Planning for 20 Years of Resilience and Productivity on the American Shoreline: The Coastal Bend Bays Plan
Corpus Christi Bay - America's energy export hub
On this episode, hosts Peter Ravella and Tyler Buckingham are joined by Ray Allen (Executive Director) and Kiersten Stanzen (Director of Partnerships) of the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program to discuss organization's new Coastal Bend Bays Plan. The original Coastal Bend Bays Plan, also known as ‘The Bays Plan’, was adopted in 1998 and has served as a regional framework for the management, protection, and conservation of Coastal Bend bays and estuaries for over 20 years. This new plan revises its predecessor and advances strategies for protecting clean water and healthy habitats in the 12-county area including all bays, estuaries, and bayous in the Copano, Aransas, Corpus Christi, Nueces, Baffin and Upper Laguna Madre systems. This is a story about bringing stakeholders from industry, local government, and academia together to product and preserve one of the most productive regions of the American Shoreline. Only on ASPN!
Peter Ravella 0:00
Hello, everybody and welcome to the American shoreline podcast. This is Peter Ravella. co host of the show.
Tyler Buckingham 0:07
And this is Tyler Buckingham, the other co host,
Peter Ravella 0:09
Tyler, even though we're located in Austin, Texas, the hometown of the American shoreline podcasts. We haven't done a Texas show in a while. And we're due and we're due and we are going to have a really great conversation today about the coastal bend part of the Texas coast. And so for all of you folks outside of Texas, when you look at the big curve of Texas along the Texas coast, we're talking about that middle curve area called the coastal bend. And we have two great guests today to talk to us about the state of affairs in the state of the coastal environment in the coastal bend area. Ray Allen is the executive director of the coastal bend bays and estuary program, one of 28 National estuary programs in the United States. And we'll talk a little bit about what is a national estuary program. He is joined today by his director of partnerships Kiersten Stanzel. And the reason we are interested in doing this show Tyler is because they just came out with the update of the coastal the coastal bend Bay's plan the instrument which guides this organization to protect, restore and enhance the Corpus Christi Bay system region. It's an incredible document really super well done, I thought,
Tyler Buckingham 1:30
well, I do too. And it reflects just an enormous amount of thinking for thought planning. Yeah, fact is what you call that. And this is going to be critical for the future of this region of the Texas coast, a very cool region of the Texas coast that I'm excited to share with our audience. They might not know exactly what goes on in the coastal bend
Peter Ravella 1:55
well, and to introduce our audience to this area that coastal bend Bay and estuary programs jurisdiction if we can use that word or area of coverage is 12 counties covering 11,500 square miles. And the population in this region of the Texas coast is 572,000. So more than a half a million people. It is a major energy export region of Texas and so there's a lot to think about for the folks at the coastal bend Bay estuary program. So I'm really looking forward to talking to Ryan Kiersten and learning more about what they're doing.
Tyler Buckingham 2:36
Let's dive into it. But first let's have a quick word from our sponsors.
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Peter Ravella 3:32
Well, Ray Allen and Kiersten, thank you very much for taking time out of what I know is a busy time of year for you guys. It's spring break season down on the Texas coast. Welcome to the American shoreline podcast.
Ray Allen 3:47
Thanks, Peter. Glad to be here.
Kiersten Stanzel 3:49
Thank you so much for having us.
Peter Ravella 3:51
Well, Ray, I've tried to give a little bit of an overview and I just for the for the benefit of the audience out there. Ray and I have known each other for I don't know, 25 or 30 years back when I was at the Texas General Land Office and re sat on the coastal coordination council that oversaw the implementation of the Texas coastal program, coastal management program. So Ray and I go back aways. But Ray, would you introduce our audience to yourself as the executive director of the coastal bend Bay and asteroids program and introduce our audience, if you would, to what the organization is all about?
Ray Allen 4:28
Oh, happy to do so. You know, we spent a long time here on the Texas coast. You know, I moved in the program, the coastal bend area. For those of you who might have maps, you know, Corpus Christi is where our offices are located. And cuz it's central to the program area here along the coast. And so we were both born and south of the Corpus Christi area. Just a lot going on here. Yeah, that's it. It's an area that has a lot of industrial development, a lot of tourism, commercial recreational fishing. It's a it's a real classic coastal community here. And just just a lot of great natural resources in the area. And, and our goal it really just to protect what we have and try to restore some of what we've lost and, and to maintain it into the future.
Tyler Buckingham 5:27
Well, it is a dynamic area, and I'm excited to learn more about how we're planning to do that. But first, Kiersten tell us a little bit about you and your pathway to becoming the director of partnerships here.
Kiersten Stanzel 5:43
It's actually an interesting story, because it relates closely to the plan that was developed I, I've actually been in the coastal bend region working and living there for for almost 20 years, I used to work for the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. And I, while I was, while I was there, I actually took on the role of helping the coastal bays and estuaries program put together their their revised plan, I was contracted out with them to do that. And so that was kind of I always been involved with the program through some of their stakeholder groups. And, and, and always knew about the great things that they were doing. But that was my first time to really kind of, you know, get into the details and the weeds a little bit with them about you know, what they were they were planning for the next 20 years. And so while I was working on that plan, and you know, I an opportunity opens up with the program to become their director of partnerships and help them focus a lot on funding and just leveraging resources to get the, you know, the most work done that we can. And so it was the the planning document that we're going to talk about today that actually kind of led me into my, my current role with them. And so now I I focus a lot on trying to basically implement what's in the plan and finding partners and resources to do
Peter Ravella 7:00
that. It's an extraordinarily comprehensive plan dealing with so many projects and programs that the that the coastal bend Bay estuary program implements. But Ray, can we go up to about 10,000 feet here, introduce our audience to what is the National estuary program? And what is the purpose of the coastal bend Bay and estuary program? Great. Yeah.
