HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — The largest tidal wetland restoration project in the state of Texas and one of the largest wetland restoration projects in the United States is nearing completion.
The construction of a permanent channel to completely fill the 10,000-acre estuary known as Bahia Grande, between Brownsville and Port Isabel, will begin on May 1 with completion scheduled for late October this year.
In a recent stakeholders meeting hosted by the General Land Office, the announcement was made that the five million dollar contract was awarded to Texas based Apollo Construction.
Construction of the ship channel, connecting the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of Brownsville in the 1930’s, and later the building of Highway 48 cut off tidal flow to Bahia Grande, drying a productive estuary.
Following acquisition of the property in 1998 by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service a temporary channel was dug in 2005 partially filling the wetland. The coming permanent channel will substantially increase tidal flow and prevent the estuary from becoming hypersaline.
Even without the enlarged channel, Bahia Grande is already a periodic functioning estuary as illustrated by this massive school of redfish.
Total land in the Bahia Grande tract, part of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, encompasses some 22,000 acres with approximately half destined for wetland restoration.
Sarge Vasquez, interim refuge manager, applauds the cooperative effort that has enabled the historic restoration to succeed.
“It was a cooperative effort by several different partners, and it just shows if we all get together it works,” said Vasquez.
Cameron County Marine Extension Agent Tony Reisinger with Texas Sea Grant has worked on the restoration for more than 20 years and is thrilled to see it come to fruition.
“It’s the best success story that I have ever experienced…It make’s me smile to see it,” said Reisinger.