RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – The largest tidal restoration project in Texas, and one of the largest coastal wetland restoration projects in the United States is nearing completion.

The construction of a permanent channel to completely fill the 10,000-acre potential estuary known as Bahia Grande, north of the Brownsville Ship Channel is scheduled to begin later this year.

Total land in the Bahia Grande tract, which is part of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, is some 22,000 acres with half destined for wetland restoration and the other providing valuable habitat for native wildlife such as the endangered Aplomado falcon.

Construction of the ship channel connecting the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of Brownsville in the early 1930’s cut off tidal flow to Bahia Grande, drying a productive estuary and creating an immense dust bowl, where once thousands of terns and colonial waterbirds thrived.

Following acquisition of the property in 1998 by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, a temporary pilot channel was dug in 2005 partially filling the wetland.

This abated the dust problem, but the channel needs to be deepened and widened to provide adequate tidal flow, which will keep the estuary from becoming hyper saline.

Boyd Blihovde, Manager Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, “The channel widening is being bid or out for bid, and that should be close to being closed and then they will select a contractor, and so this late summer or early fall we should have construction starting on that channel widening.”

Dr. David Hicks, director and professor of the School of Earth, Environmental and Marine Science at UTRGV has been monitoring Bahia Grande with his students for years and is excited about the unique educational opportunity this restoration has provided.

“It is amazing that in this day and age that you have this opportunity to restore an area so large as this.” said Dr. Hicks.