Ray Allen 7:26
The EPA, the US Congress, under under the Clean Water Act established the national estuary program. It was an attempt to build on national efforts that had looked at play space programs. So that's the key word place based things like the Chesapeake Bay program and the Great Lakes initiative, and to try to translate these major efforts into, if you will, smaller areas that still involve a lot of local people. It's a place based, locally driven stakeholder involved, they'll pick your favorite buzzwords, you know, so that, that really it's about engaging the community. And that's, that's really at the heart of the 28 National estuary programs. If they are all meant to reflect the goals and objectives of the of the local folks. It's, you know, it got the program get started. And I should say, our program came along on what EPA called round four of the national estuary programs. There was an initial round in the late 80s, round one where Congress itself designated a few areas to be included in the national estuary program. And then over the year, they
Tyler Buckingham 8:49
quickly re re Can I ask you really quickly, going back to the 80s and Congress designate what were some of the originals?
Ray Allen 8:56
You know, in my mind, I think probably the Galveston Bay estuary program is closest, the Puget Sound program. without referring to note, I know it's I wouldn't want to get
Tyler Buckingham 9:08
I'm curious to know what what got first dibs anyway, that's interesting. So round one Congress, then yeah.
Ray Allen 9:14
And then EPA was authorized, established a protocol for new programs to be nominated. And, and I'll just take you to the Texas round for where we, the nomination process came up through the Texas government, Governor and Richard had to submit a proposal to EPA that was developed with the help of state agencies, Texas Parks and Wildlife. That's what was then the Texas Water commission, which is now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and, and and and lots of local people. You had to have local support local cities, counties, conservation groups. So it was that nomination package to demonstrate both that there was a local commitment and that there was a national significance to our Bay estuary system. It wasn't just out in the middle of the wilderness and everything going, Okay, this is targeted at areas that are seeing development, seeing a lot of usage, in our case, a lot of Port development. And we'll maybe talk about that later. But yeah, so it's a thriving economic role that the bay plays here in our area. And that helped us get through the nomination packet and get a get our program approved. And the key is, by being that what we call the fourth round, we have lots of other people, lots of other programs to learn from, including our friends up at the Galveston Bay estuary program. So it wasn't like, it wasn't like we started with a blank slate, you know, we have lots of ideas and a lot of a lot of guidance for both EPA and the state of Texas to get going.
Tyler Buckingham 11:05
So just following along in this history, Ray, so I guess this would be what the mid 90s. The
Ray Allen 11:13
this is, you know, we got the nomination packet submitted in 1993. Later in that year, we got approved, and we really kicked off the program I was I was not an employee, I was a volunteer, help write the nomination packet and a lot of other folks. And so we really had our first meeting to start the planning effort. And and EPA had a well, well documented planning protocol. So we started in 1994. And officially we had funding to put together a comprehensive conservation management plan in a four year window. And is that
Tyler Buckingham 11:53
is that the first edition of the coastal bend Bay's plan that
Ray Allen 11:57
that is it came out in 1998 1999 timeframe. You know, sometimes we hit the four year window, sometimes we got close. But that was that was the first version back there 1999.
Peter Ravella 12:11
Ray, and these these plans, and one of the key things about national estuary programs. And you you touched on it in your introduction to the effort is that these are voluntary, cooperative efforts to tend to the base systems in the region that you are designated to oversee, and in this case, 12 counties 11,500 square miles, that whole Central Coast based system, it's an incredible region of the Texas coast.
Ray Allen 12:42
It's so big when you put it that way it does. Mostly we just work with the salt water. Well, that's true. Some of those counties or inland counties in the watershed and, and that reflects that, you know, and we've been through a number of these buzzwords, if you will, ecosystem based planning, watershed based planning and on and on. And really, you have to look at where the, where the people are, where the potential impacts are, that are affecting the bay resources. Got it. So that's, that's why add politically, and this is, remember I said it was a place based program. We actually have a Texas they have Council for governments, you know, it's so it's like a cooperative deal where people in the counties in the same area and cities, towns, you know, they all work together to this cog or Council of Governments of coastal bend Council of Governments. So, we started forming the program here, we had to look at what the what the program boundary would be we looked at, obviously, the bay connections and the beige are all hydraulically connected and biologically connected. Politically, though, you know, you want to have a community, it's a community based deal. So what's the community? And here the easy choice was to go with pre existing organizations like the coastal bend Council of Governments. So that's where we ended up with these counties, including the inland counties will enter the program area
Peter Ravella 14:17
Kiersten, you are the director of partnerships, and I understand was where the lead was the lead on the second edition of the coastal bend Bay's plan, as Ray explained the first one issued in 1998. The second edition, seminal plans, seminal plan, the beginning of it all. The second edition released in December 2020. tell our listeners, why is the coastal bend base plan important? What is it for?
Kiersten Stanzel 14:44
I think it's a it's a very interesting document because as Ray said, you know, we're charged with, you know, making sure that we're working with our local stakeholders, and so and addressing the issues that they see in the region coming up with projects Ideas actions that we can take to actually, you know, address any, any issues of concern and, and trying to, you know, you'll see this, as you mentioned before, this is it's a big plan with lots of different topics that get covered. And, and so, you know, I think it's, it's such a key document for engaging with those stakeholders. So, you know, the, we continue to do that on an annual basis as much as we can, you know, year after year. But, you know, it was, it was interesting to try to, you know, take a step back. And, you know, we, we were 20 year, almost 20 years out, you know, from the first plan, and it was a great opportunity to sit down with, with the stakeholders, some of whom had been involved in the first plan, and some of whom had it, you know, and to look and see, where are we? What have we accomplished in the last 20 years? Where, where are we, you know, did some of the same issues still remain? Were there new ones that have come up? And so now that opportunity to open up those discussions and, and really sit down together and try to come up with solutions for how to address them?
Tyler Buckingham 16:00
Well, Chris, Kirsten, let's, let's go into that. What were some of the issues, I'm curious to know, what you had kind of written on the whiteboard, as you started the process of opening up the second edition, what stood out in your mind as a wow, we've really done a great job in these areas. And B, you know, we really need to focus on planning in these new areas.
