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Jefferson County
News Release
Monday, February 12, 2018

Cooperating agreement with Texas General Land Office also approved

Beaumont, Texas - Jefferson County Commissioner’s Court selected MK Constructors’ competitive bid totaling $6,699,693.20 to construct and install two gravity flow siphons under the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW). Each siphon will transport fresh water from the north side of the canal into the Salt Bayou marsh on the south, or Gulf of Mexico, side of the canal. The manmade structures will reestablish some of the historic “sheet flow” of fresh water from the landward side of the GIWW to the Salt Bayou’s coastal marsh.

Construction of the 84-mile stretch of the GIWW by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) from Galveston Bay to the Sabine River in 1933 was a national infrastructure priority to assist inexpensive water borne commerce and to provide protection to American shipping from open Gulf of Mexico seas and from submarine attack by hostile nations in the aftermath of World War I.

“At the time of construction, USACE engineers predicted that the Gulf-ward side of the marsh would be destroyed some day because marsh vegetation would lose natural freshwater inflows and be inundated by saltwater from the Gulf,” said Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick. “They were right, and the result of the denial of fresh water sheet flow is a grave threat to Texas’ largest coastal marsh totaling 139,000 acres. The preservation of the marsh benefits the GIWW because it would otherwise cost a fortune to keep barge traffic viable once the area became exposed to wave action from the Gulf. The Jefferson County portion of the GIWW ships just over half the cargo value in the entire system from Florida to the Rio Grande.”

The siphons installation is being funded by Deepwater Horizon oil spill restoration dollars ($4.5 million) in the Gulf Environmental Benefits Fund (GEBF) and North American Waterfowl Conservation Act (NAWCA) funds ($1.5 million). The GEBF is a Deepwater Horizon funding source administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation based in Washington, DC and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Jefferson County is adding $700,000 and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation is contributing $363,820.

Construction of two fresh water siphons will restore freshwater flow to a critical 18,000 acre section of wetlands within the Salt Bayou Watershed. Part of the benefits will enhance the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area from the northernmost siphon and the southernmost siphon will direct fresh water into the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge.

“The siphons will reconnect freshwater flows from north of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) to the fragile coastal wetlands to the south,” said Don Rao, Jefferson County Director of Engineering. “This new supply of fresh water will help flush saltwater out of the wetlands and prevent erosion and conversion of marsh to open water.”

The siphons project is a component of the larger Salt Bayou Restoration Plan, a multi-stakeholder endorsed effort to restore and protect Texas’ largest coastal wetland landscape that includes freshwater to estuarine marsh, coastal prairie grasslands, tidal flats, creeks and basins, and associated fish and wildlife species.

The wetland habitats in the Salt Bayou Watershed provide foraging and nesting habitats for numerous species of birds along one of the most important flyways in the world, as well as essential nursery habitat for ecologically, commercially, and recreationally important species of fish and invertebrates.

“Ducks Unlimited is pleased to assist in this project by leveraging Deepwater Horizon funds by adding North American Wetlands Conservation Act dollars,” said Todd Merendino, Manager of Conservation Programs for Ducks Unlimited in Texas/Oklahoma/New Mexico. “The siphons are a critical component of the overall Salt Bayou Marsh restoration effort."

“Salt Bayou is widely recognized for its fishing, hunting, and wildlife viewing opportunities. The installation of these two siphons to restore the historic flow of freshwater will support a diversity of habitats and will benefit species like speckled trout, redfish, Southern flounder, shrimp, blue crab, as well as wintering and migratory birds,” said Amanda Fuller, Deputy Director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf of Mexico Restoration Program.

“The Salt Bayou marsh has a direct link to injury from the Deepwater Horizon oil,”

said Judge Branick. “The Jefferson County Commissioners Court made completion of the Salt Bayou Watershed Plan our number one goal for Deepwater Horizon restoration spill penalty funds. The commissioners also approved a cooperation agreement with the Texas General Land Office today that will facilitate rebuilding 20 miles of the county’s beach and dune system to block hurricanes and lesser storms from pushing salt water into the marsh. The beach and dune system sand renourishment will be the final phase of the project”

Multiple partners formed the Salt Bayou Watershed Working Group in 2000, including Ducks Unlimited, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Texas General Land Office, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Water Development Board, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jefferson County, Jefferson County Drainage District No. 6. Lamar University also contributed to the Salt Bayou Watershed Plan.

Additional map showing the siphons locations.



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