As the advocates for building the coastal spine, also known as the Ike Dike, gear up to use the tragic flooding to our region by Hurricane Harvey to get the political machines working to build the project, let’s take a step back and discuss what the Ike Dike will and won’t do, and whether its enormous cost is the best investment to address the serious problem we face.

The Ike Dike has been strongly promoted by various groups since Hurricane Ike as the solution to hurricane storm surge flooding for the communities and industries along Galveston Bay. It proposes a coastal barrier of levees behind the beaches of Galveston Island’s West End and along Bolivar Peninsula. The two levees would be linked by large gates between Galveston and the peninsula that would be designed to close on the approach of a hurricane to stop surge entering Galveston Bay. The noble goal of finding a solution to the damage caused by storm surge is one we all seek, but the discussion to-date has only been on building the Ike Dike, not about whether it will do what it has been sold to do, and what consequences we will have to accept if it is built.

Keeping storm surge out of Galveston Bay will reduce the risks of flooding, but not all the risks. Closing off the bay will still leave Galveston, west bay communities and Houston Ship Channel industries vulnerable to flooding generated by hurricane force winds blowing across the bay itself. Research by Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters Center shows the critical flood protection of the industries that line the ship channel isn’t achieved by stopping the surge at the coast because the bay can generate its own surge. Unfortunately, discussion for designing local flood protection systems around the bay has been squashed by Ike Dike advocates because it diminishes the need for a structure at the coast, particularly its expensive and difficult to engineer gates at the entrance to Galveston Bay.

Galveston’s West End and Bolivar Peninsula communities would benefit significantly from a coastal seawall blocking storm surge blown in from the gulf, but they would still be vulnerable to surge coming from the bay when hurricane force winds blow from the north. Downtown Galveston experienced flooding during Harvey when winds coming from the north pushed water against the bay side of the city, restricting the outflow into the bay of 9 inches of rain that fell in the city during one day.

A ring levee has been proposed as a solution for Galveston. It would include improved handling of storm water runoff within the city that might be assisted by pumps, which are used in Texas City’s flood protection system. Such a system protecting Galveston from surge originating in the bay will still be needed if the Ike Dike is built. What hasn’t been asked is whether building a Galveston ring levee and other local protections for communities and industrial areas around the bay would be a more efficient, effective and environmentally sound approach, particularly given that they will be needed anyway.

Let’s use the attention that Hurricane Harvey brings to our vulnerability to hurricane-caused flooding to consider what options we really have, what solutions will actually address the problem each of our communities face, and what is the most cost effective way to implement them. After all, what our region experienced during Hurricane Harvey would not have been stopped by the Ike Dike.

Bill Kiene lives in Galveston.


(15) comments

Bill Broussard

Interestingly enough the Corp of engineers have four models they are considering. All four have a ring levee. Only one of the four models have a coastal spine like the Ike dike. It would seem to me that if you had a limited amount of money to start the odds are you should build the ring levee first rather than a fifty percent finished coastal spine and nothing else

David Doe

Unless they build a Wall around Galveston there is Nothing that will stop the surge of water. Water is going to follow the path of least resistance.

Steve Fouga

I agree with both Bill and David's comments, and with Mr. Kiene's sentiments. But it's not like we're starting from scratch.

Mr. Kiene states: "What hasn’t been asked is whether building a Galveston ring levee and other local protections for communities and industrial areas around the bay would be a more efficient, effective and environmentally sound approach, particularly given that they will be needed anyway."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is exactly the approach that Rice University's SSPEED center recommended several years ago. At the time, I was appalled by the swiftness of local authorities jumping on the "Ike Dike" coastal spine bandwagon with scarcely a nod toward SSPEED's more practical, lower-cost, more environmentally friendly, distributed system of smaller levees and gates.

Thankfully, the Corps is now fully involved. And though I'm certainly not thankful for Harvey, he did demonstrate the need for any surge-protection system to also account for the immense rainwater-driven flooding this region is prone to.

Bill Broussard

While the notion of separate levee’s did originate with the speed center the ACOE took that idea into a whole new level in their four designs

Here’s the problem ( and it’s like world hunger where there is enough food for everyone but the distribution methods are either economicallly or politically disabled) the west end beach front home owners cannot be underestimated. Since Ike they have lobbied and fought to not only get the dike but the most expensive version built fifty yards out in the water so they can have more private beach and if anyone wants a pubic beach it has to be by perpetual sand renourisment in front of the dike water side. This has led to true boondoggles like I former mayor giving 150,000.00 of taxpayer money to his wife as chairperson if an Ike dike NFP to take the rich and famous plus lawmakers on trips to Amsterdam Meanwhile the same mayor is granting extensions to the Marquette SUP so they can take their time building a hotel on the beach on the west end. These folks would prefer no levee at all if they can’t have their water built dike. I think what they have done is criminal but at least deeply selfish

Randy Chapman

The dike needs to be built along 3005. If the west end beach homes go away due to natural forces, so be it. The cost of building a dike in the surf and the impact to turtles and other beach-needing animals is more important than protecting a poor investment that they made.

Steve Fouga

Yes, and under 87 on Bolivar, IF it is built at all. My vote is not to build a dike on Bolivar or the West End of the Island. I can hardly wait to see the Corps's recommendation.

Jarvis Buckley

Why can't we all work together? Which would require compromise.
Where has East against West got us so far. Bolivar needs protection also.
Just my thoughts.....

Steve Fouga

Jarvis, I have nothing against the West End or Bolivar, in fact I love the West End and Bolivar. I just think the coastal spine idea is impractical, and prefer ring levees or other solutions.

Bill Broussard

Jarvis: could not have said it better. At the same time it’s not wise to be niece about what’s happened and is happening. The west end has vigorously supported the west end version of the Dike and worked very hard to keep it out of the ACOE hands for a couple of years. I was relieved to see it get pushed to the Corp

I have always thought that if the very people who pushed the Ike dike did not get their water and hard dune version it would be those very same people who sue the ACOE and hold it up for some time. We shall see
When an east end resident asked the chairman of WGPOA if the Ike dike ruckus was ‘ t designed to prevent the east end lever or at least defer it the answer was “I guess you could say that”

Gary Miller

One solution for two different problems? Tropical storm flooding has caused more damage than Hurricane surge. Tropical storms happen more often than hurricanes. Addressing the tropical storm problem solves most of the hurricane surge problem. I suspect the solution that provides the greatest "political service fee" will be what we get.

Bill Broussard

Sorry. The above should have read nieve and levee

Jarvis Buckley

I'm not a fan of the WGIPOA committee. They represent less than 20 percent of the WestEnd folks. Most residents have never gone to one of their meetings. Just extension
Of local chamber.

Bill Broussard

You nailed it Jarvis

Gary Miller

The TC/LM ring levee has worked well against hurricane surge. It's been a failure for tropical storm rain flooding. Just one of the three pump stations actually discharges outside the levee. With the flood gate closed the levee becomes a water trap. A flood gate operator smart enough to open the gate when the water level inside the gate is higher than outside the gate would have reduced the Harvey home flooding in TC.

Jose' Boix

Let's remember the original design included large pumps to manage water over the levee. My recollection is that there was a find of a marine species I believe called the "snail darter" which was protected. There was an argument that the pumps - which would have been centrifugal pumps would chew-up the "snail darters." So the current design became the "acceptable alternative approach."

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