Kiersten Stanzel 16:25
Yeah, so there was, you know, there was a number of priority issues that came out in the in the early 90s. And again, you know, when Ray Ray was mentioning that previous planning process that we had gone through, you know, so and there was, I think, seven priority issues that were highlighted in the first plan. And those were things like freshwater inflows to the bays and estuaries and the conditions of the living resources, loss of wetlands and habitat, degradation of water and sediment quality, estrogen circulation, Bader debris, and then public health issues. But I think, you know, and I think a lot of those, you know, maybe it wasn't necessarily the same exact issues within there that were being addressed. But all those things were still, the stakeholders felt like were part of part of this plan. But there were a number of other things that kind of rose to the top. One of them being Of course, climate change was something that hadn't really been addressed in the previous plan. So we incorporated that there was also a number of developments within our own organization and our own program that highlighted the need to change things. So one was a decline in bird populations. And the ASHRAE program has actually developed an entire program within our own organization to address some of those issues. And so that wasn't, you know, something that was really stood out in the first plan necessarily, but was definitely a highlight in the second plan.
Peter Ravella 17:52
Ray, if you wouldn't mind here, let's take a let's take a look back at the last 20 years from the beginning. And talk about the coastal bend Bay plan 1998 edition, and its aftermath. You've been the executive director of the organization now since that period, what were the biggest accomplishments right over the last 20 years? What are you most proud of that you've done organizationally in this region that you work to improve?
Ray Allen 18:20
Well, there's a couple of areas that I'm especially proud of that the program has accomplished. One is an area of land conservation. And this is Kiersten kind of alluded to. Things evolved over the 20 years, and we've done things that weren't as necessarily highlighted in the original plan. But in the original plan, we had a couple small actions or sentences about protecting your existing habitats and, and working with the local land Trust's and what we found out was that land Trust's in the area weren't all that effective. Some of them disappeared while we were working with them. So the coastal bays and estuaries program itself ended up when the opportunity presented itself to start acquiring these areas, both coastal wetlands and adjacent buffer areas. areas in the voices River Delta, we own well over 10,000 acres out there. Yes, well, we've taken this model of habitat protection through acquisition. And then of course, if you own it, management is so much easier. Invasive species can be managed, water flows can be managed. So this is an area that that really was, you know, contemplated on a smaller scale in the original plan, but we have really not just picked that up in an oasis River Delta. But we are now looking at the you know, we have these three river systems here and we're now looking at the Aransas river complex and in the mission river area that those to flow into coconut Bay. Had recognizing that the lowest cost way to protect habitat is to own it not let it get developed. And to do some low cost management and restoration activities, not that they're low cost compared to going out and recreating what's been lost,
Tyler Buckingham 20:20
Ray Allen 20:20
It's a very, it's a very cost effective strategy. You know, you can use a by these almost on developable wetland areas, and sometimes or undeveloped double, and sometimes they're not in a for much cheaper than you could go. And we've done a lot of building wetlands. And, you know, that's very expensive process. And that was an eye opening adventure for us to do that, and we continue to do it. But it's just very expensive to try to rebuild. What's been lost. Yeah,
Tyler Buckingham 20:53
yeah, an ounce of prevention. Right, right.
Ray Allen 20:56
Exactly. Right. You know, it's much cheaper to save what you have to try to fix it later. I think the other thing that that was surprising you, or, or at least a change from that 98 plan, as we evolved over the years was, was our focus on our environmental education program. You know, our, our plan is comprehensive, so it isn't just water quality, and, you know, and fish, shrimp and crabs, it's more dealing with the community looking at environmental education, you know, assessing, you know, what the local students and local teachers knew about the area. So by owning habitat and owning land, we were able to create what we call an oasis Delta preserve, we were able to find partners to work with for educational activities. And prior to COVID, nine tene. We had 1000s of students, school students coming out and visiting us in an oasis River Delta complex. And, and for many of these kids, it would be the first time outside the city into a natural area, you know, no paved sidewalks. You know, nothing nice. It's just down the wooded trails and go see nature. So yeah, that was a, that was a great program. So as Kirsten said, we actually when we redid the plan, the coastal been base plan, we actually came back and and provided additional emphasis to those programs for the bird program. You know, it's like, you know, the numbers were terrible in terms of decline of colonial Waterberg nesting population. So, so we really made that a program in and of itself and, and have been able to bring on board other partners and other funding partners to make that work. And so this, these areas where we've expand that are beyond simple, habitat restoration efforts has really been a wonderful success.
Tyler Buckingham 23:03
It sounds like it and I, when you talk about land acquisition, and an ounce of prevention and education, I'm curious to know, I'm interested in maybe some of the analytics here some of the metrics that you might have looked at to start out, what was the population of this region back in the 90s, for edition one versus what it is now?
Kiersten Stanzel 23:31
Oh, gosh, you're testing me a little bit, you can ballpark like you could try to think of the graph that I made for the plan. You know, it's, it was a lot lower back then than it is now. I mean, would you say it's probably doubled in the last 20 years? So I'm trying to think,
Ray Allen 23:47
maybe not that much. You know, Peter, when I moved to Corpus Christi in 1975, to go to the local university. Corpus Christi was about the same size as the city of Austin. Hmm. Wow. And, and, you know, of course, you know, out there in Austin, where you and Tyler are, you know, it just, it just goes on forever. Now, it does. Christie has had pretty flat growth, Corpus Christi, in the coastal bend area, up, you know, 1% a year on average, maybe. So it's been a very slow, gradual growth. There's been a spurt here and then a decline. Not unlike other parts of Texas, our more rural counties have actually lost population. Well, people have migrated into the cities.
