A technology more commonly used in rivers could provide a new way for Galveston, and eventually the entire Texas coast, to combat coastal erosion.
The Galveston Park Board of Trustees has been experimenting with sediment bedload technology, a machine that collects dirt and sand for redistribution elsewhere.
Dubbed the sand flea, the method could prove a new technique to mitigate the effects of erosion, park board Director of Operations Reuben Trevino said. The park board has named the equipment after the beach creature that the machine mimics, he said.
“The sand flea in its natural environment kind of backs itself into the sand and submerges itself and sits flush with the ocean floor,” Trevino said. “That is basically the design here.”
Buried into the ground within the first or second sandbar, the sand flea collects sand that’s tossed into its vents through natural wave movements, Trevino said.
A test round completed last week at Apffel Park proved more promising than the park board anticipated, he said. In some cases, the system collected more than 150 pounds of sand a minute, much higher than the park board’s goal of about 50 pounds a minute, Trevino said.
The current phase of the project cost about $300,000, park board spokeswoman Jaree Fortin said.
The Texas General Land Office is paying for half of those costs, spokeswoman Karina Erickson said.
“The technology can be utilized in a variety of ways to effectively collect sediment that is lost through continuous wave action and littoral drift,” Erickson said. “If deemed effective, we are interested in implementing the technology coast-wide.”
Ohio-based company Streamside LLC originally developed the technology to clear excess dirt out of riverbeds, CEO Randall Tucker said.
“This all started 25 years ago when my little fishing hole up in Michigan got filled up with sand,” Tucker said.
The technology prevents sediment buildup on the bottom of rivers, Tucker said.
“We let Mother Nature do all the work,” Tucker said. “She’s actually pushing the sand to the unit and we just capture it.”
The technology largely will be unnoticeable to beachgoers, except when tide is low, Tucker said.
“It’s about the size of a sheet of plywood,” Tucker said. “There’s no real suction to it. People can walk over. It’s not going to suck fish in.”
Tucker already had been brainstorming coastal applications for his technology when the park board showed interest, he said.
The idea for the bedload technology arose in 2016 when the park board and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were looking for new sand management strategies, Fortin said.
“This project will be the first of its kind used on a coastline to possibly redistribute sand from areas where sand is gained to those areas where sand is lost down the road,” Fortin said.
The park board is planning to set up the sand flea at Apffel Park because that area of the island is accreting, or growing with sand, while the middle of the island is eroding, Trevino said. That’s typical for a barrier island, he said.
“Right now, the sediment flow just keeps trickling down, trickling down, flows into the channel,” Trevino said. “This is essentially harvesting the sand before it ever gets there.”
The park board can move the sand to areas experiencing erosion or could fill in areas of high flooding at island beaches, but is still exploring applications, Trevino said.
Trevino expects the next phase, which will construct a larger-scale sand flea, to cost about $2.1 million, he said.
Now, researchers are reviewing the samples collected last week to determine best placement of the sand flea, how often it should be used and how much sand to collect, Trevino said.