Egery Flats restoration shows signs of success

Tim Delaney photo Jan. 22 work on the Egery Flats project shows the one lane of traffic that was in place for five months. Asphalt was to be brought in for the western lanes (left) so they can be opened. Then the eastern lanes would be closed to continue the work into mid February and March. the project now finished shows improvement of water flow from the east side to the west side. Salinity levels remain about the same and will take time to leach out.

BAYSIDE – So far, the Egery Flats project – designed to improve water flow and reduce salinity – has been successful, according to Rae Mooney, project manager of the Egery Flats Restoration Project just south of Bayside.

Since the project began last year, it funneled traffic on Farm-to-Market Road 136 to one lane while new culverts were installed.

The one-lane traffic was controlled by automatic signal lights.

But delays caused by weather and late supply deliveries pushed reopening both lanes from December 2018 well into March 2019.

Replaced were 30-inch culvert pipes with 3 feet by 6 feet box culverts.

The project was funded by $1.3 million through a grant the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program received from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.

The CBBEP also contributed funds for the project.

The restoration project was located on Farm-to-Market Road 136 that winds through Egery Flats, or the sloughs as some call it.

The farm road was built in 1945, and since then flow from the west side of the road to the east side was restricted and weighed heavily on the marine life and habitat there, according to Mooney.

Now that the new culverts are in place and a greater exchange of water is occurring from one side to the other, the water level visibly is higher on the east side.

Mooney said she can’t give all the credit to the new culverts because flooding and the Aransas River have contributed to the higher levels, too.

“But the flow is better and now water is freely flowing through there,” she said.

“Salinity is lower, but the soil salinities are very similar (as they were before),” she said.

She said the University of Texas Marine Science Institute will do monitoring of the salinity.

“The salinity is going to take a while to leach out,” she said.

Mooney said the change will take time, but the reduced salinity should jump start hydrologic restoration.

Monitoring of vegetation started before construction and will continue for a couple of years.

“We’re planting marsh grasses out there in fall,” she said.

“We will monitor growth and survival of them, and do another planting,” she said.

A final walk-through was conducted by CCBBE engineers and the Texas Department of Transportation.

“We are handing back (the farm road) to TxDOT,” she said.

Besides the CBBEP, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Texas Department of Transportation, University of Texas Marine Science Institute and the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve have partnered in the project.

“I suspect salinity will improve over time,” Mooney said.

“In turn, (the lower salinity) will help the habitat, juvenile fishes, birds and wildlife,” she said.

Tim Delaney is the Refugio editor at the Advance-Guard Press and can be reached at 361-2397, or at refugio@mysoutex.com