Peter Ravella 24:41
I think it's maybe the population and I don't have the number either relatively stable. I think it sounds like overall, but there has been incredible development in the region from a waterway and maritime transportation standpoint, and I wondered if we might talk about this a little bit. What our research indicated is at the present time, the port of Corpus Christi is either the first as either is now or will soon be the number one crude oil exporting port in the United States accounting for more than 50% of the national crude oil exports. The Corpus Christi Ship Channel is being deepened to plus 70 feet I believe in certain segments, the port is being
Ray Allen 25:36
is that right? It's only proposed that it hasn't been deep. It hasn't
Peter Ravella 25:39
hasn't been done yet. But the process is underway, we've got an deepening project underway in the port is beginning to get equipped for handling what are called very large crude carriers vlccs. And these are ships that can carry 2 million barrels of oil. So the great energy state that Texas is the port of Corpus Christi is becoming a central export terminal for for crude oil and for liquefied natural gas. And so Kiersten, the question I want to know about is in the partnerships that you have built in the development of the plan, of course, the port is a significant player in the region. Can you talk about the relationship between the bay estuary program and your partnerships with your stakeholders, including the port?
Kiersten Stanzel 26:33
Yeah, sure. So forget the thank you said that that's a huge issue in our region, and something that over the last, you know, five to 10 years has definitely risen to the, you know, the forefront of importance. And, and so we have a whole section in the plan, you know about maritime commerce and and dredging is what we call the, that particular section of the plan. And, and some people may think that's kind of funny to be in a base plan, why would you have that section, but you know, it really revolves all around, you know, particularly for the maritime commerce part, you know, making sure that What's all this, you know, increased traffic and different types of exports that are happening now, you know, that we work with our partners closely to make sure that it's done safely, and you know, going to have the least amount of impact on our environment as possible. So, you know, trying to think about the issues that are, you know, could could happen, you know, hopefully don't but but could potentially happen spills and things like that, you know, that that could impact our, you know, our wildlife or habitats, things like that our people as well, you know, so, um, you know, and then the, the dredging part, I think has been especially interesting, because, as you mentioned, there's been, you know, some some efforts are going on for quite a while now to to dredge the channel deeper, to allow in some of these bigger vessels and things and you know, that I do feel like our partners, not just the port, but many of our other agency partners and things like that are really interested in and trying to make sure we now use that material in a really good way to help increase habitat, build habitat back that may have been lost, and, you know, the buzzword is beneficial use of dredge material, and you all may talk about that on this.
Tyler Buckingham 28:16
Oh, we call it you dm around here. Yeah.
Kiersten Stanzel 28:22
So we, you know, so anyways, I think, you know, the plan really provides an opportunity to show that, you know, we don't just forget about that part of our of the ecosystem, you know, that this is, you know, ships are going to be running in and out of, up and down the intercostal. waterway and in and out of the port, you know, for, who knows how long, you know, and, and potentially more and more of them, so we can't, you know, to sit back and say, we're not going to, you know, try to address those issues. And, and, you know, I think that by by getting it into the plan like this, it gives us an opportunity again, to get the port as well as other stakeholders to sit down with us and talk about the future and, and work out a plan together.
Ray Allen 29:02
So let me take you back to the first version of the plan back in the 1990s. Okay, the port of Corpus Christi, the the authorized depth of the channel was 45 feet from the Gulf of Mexico right to the Inner Harbor. You're practically downtown Corpus Christi. So a 45 foot deep channel all the way across the bay in the 1990s. The port was seeking permits to deepen the channel to 54 feet. And Peter, that's the dredging that's going on now.
Peter Ravella 29:35
Ray Allen 29:37
So there are there is dredging going on some deepening in the 90s in our coastal bend base plan at that time, the plan called for the beneficial use and we helped the port develop in their permit. A beneficial use plan for as much of that material, this virgin cut dredge material, you know, this is clean, it's not contaminated. You know, it's solid, so stacks, it is clay. So it isn't like clean beach sand, a lot of it, most of it is, say clay. But you could build an awful lot of good habitat with that. And so we came up with a comprehensive, beneficial use plan of their dredge material. And that was incorporated into the EIA s, for what's called a 54 foot deep project. So right now, the Corps of Engineers, this is as completed are still working on the first phase, which was to, from offshore out in the Gulf of Mexico, come in to the first segment and cut it down to 54 feet. And then they've now been funded to complete the second phase, which gets some quite a ways into Corpus Christi Bay, you know, again, from 45, feet down to 54. And then a third phase will take them all the way into the inner harbor. And that's, you're exactly right. That's what these bigger ships can come in, and, and be fully loaded, and not the vlccs for sure, because they need even more water than that. And I'll talk about that in a minute. But the idea here was, it wasn't just deepen the channel. So we get the ships and we had a channel that was fairly narrow, or our ship channel. And so what we not only did it include deepening depth, 54 feet, we supported the plan to widen the channel to put what's called barbed shelfs on the sides. And that's what allow for a shallower draft barge traffic, you know, push barges to go in either direction. And the goal there was to get these barges, this barge traffic, which is a lot of the traffic, get that out of the area where the big ships are, you know, one of the neat things about her base system here is it's not Rocky, it's, it's a soft bottom, you know, if you lose power, the big ships, if they lose power, and they drift out of the channel flow, they run into a blood bank, you're not likely to rupture your tanks or break anything open. So the real threat was really vessel to vessel collision in the base system. So the idea was to not just make the channel deeper, but to move those barge traffic out of the main channel. And that was an important component and one that we supported. And, you know, the bay by itself, most of the bays about nine foot deep at at natural depth. So it's a very, in other places, we call that a very shallow Bay, it's typical for Texas, and, and barge traffic or lynnie, Joe 12 or 14 feet. So you know, you just put a little more gentle slope on and you can move that kind of traffic out of the main channel. So that was that was a major goal. Now what we're looking at now, there, and of course, in 1999, oil has been important, you know, those big vlcc ships as big as they made them with transport oil from the Middle East, or from wherever, maybe Venezuela or someplace and they would come in and they would anchor up offshore. And I don't know if they really anchored up, but they just parked out there and smaller tankers would go out and it's called lightering. Oil would we transported, transported from the big ships to the smaller ships so they could come into the port and deliver the product to the refining companies here. So the goal now is, and you talked earlier about LNG.
