The Galveston Bay system is the largest and most economically productive estuary in the state and has been named “an estuary of national significance” by Congress. The bay is vast and varied, ranging from brackish bayous to tidal marshes, from oyster beds to mud flats. These diverse waters are also home to Atlantic croaker, flounder, spotted seatrout and many other species of finfish. Nearly three hundred different kinds of birds have been seen in the area around Galveston Bay.
The bay is surrounded by one of the largest urban areas in the nation – the Houston-Galveston area – and is home to much of the country’s chemical production and refinery capacity. Water quality has improved since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 but remains a concern, largely due to urban runoff and industrial discharges and spills.
Galveston Bay has long been home to one of the nation’s largest oyster fisheries – but half of the bay’s oyster reefs were covered in sediment as a result of Hurricane Ike in 2008. The bay is also estimated to have lost approximately 35,000 acres of wetlands between 1953 and 1989.
The shallow waters covering the bay’s 600 square miles are fed largely by the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers. The Trinity River alone contributes approximately half of the freshwater inflow to the bay, but this river is also one of the primary sources of water for the rapidly growing Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston metropolitan areas.
Making sure that enough fresh water continues to make its way into Galveston Bay, even during droughts, has long been a priority for the National Wildlife Federation. The success of many of the other proposed restoration projects, such as marsh restoration and the rebuilding of oyster reefs, also depends on an appropriate balance of fresh and saltwater.