Cedar Bayou

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Photo: Lisa Laskowski

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About the Project

Throughout its history, Cedar Bayou has been described as “open” or “closed” in relation to Cedar Bayou’s connection with the Gulf of Mexico. Historical maps as early as 1836 to 1927 show Cedar Bayou, called Santos Pass in the 1800s, to be open, wide, and very shallow.

Cedar Bayou was predominantly open and functioning as a natural pass until 1979. CCA and Aransas County believe this stable and more open condition can be reestablished if the project is properly designed and funded.

On June 3, 1979, the exploratory well IXTOC I blew out in Bahia de Campeche, 600 miles south of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. The well was not capped until March 23,1980, after spilling 10,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil a day for more than ten months. In all, more than 3.3 million barrels of oil entered the Gulf. Currents carried oil towards Texas, prompting the state’s emergency action to plug Cedar Bayou. While coastal residents were relieved the productive bay system had been spared from a serious threat, the lack of water exchange between Aransas Bay and the Gulf slowly sapped the vigor of the bay and suppressed fish and wildlife productivity.

This closure remained in place until 1987, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department made its first attempt to reopen Cedar Bayou. Underfunded, the project worked but briefly. The pass was closed again by 1993. In 1995, TPWD made a second attempt to reopen the pass but it was also unsuccessful due to budget and engineering limits.

In these earlier attempts, neither project attempted to reconnect Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough, denying the system the hydraulic forces necessary to remain open.

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Texans, especially on the coast, can be a determined lot and many continued to work hard for the reopening of Cedar Bayou. With community and local government support, the Aransas County Cedar Bayou Advisory Committee was formed to take a fresh look at the challenges of restoring this critical natural pass. The Committee’s report, issued in November 2003 (read it here), reinvigorated the public and private interest to get the job done right.

From 2006 to 2008, Save Cedar Bayou, Inc. and the General Land Office collectively invested more than $400,000.00 to study Cedar Bayou and develop a new strategy to reopen and maintain the pass.

The Feasibility Study was performed by Coast & Harbor Engineering.

The engineers reviewed existing data and previous studies, resurveyed the pass and surrounding areas, studied the tides and sediment flows along the coast, and developed a better understanding of the pass’s dynamics. Not surprisingly, the engineers discovered that to reopen and maintain the pass flow through the Cedar Bayou channel would have to be increased and hydraulic resistance reduced. Increasing the flow rate allows for higher water velocities at the Gulf mouth of the Bayou, which helps scour sediments from the channel mouth. Without regular scouring at the mouth, sediments build up and eventually lead to the closure of the Bayou.

The engineers recommended a return to the historic configuration by re-opening and reconnecting Cedar Bayou to Vinson Slough. They found that when connected to Cedar Bayou, Vinson Slough increases the total volume of flow through Cedar Bayou in addition to the flow gradient and the flow velocities at the mouth of Cedar Bayou. It was a solid analysis and efforts to obtain the permits for the project were launched.

In 2008, Aransas County assumed leadership of the project, and moved successfully towards obtaining the US Army Corp of Engineers permit in 2011.

In August 2011, the US Army Corp of Engineers issued the Section 404 Dredge & Fill permit to reopen Cedar Bayou to Aransas County based on the design developed by Coast & Harbor Engineering.

By the end of 2012, the engineers, at the request of Aransas County, had the detailed construction plans and specifications complete and have the project ready for bidding. After more than a decade of work, the Cedar Bayou Restoration Project is ready.

Video: The Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation

 

Video: Coast & Harbor Engineering