When we got our program first started, it became a nonprofit and in 1999, there was plans here to import LNG. Can you believe that? The companies that were two or three companies that were trying to get permits are permitting LNG import facilities. So it would come in and liquid form and be reclassified and used as gas and fed into the system here for the local petrochemical plants and, and Edlund. Well, most of those people didn't ever get their permits and, and thank goodness for them. Because now we're exporting all of that material slike The world has turned upside down. So where we went from being a major import oil facility, we're now a major export port, both both crude oil and natural gas or liquefied natural gas LNG, and that that's because Corpus Christi in the port of Corpus Christi is very close to the eagle for Shell Oil region in Texas. And so when that happened, This is all about within that secure setting the last 10 years five or 10 years, eager for Shell, all this fracking that was done and they were able to extract oil from that and a lot of natural gas. And then, of course, the big hit out in the Permian Basin in West Texas. And so, you know, you got to build pipelines a long way. Well, the first real good size port you come to from West Texas is the porter Corpus Christi. And that's why the emphasis here has been on accommodating that oil and get natural gas produced in Texas and and further west. And so it's like, so now the so that was that of vlccs being offshore and oil being lighter in we are now having to park vlccs offshore and take oil out to them in in smaller ships. And as it's like, it's like the world is upside down here. And it's the new economy, the new oil, the new reality of the oil markets.
Tyler Buckingham 36:07
Well, one thing is for for certain oil and gas energy has a historic, cultural place in Corpus Christi, I suspect Ladies and gentlemen, if you don't know anything about Corpus Christi, except maybe it's got one of the more unique American city names, you might know that it's an oil town. And I I have to say that everyone should just hit pause right now. And listen to Corpus Christi bay by Robert Earl Kane. Just Just to give yourself a little flavor of the the the oil that's kind of in the blood, I would say culturally, I want to ask Kirsten, this question. Because it seems to me like, you know, it's to some degree, you with oil and gas being such a deep part of the community in this region of Texas, that inevitably, you're going to be working very closely with with these folks. And at times, there are major concerns you referenced, collisions, spills, so on and so forth. How cooperative and like down for the cause has not only the port, but the companies these these oil, these energy companies that are making the money, how do they feel about this effort? Are they enthusiastic? Are they kind of stubborn? like are they are they? What's their approach? When you when you go out Kiersten and and work with these folks? What How do they react to you?
Kiersten Stanzel 37:53
Yeah, no, I think I think most of them are usually very eager to talk to us. And I think you know that the Astro program has a long record of showing our partnership with industry and you know, that starts at the port, you know, and then with the numerous partners that the port works with, and, and, and so, you know, I find that it's people want to talk to us about opportunities to work together, you know, and looking for ways to make an impact in the community, particularly, you know, the environment and supporting, you know, a number of our different programs, we've been talking to them about about LNG export, and I feel like I should give a big shout out to schneer because they've supported our, our coastal bird program for the last two years with some some major funding, which has been extremely beneficial. You know, so it's great opportunities, but it's nice, because every year we, you know, we sit down with them, and we have a conversation, you know, they want to know, what, what are our needs? And what do we see in the community as far as environmental needs? And, and, you know, we have that those types of discussions with a lot of different industry partners. And so, um, you know, I think that that helps, and that ongoing communication is so key, not just for from a funding perspective, but just to knowing what's going on what are they planning? Are they expanding what's going to change? You know, so I think that's helped us, you know, be better prepared for what's going to what's going to come down the road in the future.
Tyler Buckingham 39:19
Do you win in working with these people? Obviously,
Peter Ravella 39:22
ladies and gentlemen,
Tyler Buckingham 39:23
everyone should go check out this plan. There'll be a obviously a link in the bio and look at all of the the vast array of subject matter that's covered in this bad boy. But I am curious if you know there's this is there's a strong social human component to this plan. And do when I think of the people, the human beings themselves, I you know, they live in this area, they're a part of this environment. I know that you know, maybe this is a stereotype This is most certainly a stereotype Yes. I suspect that a lot of these oil workers like to fish and like like to be out in the environment. I mean, do you find that they think of themselves consider themselves identify as coastal citizens in this region, coastal Bay citizens in this region.
Ray Allen 40:19
Let me address that.
Peter Ravella 40:21
Ray Allen 40:22
There has been an evolution here in our industrial base from the 1990s. And earlier, we had, I don't want to call them smaller oil companies or smaller refining companies. But we didn't have majors here. We didn't have the giant Texaco plants or the big Exxon facilities here. These were one step down, the Valero rose, the diamond shamrocks, coastal refining cidco. These are as you say, these are people who grew up here, plant managers, a lot of them had spent, you know, 1520 years here, all the workers were local. They really, you know, I went to school, there's people that were that were now engineers and the plants or the chemists and the plants. And so and I knew them all. And they're there, as exactly as you say, they're sportsmen, they all had their little boats to go Bay fishing, the bass fishing boats and, and their families. And they loved Corpus Christi, and they love the bays and the beaches and the Gulf of Mexico. In the last 15 or so years, with the with the eagle furred shell and the Permian Basin oil, we are now attracting major companies, there's now a Exxon sabak plastic plant going in. There are now international companies located here are both subpoena from wherever they are in Italy, or, or Europe and in some other companies, and there are some Chinese companies here, there's a cultural difference, I will tell you, the American own companies come with a culture they grew up with which they know they have to be an active part of the community, they have to be engaged in the environmental community, they have to be protection, protective of the natural resources and you know, the public health issues, the community responses, etc. For me, it's been fascinating to see international companies come in where they have a different culture. And so you'll see a company like and I don't want to, I don't want to ruin it for Pearson's partnership development. But it's tougher for some of these companies to, to work with that they, they don't have a culture of doing that from the countries they come from, because of the type of governments they had or, or because of the regulations in those places. It's just different. So for me, it's been very fascinating to see how this, this effort has grown. And these do people coming in. You know, the Exxon folks, before they even picked a location they were in our office this year, want to know about the local Natural Resources wanting to know about, you know, what concerns they should have about how they're going to build our plant where their wastewater, we're going to go, what the treatment standards ought to be. And so we had all this engagement from from, from day one, or even before day one, that's fabulous. But before some of these plants, it's just not in their culture. Now they do hire local people, obviously, you know, you have investors from from China or China owned or, or Italy owned facilities. And you come in here and upper management come from those places. And so they just have a different culture, but still all workers, you know, all all the mechanics, all the frontline engineers, those are local people. And they all have a great love and respect for the, for the base system here. And so it's been very easy to work with them. And, and I'll just say this before, you know, we're a non regulatory program, but the regulatory agencies insane Water Act, the Clean Air Act, you know, when properly administered properly enforced, those programs do a good job here. So it's not like in the old days, it's not like the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, I have a personal preference for new plants, you know, best available technology requirements, super clean, you know, safety protocols put in place. None of these plants are going to be perfect. Accidents still happen. mistakes are made. But man give me a new plant right with all those controls. Built in pollution control systems rain sounds
Tyler Buckingham 44:58
like a drive a Tesla
Ray Allen 45:03
I would but I live in a place where it's not conducive.
