forecasting,it to dump a lot of rain on us, 
days before it did. Could you see ,shutting down the ship channel for days ahead of a event? We shut down units days before..
To me, the pumps could help getting rid of the runoff.and add more room for the added water from the rain fall.

 The Gulf intracoastal  waterway system in Texas has a flood gate system .Can this be used in some way to reduce flooding.

Behind our house is the Diversionary Canal, water came very close to coming in our house. This could be drained ahead of time.
Could a pumping system make since , for it . Some of the flooding in Hitchcock was in neighborhoods, close to it.
I hope, when they are looking at what needs to be upgraded, questions like these are asked.

George Croix

Jim, there's no doubt that removing some water is better than removing none, and at the least buys 'x' amount of additional time before things get wet that shouldn't.
Management of gates works when you are lucky enough to get a low(er) tide before you've already filled up too much, which would likely be most times, but Murphy says eventually you get full at the same time you have a higher tide on the orther side...still, better most of a banana split than none....
I personally doubt that any such system will ever get much beyond the talk-it-to-death political stage, and if it does it enters the lawsuits-out-the-wazoo stage, and after both of those pass by, our grandkids kids, or their grandkids, may buy a brick for the scenic walk on top of the levee with our names on them...[wink]
This depsite the absolute necessity for refining and chemicals production, without which the entire nation grinds to a halt....
Of course, fact is, IF we ever had massive refining damage that might require x-long downtim, our Uncle WOULD step in and toss money like confetti.....
Learn only after experience, usually.....

Steve Fouga

Where would you envision the pumps' inlets and outlets? In one spot, or several?

George Croix

I'm no engineer, but worked with many good ones over decades, and I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express one night while on vacation. So, if it were up to me, there would be several systems and several locations, for several reasons:
Of course, money must be no object, so there's a Fantasy Land component in play here, too...
Actual degreed engineers should note that I take a size equivalent to a 48 coat/36 waist bottle for any re-pouring back into...[beam]
1) Minimize Murphy's ability to interrupt pumping capacity due to unanticipated equipment problems or water flow interruptions (the trade-off is greater maintenance costs for equipment multiples if all does go well, plus more upfront property acquisition costs, and more lawsuits from enviro-extremists)
2) Geography and gravity would control runoff amount(s) and direction(s) of flow, and building/developement(s) would be likely to alter that from original design over time.
3) More pumping ability from multiple locations means water has less distance to travel (thus less time to backup, all else equal)) before pumpout, and shorter suction/discharge lines also means better pump(s) flow with less ability for all to be impacted by fouling with trash and debris at the same time.
4) Political infighting over the project(s) gets spread out and diluted somewhat, so perhaps something gets finished and becomes operational rather than nothing
5) Because if ever realized it will be a Fed Govt. Credit Card purchase for all or most of the cost, and might as well demand the best when other people's money is paying the lion's share...

George Croix

Authorize 15 Billion to pay for the project....
Don't think you need anything in there for the decade or so, if lucky, of litigation/attorney expenses to fight the environmentalist extremists????
This area isn't the ten-year-ago politically charged New Orleans area. And need for consideration of nationally critical and strategic refining has never mattered to far left enviro-types and their DC enablers from the usual delay-delay-delay-----

But, maybe this time they won't be a factor, and will step aside and allow sanity to the forefront.....
That's it....[rolleyes][whistling][innocent]

Mark Aaron

George: "Don't think you need anything in there for the decade or so, if lucky, of litigation/attorney expenses to fight the environmentalist extremists????"

Poor George, he finds environmental protection so inconvenient.

Jose' Boix

No matter the approach, such project will require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). A seemingly simplistic wording, but a complicated, convoluted and time consuming process that often trumps the best engineering solutions. Just a watch-out!

Robert Braeking

Anything that disrupts the natural ebb and flow through the tidal marshes will disrupt the seafood nurseries.

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