Tyler Buckingham 45:07
Okay, I understand.
Ray Allen 45:08
But you know, you know, the where we are now from where we were, you know, the Clean Water Act was passed in the 1970s. In the Clean Air Act, you know, it's light years different. And, and yet, yet the community and the people in the COVID, we still have this bag each we're dealing with, you know, of, you know, what's important, Houston was like in the 1960s and 70s. And, and what it was like back in those days, and that keeps everybody on their toes that does. So, you know, but really, it's a it's a whole different era. It's not to say things are perfect. There are still impacts from these operations in these plants. One of which I want to talk about, that's fresh water, availability of freshwater.
Peter Ravella 45:56
Let's let's talk about that. And freshwater inflows, of course, was, as you mentioned, was one of the issues identified in the 1998, coastal bend base plan. Very critical to the health of the estuary and the base system, particularly oysters, what's the status of freshwater inflows? This has been an interesting topic in Texas regulatory law for a while. Tell us about freshwater inflows and, and the state of affairs for the bay systems that you oversee.
Ray Allen 46:28
So we only really have one significant river here that that's the new aces River. And the watershed for that river is a desert. So it's, it's by nature, by nature, it's a very flashy system, you know, in what years it'll flow and and it's subject to frequent droughts and dry periods where there's little or no flow at all. So to respond to that, for civilization to develop here, if you will, you know, that the locals started building reservoirs back in the 1950s. First, they were little, you know, late Corpus Christi was built in 1950s. And by the 1960s. city planners had already started, you know, trying to permit another reservoir within the riverine system, the choke Canyon reservoir, and further up in the watershed. So what happened was, we end up with these reservoirs up there that unless there's a massive flood, these reservoirs have, essentially the ability to capture all but the last little bit of inflows to the Bay. And for us, fortunately, there were some permit requirements included in the permits for the for the reservoir construction itself that that provided for some, if you will, minimal inflows of fresh water to the bay and estuary itself. And that's been critical. It's It's, it's, it's not, it's not great. And what's happened is all this recent industrial development, you know, those play out those plants are big water users. Yep. Plastic plants, petrochemical plants, refineries, they all use a lot of water. And it is the limiting natural resource for our area freshwater. So this, this, this community is always in a state of planning for where can we get more water? So,
Peter Ravella 48:29
you know, you mentioned Of course, that the the bay estuary program is a non regulatory program, none of them are the 28 of them around the American shoreline, and around the United States in the Great Lakes, too. You don't have you don't have the typical toolkit for a regulatory agency to persuade your stakeholders and companies and communities to act in a particular way. This is about persuasion and relationships and partnerships. Right? Has the program designed worked out? Do you feel like you are able to have a true impact on preserving and protecting the health of the systems that you oversee the bay and estuary systems that you are responsible for? Given the toolkit Do you have does this program design function? Or is there something you would like to change about it?
Ray Allen 49:28
It does function as long as you have good people at the table. And we have good people at the table here. You know, in the those permits, I talked about our freshwater inflows, right. You know, they were written at a time where essentially, there's, you know, the permanent says there'll be this amount of water freshwater provided to the Bay in an annual amount. There's no monthly schedule, there's no seasonal components to it. So we have to go back and say look You know, I know you got a permit that calls for all these 100,000 acres or so of water to reach the bay. But, you know, biology tells us, you know, here's a spawning season for white shrimp, here's the salinity levels we need for oysters. Here's the, the time of the year that you know, the, the other fish are working in the base system. And we need these not just for water. Because freshwater inflows carry nutrients and sediments, you know, when you when you cut off the freshwater inflows, you're really cutting off the nutrients and, and worse with the reservoirs, you've cut off these flooding events. Alright, our delta our river, through the noise is delta that they asked for a program now owns, the river has B and are naturally to the far southern side, and it takes a flood to enter date, the whole Mars complex of the deltaic Marsh and, and you can't create, you can't artificially create that kind of a flood, you can't let that much water out of the reservoir to make it happen. And they wouldn't do it anyway. Um, so what we've done is gone back to him, and on a voluntary basis, the City of Corpus Christi, which is a water provider here, you'll agree to put it in pumping system to move water from the main channel of the river back into the marshes of the Delta. And to provide that on our on a regular basis as a function of inflows. So that this is the hands on management that we're all engaged in here to make sure that waters get right where they're needed. It's sometimes at the very critical moments when they are needed. And, and so the cooperation has been there. But there's has to be cooperation on both sides. And, you know, compromises have to be made. And, and you know, if you have good people to table you can make that work. And I'm talking about not just the city as a water provider, but they're key industrial water customers. Right. So it's like, so that all goes on. It's all interplay that works for us, it may not work everywhere our system works here. Engagement is the key word there, keep them engaged, keep them coming to the table.
Kiersten Stanzel 52:25
Yeah, I was gonna add some of that. Peter, I think you asked, I think your question was really about, you know, do you think it works? And what would you change? And, and I just, I agree with Ray, I think it's definitely shown itself to be a model, you know, that that works for, you know, not only Texas, but other places around the country as well. And you've actually on the Texas coast, there's, there's actually other organizations that have sprung up in areas that aren't covered right now, by national estuary programs. You know, we have the one in Galveston and we have ours, but there's, you know, lots of other places on the coasts that are dealing with a lot of these same issues. And there's several organizations that have sprung up trying to essentially emulate this national FTO program model and show because they've seen how effective it can be and, and, you know, all of them really focused on that partnership component and the bringing people together, you know, to highlight issues, address issues, things like that. So just an interesting thing to note, you know, that's, that's, I think happened in the last, you know, 15 1510 1015 years or so.
Tyler Buckingham 53:29
Interesting. Very, Peter,
Ray Allen 53:31
you emphasize the non regulatory component here. That's critical. In the 1990s. When we wrote our plan. The program was staffed by state agency employees part of a regulatory agency. We got through the planning phase, and the local partners, local stakeholders said, we like this, we like the plan, we want to see it implemented. Some of them were uncomfortable, having the plan being administered by a regulatory agency. So both the both the environmental community here and the local governments were able to reach an agreement, we should take it out of that right state regulatory agency, and create a nonprofit because everything was working for in the price of doing that. These local governments and local industries all committed funding, ongoing funding, not one time funding. So year after year, the program is for implementation of the plan has received funding from our local counties, our local cities, or local industries, and we are able to leverage up those resources that's Pierce's job with other grants to do some major projects in the area.
Tyler Buckingham 54:50
I know that that's really important. And I think Peter, I know Peter is gonna want to ask about funding and where's Peter? We have we have Oh, hold on one second. We have about two 10 minutes left on the show. And I'd be remiss if we did not discuss the climate change component that made its way into addition to. And we started Kiersten you mentioned that climate change was something that that didn't appear in the first edition. And you've worked it in now. And I'm, of course, we're a coastal network climate change. coastlines are on the front lines, ladies and gentlemen, we all know that. How did how did that work out? How? How was it? First of all, how did it work out from a process perspective with your stakeholders? Is this the first plan to out in the region to incorporate climate change? I wonder, and how did it manifest itself in this report?
Kiersten Stanzel 55:45
Yeah, sorry, I think it was, we've benefited greatly from the fact that that EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency had actually given some some funds to the SBA programs to do a climate change vulnerability assessment, we actually partnered with the Nature Conservancy on that effort. And that was all happening, kind of wrapping up, right when we were starting our revision of this plan. So it gave us a really good assessment to look at, you know, that the plan that the assessment that they did actually had some recommendations for, you know, addressing our local climate change issues. And, you know, that it's there's tons of, you know, resources out there about impacts from climate change, but this was obviously one that was super relevant to our region, right. You know, I mean, it focused on our program area, and what we could you know, what we were potentially going to see, and so, you know, that was a super helpful resource. And we could take that to the stakeholder groups and show them the results and the recommendations, and then see how that fit best within the, within our own plan. And I'll say, like, you know, we talked about different approaches of how to how to incorporate climate change into the plan. And, you know, should it be kind of a component of all these different things, you know, should there should it be within the habitat chapter, should it be within the maritime commerce, and we actually chose to, to have it be a standalone component, because we felt like it was just so overarching to the whole, you know, everything we do, whether it's, you know, the, like I said, the habitat and wildlife components, but up to the, you know, the human use aspect, and the communities and resilience, and we even actually chose to call it coastal resilience, because we really think that's more of the focus, you know, is, is making our community and our coastline more resilient to climate change. And so, um, you know, and and so that, you know, I think, like I said, we had some things line up well, I think, at the right times to help us understand that and be able to incorporate that that into the plan.
Peter Ravella 57:44
Yeah, I think it's got to be one of the more interesting conversations around the American shoreline on climate is got to be in in the Corpus Christi region, because of the deep connection between the region and hydrocarbon based energy systems, which are believed to be of course, the significant contributing factor, among many, but one of the significant contributing factors to climate change. One of the things that is also maybe not widely known in our audience around the country is the amount of wind power in this part of the Texas coast on onshore wind, and re in all my travels up and down the Texas coast from Austin down to South Padre, you know, taking that turn at Corpus Christi, I have been amazed at the growth of wind power in the region. Can you talk a little bit about that component at sort of an offset of climate interest? But what's the relationship with the wind power industry, folks, and has it been a positive is it received as a positive development in the region by by the community?
Ray Allen 58:55
Well, I think we've had minimal if any direct contact here at the estuary program with the wind power companies, okay. And so, you know, it's not the best. It's not where I wanted it to be. You know, these are facilities, they put up wind towers, and they're not manned. So there's not like a lot of people involved, except during the construction phase. So they're citing issues. You want to be away from the water so that you don't get these, you know, these coastal birds, you minimize the impact there. The wind turbine, folks have tried to stay away from the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge where the whooping cranes are Yep, that would be bad for business right?
Peter Ravella 59:40
Ray Allen 59:41
But we do have these powerful winds here year in and year out and it's been a real moneymaker for them and, and of course, you throw in all the tax incentives and everything else that goes along with that. So there are more wind turbines here than I ever dreamed of.
Peter Ravella 59:58
It is surprising. Yeah, I'm stunned when I drive by I'm like, wow, there's more every time I come back.
Ray Allen 1:00:06
They just keep, they just keep putting them up as long as the tax incentives are there. And the idea is, you know, it just feeds into the grid, even though you can go to companies and buy, you know, renewable energy, you know, the truth is an electron is an electron, right? And once it gets to the wire, you can't tell what you're buying. But so no, you know, we've had concerns about a primarily bird strikes, impacts on migrating populations impacts on the nesting areas here. And one, one of the aspects of the coastal bend here are these wide coastal plains is that there's an awful lot of farm fields around cotton for GM grains. And the idea is, they're putting these wind turbines mostly in those already disturbed areas, if you will. So they're all like putting them in, in parks and nature areas, they're they fit nicely into a field. And the footprint is pretty minimal. And the landowners then generate quite a bit of income from leasing or selling that property. Yeah, to the wind turbine companies, it's
Peter Ravella 1:01:21
surprising to see because, and you can, you know, you can drive up to these things in certain parts of the Texas coast. These are onshore Of course. And, like you say, there'll be there'll be sitting in the middle of a field that has been cultivated, and the crop lines come very close to the base of these things. They're, they're compatible with farming and ranching and I know in the farming and ranching communities in Texas where this development has occurred. They're excited about the checks they get every month from, from the lease fees and royalties off of this power production. It's it's been an interesting thing. Many people might not know Texas is the number one wind powered by power producing state in America. And and it is all onshore at this point.
Ray Allen 1:02:11
It is, fascinating.
Peter Ravella 1:02:12
I wanted to when you've just finished this update and under Karstens direction and leadership. And could you give our audience a sense of the challenges ahead, Kiersten you, I'd like you to speak to this as well, when you're looking ahead, making these coastal areas that are that we demand so much from as, as, as human beings, we want them to be natural areas. We want them to be wonderful recreation spaces. We want it to supply commercial fish and shellfish. We want it to be energy production. We want it to be a waterway and a highway. I mean, we ask a lot of our coastal areas when you're looking down the road, right, what is what concerns you are what are the challenges ahead that maybe keep you up every once in a while thinking about what's coming your director? Well,
Ray Allen 1:03:08
we already talked about freshwater available in freshwater inflows. So I'm not going to dwell on that anymore. I would tell you the sheer number of people that are coming to recreate here to go sport fishing in the bay you know, it's a it's one massive boat storage facility after another dry docks you know the number of people in at our friends at Texas Parks and Wildlife we do a marvelous job of managing the fisheries and making sure that you know there's a great monitoring plan in place and they can tell how the fish populations are doing. You know, you know they can see year to year every time whenever the fishing pressure goes up they can see a decline in the population. You know they have saltwater hatcheries where they can restock the ocean restock the base with fish. So you know the question is how much more can we handle? How much more how many more boats can we have out there before the visitors experience is is affected? We already have people complain that you know I was on a drift for you know catching speckled trout and somebody cut me off you know you're running full, full throttle through my fishing area. There are no quiet backwaters anymore. There are people there are people everywhere the boat ramps, it's hard to build an up boat ramps. At not that the ramps are critical is to parking your you know for your truck and your trailer. You know, spacious space is limited. So this pressure on the coast here is really one not just here in our area but all throughout the Texas coast and I'm most familiar with them. It's just a an ever increasing demand. And and then you start talking about other issues like nonpoint source pollution, you know, as the population grows. And if you want examples of that you look up to the Galveston Bay estuary program where, where the city of Houston is sitting at the top of the bay.
Peter Ravella 1:05:19
Yeah, that's time
Ray Allen 1:05:20
and you're, you have all that runoff every time it rains, and, and here, it doesn't rain very often, but what it does, you can get a lot of nonpoint source loading into the base systems. And what does that do? And how does that affect the health? And are the fish still edible? And so, so yeah, it's, uh, the pressures continue. The industrial discharges continue to grow. The new plants are coming online, the existing plants are expanding. It's just a real challenge from my perspective. And kearson may have something to add to that. Yeah. kearson,
Peter Ravella 1:05:56
let me give you the final word when you completed the planning process, but what do you think are the major challenges coming your way as an organization?
Kiersten Stanzel 1:06:07
So I'll say, I think Ray hit on a lot of them that I that I would have said, as well. But I will add to that. I think the more extreme climate events are what probably, you know, when you talk about what keeps me up at night, that would definitely be at the forefront. You know, we all, you know, I've been in the coastal bend region for a long time. But, you know, Hurricane Harvey was really the first, obviously, major storm that I had had to deal with. And, you know, I actually just finished repairing our home from that process, you know, it took us, you know, almost almost four years to finish that and, you know, not just the impact that has on the built environment, but the that the habitats and the wildlife as well. So, you know, and then we just recently, obviously, all here in Texas experienced this extreme crease event, you know, that had a major impact on our, our fisheries, our, you know, some of our bird populations even and so, it's a, you know, I think we're gonna see more and more of that, you know, last summer, we had, you know, several storms that that, you know, gave us, you know, definitely had some impacts, but maybe not as extreme as we lucked out, you know, not to have some of the more extreme impacts, like we did with Harvey, but, you know, they're just becoming more and more common. And so I think, you know, for me, that's definitely one of those, I think we have to continue to do as much as we can focus on that that resiliency aspect, you know, for both our built environment and our, you know, the natural environment here on the coast.
Peter Ravella 1:07:36
Well, I couldn't agree with you more, I think, fair to say that these estuary programs around the country serve a really critical role in knitting together the community and the stakeholders to take on the serious questions and issues on the American shoreline. Right, you guys do an incredible job there. I know you've been there for 20 plus years now and hope that you can keep going because it's expertise and relationships that make these organizations function. And so it was a real pleasure to to learn about the bane estuary program today. I want to thank you both for for being on the show.
Kiersten Stanzel 1:08:21
Thanks for helping us tell our story.
Ray Allen 1:08:22
Thank you. Yeah, it was great to visit with you. I look forward to doing it again. someday.
Peter Ravella 1:08:26
We'd love to have you back. Ladies and gentlemen, it is Ray Allen, the executive director of the coastal bend Bay and estuaries program and his colleague kyrsten stancil, the director of partnerships for the bay program as well. Coming from Corpus Christi, Texas, one of my favorite parts of the American shoreline. We really thank you for being on the American shoreline podcast and sharing your work with our audience.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai